Topic Name Description
Course Introduction Page Course Syllabus
Page Course Terms of Use
1.1: The Challenge of Democracy and the American Political System URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Democracy, The Constitution, and Federalism"

Read over this brief list of questions, which will be addressed over the course of Unit 1. You should use it as a guide before each subunit to help you determine some of the most important material to be covered. At the end of the unit, use it as a resource for reviewing important terms and concepts.

1.1.1: The Purpose, Role, and Impact of Government URL Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World: "Politics"

Read this section. Politics is essentially the exercise and use of power within a society. Various types of power are used within different political systems. This reading provides a foundation for understanding the democratic form of government as practiced in the United States.

URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "American Democracy and Citizenship"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Introduction to Democracy lectures in this unit.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Introduction to Democracy I"

Watch this introductory lecture on democracy and American government from Dr. Scott's podcast. The first five minutes are a brief overview of the course, specific to Dr. Scott's class at Missouri State University. The content explained in the overview will be helpful; however, do not pay attention to the course requirements or assignments.

1.1.2: Meanings of Democracy Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Introduction to Democracy II"

Watch this introductory lecture on democracy and American government.

URL Democracy Web: "Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Essential Principles"

While democracy is governed by its most popularly understood principle, majority rule, it cannot be the only expression of supreme power in a democracy. The majority would too easily tyrannize the minority. The Founding Fathers understood this and worked to fashion a government that would balance these two concepts.

1.2: The Constitution URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "The Constitution and the Founding"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Constitution lectures this unit.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "The US Constitution"

Watch these lectures to gain some general understanding of important terms and concepts for learning about the Constitution.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 2: The Constitution and the Structure of Government Power"

Read this chapter, which provides a solid background on the events leading up to the first American political system, the principles embedded in the Constitution, and how the media depicts the Constitution and constitutional issues. This text will feature prominently throughout this course. The authors offer a unique perspective on government and politics and their relationship to media in the 21st century. Each chapter ties media to the particular institution, process, or policy area under study, and presents the most common media depictions of its subject.

1.2.1: Historical Underpinnings – Colonial Times and Independence URL The National Archives: "The Declaration of Independence: A History"

In order to understand how American government works, it is important to grasp why it was created. This brief history compiled by the National Archives explains some of the problems that the Founding Fathers faced when America was a colony under British rule. These grievances shaped American thought and greatly influenced the formation of the American government. The language used in the Declaration of Independence provides some insight into how Founding Fathers designed the Constitution in a way that would prevent tyranny of the majority.

URL The Declaration of Independence

Read the text of the Declaration of Independence.

1.2.2: Early Government – The Articles of Confederation URL J.W. Peltason's "The Need for the Constitution"

Read this excerpt, which provides background information on the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation were the first constitution of the United States. Adopted in 1781 during the throes of the Revolutionary War, the Articles eventually produced too weak a government. These articles explain some of its most glaring defects. Representatives of the states later held a constitutional convention to address these weaknesses.

URL The Articles of Confederation

Read the text of the Articles of Confederation.

1.2.3: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 – Debates and Compromises URL U.S. Department of State: "The Constitution of the United States, Annotated"

Read the Preamble to the Constitution and the associated annotations.

URL U.S. Department of State: "The Constitutional Convention"

Read this article, which provides some background information on the concerns of the Founding Fathers – tyranny, representation, and slavery, to name a few – and the compromises they were forced to make when drafting the Constitution. This article outlines the times and the principles that shaped and continue to influence American political culture and showcases textbook examples of the art of political compromise.

1.2.4: Constitutional Principles Page The Regents of the University of California: "The Constitution"

Watch this two-part presentation about the core principles and structure of the Constitution.

1.2.5: The Ratification Debate – Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists URL University of Missouri, Kansas City: Doug Linder's "The Bill of Rights: Its History and Significance"

Read this article for background information on the role that the Bill of Rights played in securing ratification of the Constitution. Led by vocal anti-federalist factions, several states were concerned about the national government overreaching its power and insisted that the Constitution include provisions for guaranteeing individual liberties. Be sure to consider the discussion questions at the end of the article.

URL U.S. Department of State: "How the Federalist Papers Persuaded a Nation"

Read this short excerpt about the Federalist Papers. This excerpt explains how advocates of ratification tried to convince the public to support the Constitution. The Federalist Papers, which were 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, outlined the philosophy and motivation of the proposed system of government, and served (and continue to serve) as a primary source for interpretation of the Constitution. This excerpt provides background information on the Federalist Papers and should serve as a reference point when you read Federalist 10 and 51.

