GOVT 238 – American Political Parties
This course explores the origins, purposes, roles, and consequences of political parties in the American political system. After a brief consideration of the broader theories behind political party systems, we will turn our focus to the party system in the United States. We will first consider the origin and evolution of political parties to explore why parties exist and their relationship to democracy. Following this historical and theoretical review, we will consider American political parties in their contemporary form. V. O. Key (1964) presented a tripartite definition of political parties which we will use to structure our exploration of parties for the rest of the course: party as organization, party in government, and party in the electorate. In these sections, we will address political party polarization, party identification, party fund-raising, and many other related topics. From this rich examination of political parties in the U.S. context, we be able to critically consider both the strengths and benefits as well as the potential flaws and failures of political parties.
GOVT 246 – Public Opinion in American Politics
This course examines public opinion in contemporary American politics. Central to the concept of a representative democracy is the idea that citizens hold elected officials accountable for the policies they enact (or fail to enact). However this vision of democracy assumes the public holds relatively stable and meaningful political attitudes. This course turns our focus to the essential democratic linchpin of public opinion. We will discuss how to conceptualize and measure public opinion, where opinions or attitudes come from and how they are changed, the determinants of vote choice, and the relationship between public opinion and policy outcomes. Finally, as a class we will actually delve right into the polling process ourselves. Together, we will create a political opinion survey and administer it to Wesleyan students. We will use this survey experience to explore contemporary public opinion topics and learn how to analyze and interpret public opinion data.
GOVT 151 – American Government & Politics (section 02 and 03)
This course introduces the basic structures, processes, and conflicts of the American system of government. As we consider the political institutions, behaviors, and policies of the United States, we will seek to address the broader questions of what is government, why is it necessary, and what are its problems and limitations? The course is divided into five blocks. First, we turn to the founding of the nation to better understand our governmental institutions, identity as a nation, and some of the country’s most core and long-lasting conflicts. Second, we explore the key federal institutions that constrain and shape political processes. Following this section, the course shifts its focus from elites and institutions to citizens and the ways in which mass preferences are transmitted to government actors to produce actual policy. The third section examines the development of rules that protect individual citizens from the government (civil liberties) and from the majority (civil rights). In the fourth component, we consider the opinions, characteristics, and behaviors of citizens that are relevant to politics. In this section, we will grapple with the questions of whether or not fair and full democratic representation of citizens exists and if it is even possible? Finally, the last section examines interest groups and the policy outputs of the American political process. Ultimately the goal of this course is to give you the basic tools needed so you will be better able to analyze, interpret, and potentially shape political events and governmental processes.
GOVT 369 – Political Psychology Seminar
In this class, we turn to psychology to understand how citizens make political choices and judgements. While elite political behavior, collective political behavior (mass psychology), and international relations all have ties to political psychology, this course limits itself to the explore the political psychology of individual judgement and choice. We will examine the role of cognition and emotions, values, predispositions, and social identities on judgement and choice. From this approach, we will address the larger debate regarding the quality of democratic citizenship.