Course Overview and Goals:
American politics has become increasingly polarized and partisan over the past two decadesÃ¢â‚¬â€
the ideological gap between the Republican and Democratic parties has widened. This
course explores the causes and consequences of increased ideological conflict and partisanship
in the U.S. Congress. We will focus on three aspects of the legislative process: (1) how
voters influence the legislative behavior of their representatives and contribute to a polarized
Congress; (2) how congressional rules and procedures influence polarization; and (3)
the implications of polarization on policy-making, including its effects on the relationship
between Congress and the president.
The course will focus heavily on critical thinking, analyzing data, and critiquing arguments.
Much has been said about the causes and consequences of polarization. Our task is to
adjudicate between the competing claims. It is one thing to claim something and state an
opinion. It is quite another to support claims using sound reasoning and social scientific
approaches. Since I waived the prerequisite of PLS 200, I will present the material to help
achieve this goal.
There are four required books
Fiorina, Morris P., Samuel J. Abrams, and Jeremy C. Pope. 2011. Culture War? The
Myth of a Polarized America.
Theriault, Sean. 2008. Party Polarization in Congress.
Eilperin, Juliet. 2007. Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House
Davidson, Roger, Walter Oleszek. Congress and Its Members, tenth or more recent
Two short applied papers (15% total):
These are short two-page papers that relate
current events to course material (specific political science theories covered in class readings
and lectures). You can have fun with these papers. Imagine that you are writing an actual
news article (like an Associated Press report), an newspaper editorial, a blog entry as a
political pundit, or a letter to your Congressperson. You do not have to write on a different
topic for each paper, but you must bring in new insights with each paper. Papers are graded
based on relevance to course material, sophistication and clarity of argument, and overall
writing (grammar, clarity, etc.).
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