URL James Madison's "Federalist No. 10" and "Federalist No. 51"

Read Federalist 10 and 51, two of the most famous Federalist Papers written by James Madison. These are among the most highly regarded of all American political writings. For Federalist 10, identify why Madison believes that the Constitution provides for a form of government that will control factionalism and fulfill the will of the people. Federalist 51 addresses the means by which appropriate checks and balances can be created in a democracy, and advocates a separation of powers within the national government. One of its most important ideas is the oft-quoted phrase "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition".

1.2.6: The Constitution Today – A Living Document URL U.S. Department of State: "The Development of the Constitution"

Read this short excerpt on how the Constitution has been interpreted over time. The framers realized that they could not possibly plan for every circumstance or situation. As such, they provided an amendment process by which the Constitution and its laws could be modified as society grew and changed.

URL U.S. Department of State: "The Amendments to the Constitution"

Read these annotated amendments to the Constitution.

URL U.S. Department of State: "An Adaptable Document"

Read this short excerpt about the idea that the Constitution is a "living document", which implies that interpretation of the Constitution must evolve to meet the needs of contemporary society.

1.3: Federalism URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Federalism"

Federalism is the American political system's arrangement of powers and responsibilities among national and state governments. The Constitution specifies exclusive and concurrent powers for national and state governments. Other powers are implied and determined by day-to-day politics.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Federalism"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 3: Federalism"

Read this chapter.

URL Alexander Hamilton's "Federalist 16" and "Federalist 17" and James Madison's "Federalist 39"

Select and read one of Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Papers (16 or 17). In both of these essays, Hamilton argues the need for a strong national government to unify the country, and seeks to address concerns that the proposed Constitution will lead to tyranny.

Also read James Madison's Federalist 39, which strikes a more conciliatory tone towards the federal aspects of the government (Hamilton only expounds on the national aspects). Madison believes that only a republican form of government can carry forward the principles of the Revolution and demonstrate that self-government is both possible and practical.

1.3.1: Defining Federalism Page The Regents of the University of California: "Layer Cake Federalism"

Watch this two-part presentation on the key elements of federalism in the American political system. Layer cake federalism (also known as "dual federalism") describes a certain form of federalism, in which the national and state governments have distinct realms of authority that do not overlap and should not intrude. This form of federalism is in direct contrast to marble cake or cooperative federalism, which is based on a mixing of authority and programs among the national, state, and local governments.

1.3.2: Federalism in Practice Page The Regents of the University of California: "Evolution of Federalism"

Watch this two-part presentation on cooperative and fiscal federalism. While fiscal federalism has resulted in federal monies for states in a wide variety of areas – agricultural, transportation, and research – some states have expressed concern about burdensome regulations and requirements. In recent years, there has been a push to return power to the states (devolution), placing the burden of a wide range of domestic programs on state governments so that they can design programs in a way that suits their own residents.

The Democratic and Republican parties stand for different principles with regard to federalism. Democrats prefer policies to be set by the national government. They opt for national standards for consistency across states and localities, often through attaching stringent conditions to the use of national funds. Republicans usually decry such centralization and endorse giving powers to the states and reducing funds for the national government. These differences reveal the parties' divergent political ideologies on the "proper" role of government.


1.3.3: Federalism in History URL Eugene Boyd and Michael K. Fauntroy's "American Federalism, 1776 to 2000: Significant Events"

Read this report. The authors identify several significant eras and events in the evolution of American federalism and provide a description of each.

2.1: Political Opinion and Political Socialization URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 6: Political Culture and Socialization"

Read this chapter.

URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "American Political Behavior"

Read this brief list of questions, which will be addressed over the course of Unit 2. You should use this list as a guide to each subunit. At the end of each unit, use it as a resource to review important terms and concepts.

2.1.1: Defining and Measuring Public Opinion Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Public Opinion"

This lecture discusses public opinion and political socialization. Public opinion is a complex phenomenon, and scholars have developed a variety of interpretations of what public opinion means. Political socialization is a process by which people develop the attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors that are conducive to becoming good citizens. This lecture also notes how many people's understanding of the political world comes through their exposure to and interaction with the media.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 7: Public Opinion"

Read this chapter, which examines public opinion – what it is, what it measures, and how it has evolved – and makes a case for the importance of public opinion in a democracy. This chapter also addresses the increasingly complicated relationship between the media and public opinion.

2.1.2: Polling and Public Opinion URL John Zogby's "Political Polls: Why We Just Can't Live without Them"

Public opinion polls are often used in order to gauge a candidate's public appeal. Read this article to learn more about America's fascination with public opinion polls and how these polls influence elections. The author makes a strong case regarding the need for polls, stating that they perform the important function of revealing the innermost thoughts, feelings, biases, values, and behaviors of the body politic. Do you agree or disagree with this assertion?

2.1.3: American Political Culture and Ideology URL Political Ideology

Read this article, which defines several types of political ideology.

2.2: The Media URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "The Media"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Media lecture.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "The Media"

Watch this lecture.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 1: Communication in the Information Age"

Read this chapter. The media, in particular the print media, have been called the "fourth estate" and the "fourth branch of government". The news media pervades American politics and generally helps define American culture. New communications technologies have made the media more influential in American society and serve as a link between politicians, government officials, and the public.

Page U.S. Department of State: "Elections: New Media: New Challenges" and "New Media: Government 2.0"

Watch these video clips to learn about the impact that new media has had on American elections and the government. Think about how Barack Obama was able to utilize the power of new media, including social media, in the 2008 election to connect with voters and strengthen the "grassroots" component of his campaign.

2.3: Political Participation and Voting URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Political Participation"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Political Participation lecture.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Political Participation"

Watch this lecture.

2.3.1: Voting Behavior and Voter Turnout Page The Regents of the University of California: "Voting Behavior and Intensity"

Watch this two-part presentation on voting behavior, voter turnout, and how these change depending on certain conditions.

URL George Pillsbury and Julian Johannesen's "America Goes to the Polls 2010"

Read this report, which discusses key voting trends, such as the wide gap in youth turnout between presidential and midterm elections, the rise in early voting, and the continued growth of the Latino electorate. The report concludes with a discussion of issues related to voter registration, early voting, and their potential to improve – or hinder – future voter participation.

2.3.2: Enfranchisement and Trends in Political Participation over Time URL U.S. Department of State: "America Celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment"

Read this article, which discusses the women's suffrage movement in the United States and how women finally won the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

3.1.1: What Are Political Parties and What is Their Role in Government? URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Political Parties"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference when taking notes while watching the Political Parties lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Political Parties"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 10: Political Parties"

Read this chapter. Political parties are essential to democracy – they simplify voting choices, organize the competition, unify the electorate, help organize government by bridging the separation of powers and fostering cooperation among branches of government, translate public preferences into policy, and provide loyal opposition.

3.1.2: Historical Development of Political Parties URL U.S. Department of State: "Political Parties"

Read this concise historic explanation of political parties in the American system of government. Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. In fact, the Founding Fathers were wary of "factions" that could undermine democracy. However, political parties developed soon after the Constitution was written, largely out of necessity. The same leaders who opposed parties also recognized the need to organize officeholders who shared views so that government could operate effectively.

Page The Regents of the University of California: "Political Parties"

Watch this presentation on the history and evolution of political parties in America.

3.1.3: Political Parties in the American Two-Party System Today Page The Regents of the University of California: "Party Function and Structure"

Watch this two-part presentation on the structure and functions of political parties.

Page C-SPAN: "Role of Political Third Parties"

Watch this video by Donald J. Green, author of Third-Party Matters: Politics, Presidents, and Third Parties in American History, where he discusses the evolution and impact of third parties on the US political system. Think about some of the reasons Green gives as to why third parties have had difficulty in gaining traction in national elections.

3.1.4: Political Parties and Party Identification Page The Regents of the University of California: "Party Identification"

Watch this two-part presentation on party identification and national shifts in party control (realignment and dealignment) in the American political system. A person's loyalty to or preference for one political party is called party identification. When people identify with a party, they usually agree with the party's stance on a few major issues and give little weight to its stance on issues they consider minor or secondary. This presentation also discusses how some elections can serve as turning points that define the agenda of politics and the alignment of voters within parties during periods of historic change in the economy and society.

3.2: Campaigns and Elections URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Campaigns and Elections"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Campaigns and Elections, Elections, and Campaign Finance Reform lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Campaigns and Elections", "Elections", and "Campaign Finance Reform"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 11: Campaigns and Elections"

Read this chapter. Elections are crucial in a representative democracy like the United States. They enable people to choose their leaders and thereby influence public policy. They endow elected officials with legitimacy. There are two main types of elections: primary and general elections. Candidates from the same political party contest for the party's nomination in primary elections. Candidates from different parties run in the general election, which decides who will take office.

3.2.1: The History of Campaigns in the United States URL Geri Zabela Eddins' "Persuading the People: Presidential Campaigns"

Read this article about presidential campaigns and the ways that the use of the media has changed throughout American history. Think about how presidential campaigns have evolved throughout your own life.

3.2.2: Nominations – Presidential, Congressional, and State Nominations Page U.S. Department of State: "Elections: Iowa Voters"

Watch this video about the Iowa caucuses and how Iowa voters play an important role in nominating candidates for president. Historically, the Iowa caucuses have served as an early indication of which candidates for president might win the nomination of their political party at that party's national convention, and which ones could drop out for lack of support. Think about the criticism that the Iowa caucuses' role is too important in the early nominating process. Many believe that because its population does not reflect nationwide demographics, it should not be portrayed as an indicator of the types of voters that turn out in the general campaign.

Page Khan Academy: "Primaries and Caucuses"

Watch this video, which explains how the states choose their delegates for the national party conventions. While watching the video, think about how complicated the system is – was it designed this way for a purpose? Are these contests a useful measure of presidential fitness?

3.2.3: Elections – Presidential and Congressional Page The Regents of the University of California: "Congressional Elections" and "Presidential Elections"

Watch these presentations to learn about the unique structure of congressional and presidential elections in the American political system.

Page Khan Academy: "Electoral College"

Watch this video, which discusses the role of the Electoral College in presidential elections. While watching the video, think about the implications that the Electoral College has on the American democratic system. When Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election but did not become president, a national debate grew around the Electoral College system. Supporters of eliminating the Electoral College advocate a direct popular election of the president, which would give every voter the same weight in accordance with the "one-person, one-vote" doctrine. Opponents contend that this type of plan would undermine federalism and make presidential campaigns more remote from voters, as candidates might stress television and give up their forays into shopping centers and city malls.

URL U.S. Department of State: "Has the Electoral College Outlived Its Usefulness?"

Read this debate about whether or not the Electoral College should continue to play a role in selecting the American president. Which side – Ross Baker (pro) or Jamie Raskin (con) – do you think makes the more convincing argument? Why?

3.2.4: Campaigns – Context, Financing, and Strategy Page The Regents of the University of California: "Financial Participation in Elections"

Watch this presentation on the history and evolution of political parties in America.

URL Center for Responsive Politics: "The Top 10 Things Every Voter Should Know About Money in Politics"

Read each of these summaries about the role of money in politics. You may find some information surprising. The Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy. It is a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit organization.

Page C-SPAN: "Impact of Super PACs in 2012 Campaign"

"Super PACs" have emerged as the dominant new force in campaign finance. Created in the aftermath of two landmark court decisions, these independent political action committees collect unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions that they then spend to advocate for or against political candidates in the 2012 presidential race. John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity discusses who is behind these Super PACs and which candidates benefit most.

3.2.5: The Incumbency Advantage URL Center for Responsive Politics: "Incumbent Advantage"

Read this page, which offers charts on the financial advantages enjoyed by incumbents.

URL Center for Responsive Politics: "Reelection Rates over the Years"
Read this page, which offers charts on the historic re-election trends for members of Congress.
File New York University: Justin Levitt and Erika Wood's "A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting"

Read pages 1–71 to learn about redistricting – what it is, how it works, and why it matters. Unlike in many countries, the redistricting process in the United States is viewed as being overtly and acceptably political. Why do you think this is the case?

3.2.6: Campaigns and Elections in the Information Age URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 11, Section 7: Campaigns and Elections in the Information Age"

Read this section and watch the embedded videos. This section discusses the impact of new media on the electoral process, and how social media has created new opportunities for campaign engagement for political candidates and voters alike.

3.3: Interest Groups URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Interest Groups"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Interest Groups lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Interest Groups"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 9: Interest Groups"

Read this chapter. Interest groups have long been important in electing and defeating candidates, in providing information to officeholders, and in setting the agenda of American politics. Americans have historically been concerned about the power of what some call special interests, and the tendency of groups to pursue self-interest at the expense of less organized groups or the general public. As this chapter shows, restraining the negative tendencies of interest groups while protecting liberty is not an easy task.

What we call interest groups today, the founders of the Republic called factions. For the framers of the Constitution, the foremost problem was how to establish a stable and orderly constitutional system that would also respect the liberty of free citizens and prevent the tyranny of the majority or a single dominant interest. Today, interest groups exist to make demands on government.

Interest groups vary widely. Some are formal associations or organizations, while others have no formal organization. Some are organized primarily to lobby for limited goals or to broadly influence public opinion by publishing reports and mass mailings. Interest groups can be categorized into several broad types.

For decades, interest groups have engaged in lobbying, but these efforts have become much more significant as groups become more deeply involved in the electoral process – especially through the expanded use of political action committees (PACs), mass mailings, advertising campaigns, and litigation.

Media coverage of interest groups usually focuses on the activities of powerful interest groups in finance, energy, and manufacturing. However, an oft-quoted statement is that "the special interest is us", meaning that we are all beneficiaries of interest-group activity in the form of consumer protection, cleaner air, safer drinking water, and workplace safety. Is it perhaps more accurate to state that interest groups are both good and bad for democracy? Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

4.1: The Legislative Branch – Congress URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Congress"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Congress lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Congress"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 12: Congress"

Read this chapter. The US Congress is one of the world's greatest democratic institutions. Members fight hard on behalf of their states and districts and are free to introduce legislation which supports their policy agendas and the needs of their constituents. Congress is also an intricate institution, within which it can be very difficult and time-consuming to pass legislation.There has been tension between representation and action since the very first Congress in 1789. Because Congress is divided into two houses with their own rules, procedures, and electoral bases, members often disagree about major legislation, even when the public wants action. However, as you will discover in this subunit, frustration does have a purpose, and was even built into our constitutional system.

4.1.1: The Formal and Informal Roles of Congress National  URL National Constitution Center: "US Constitution, Article I"

Read the text of Article I, which describes the constitutional role and duties of the legislative branch. You can click on the highlighted phrases, which will then provide a detailed explanation of that section.

URL R. Eric Petersen's "Roles and Duties of a Member of Congress"

Read this report.

4.1.2: Structure of Congress Page The Regents of the University of California: "Structure of the House of Representatives" and "Structure of the Senate"

Watch this two-part presentation, which explains the structure and function of the United States Congress.

4.1.3: Evolution of the Modern Congress URL C-SPAN: "Evolution of Congress"

Watch this video, which features a panel discussion with members of the American Political Science Association. The panel discusses the transformation of Congress and the influences of the two-party system. Among the other topics they address are the impact of changing demographics on party affiliation, sociological influences on political habits, and the nature of structural changes. After watching the video, think about Congress' evolution over time. Has it changed for better or worse? Why?

4.1.4: The Legislative Process, "Logrolling", and the "Pork Barrel" Page The Regents of the University of California: "Passage of a Bill"

Watch this two-part presentation to learn how a bill makes its way through the halls of Congress before it lands on the president's desk to be signed into law. Thousands of bills are introduced each session in Congress, and these bills must traverse a highly complex legislative process involving committees, floor debates, interest-group influence, and party power struggles. This complexity not only slows the process of enacting legislation, it also provides a tremendous built-in advantage for opponents of any bill to block it. Supporters of a bill must have success at every step. Opponents need to win only once. Of the approximate 8,000 bills that are introduced in every two-year congressional cycle, only five percent become public laws.

URL Donald J. Boudreaux and Dwight R. Lee's "Politics as the Art of Refined Compromise"

Read this article on the use of logrolling and the pork barrel in political compromise. Logrolling is the trading of favors, or quid pro quo, such as vote trading by two (or more) legislative members to obtain passage of bills of interest to each member. This practice is common in many legislative bodies, including Congress, that often want to secure passage of bills that provide sizable benefits in their home districts. Most logrolling typically involves "pork barrel" funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers. Public works projects, certain national defense spending projects, and agricultural subsidies are the most common examples

4.1.5: The Committee System URL Carol Hardy Vincent's "The Committee System in the US Congress"

Read this report, which discusses the basic structure and function of congressional committees. Most of the work of Congress is conducted in committees, where policies are shaped and legislation is hammered out. President Woodrow Wilson once observed that "Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst Congress in its committee rooms is Congress at work".

4.1.6: Congressional Leadership and Organization URL Thomas P. Carr's "Party Leaders in the House: Election, Duties, and Responsibilities"

Read this report on the basic structure of leadership in the House of Representatives. An extensive leadership structure provides an organizational framework that helps House members work effectively, if not efficiently. At the top of the leadership hierarchy is the Speaker of the House, who is the body's presiding officer. Majority and minority leaders help set their party's agenda on issues. The whips encourage party unity on House votes.

URL The United States Senate: "Party Leadership"

Use this site to explore the various aspects of the Senate's leadership structure. The Senate leadership consists of the presiding officer, majority leader, minority leader, and whips. Unlike in the House, where the Speaker wields considerable power, the presiding officer is not the most visible member of the Senate and can only vote in case of a tie. The majority and minority leaders work together to schedule and manage Senate business. Whips are less important in the Senate than in the House because the closer personal relationships that develop in the smaller body make it easier to know how members will vote without a formal whip count.

4.1.7: Influences on Congress and Voting URL The Legislative Context: Factors that Influence Members of Congress and the Laws that Are Made

Read this article. Consider how Congress operates and how individual members' votes are subject to a number of different influences: ideological beliefs, constituents, party loyalty, interest groups, and the President.

URL Congress and Issues of Representation and Democracy

Read this article, which focuses on the evolving concepts of congressional representation – representatives as trustees, delegates, or politicos.

4.1.8: Congress and the Media URL C-SPAN: "Media and Congress"

Watch this video, which features First Amendment advocacy and monitoring groups and journalists discussing the issues they face when covering the legislative process.

4.2: The Executive Branch – The Presidency URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "The American Presidency"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Presidency lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "The Presidency"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 13: The Presidency"

Read this chapter. The United States was the first nation to create the office of president as the head of state in a modern republic, and today the presidential system of government is used in several countries. As of 2015, there have been 44 presidents of the United States. From the early 20th century, the United States' superpower status has made the President one of the world's best-known public figures. During the Cold War, the President was called the "leader of the free world", and since the collapse of the Soviet Union the President is often described as "the most powerful person on Earth".

4.2.1: The Constitution and Presidential Power URL National Constitution Center: "US Constitution, Article II"

Read Article II, which describes the constitutional role of the President. Click on the highlighted phrases, provide detailed explanations of each section. Why does the Constitution say so little about presidential powers as compared to the legislative branch?

Page The Regents of the University of California: "The Nature of a President"

Watch this presentation on the Presidency and the limits of Presidential power.

4.2.2: Evolution of the Modern Presidency and the Expansion of Presidential Power Page Dr. Thomas Woods' "The American Presidency: Critical Episodes in Its Growth"

Watch lectures, in which Dr. Woods discusses how presidential power has evolved throughout history. Most historians believe that the "modern" presidency – the ability of the president to wield his power far above and beyond what is explicitly stated in the Constitution – began with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. FDR was also one of only a few presidents to facilitate a durable coalition that realigned American politics for decades.

Page The Regents of the University of California: "Lesson 20 – Traditional Roles and Special Powers"

Watch this presentation to learn more about the roles the president plays beyond what is outlined in the Constitution.

URL Morton Rosenberg's "Presidential Claims of Executive Privilege: History, Law, Practice and Recent Developments"

Read this report.

Executive privilege is the power claimed by the president and other members of the executive branch to resist certain subpoenas and other interventions by the legislative and judicial branches of government. The concept of executive privilege is not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court ruled it to be an element of the separation of powers doctrine, and/or derived from the supremacy of the executive branch in its own area of constitutional activity. Various presidents – most infamously Richard Nixon – have invoked their right to executive privilege over a litany of issues they deemed to be private communications.

4.2.3: The President and Congress Page Yale University: Dr. David Mayhew's "Congress and the Presidency: Dissonance in Their Electoral Bases?"

Watch this lecture, which is Dr. David Mayhew's take on the importance and effects of having a different electoral base for the presidency, senators, and members of the House of Representatives. Dr. David Mayhew is the Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

URL United States House of Representatives: "Presidential Vetoes"

Read this short article on the President's constitutional veto power. Presidents use vetoes more often when there is divided government. As you can see from the chart, presidents have used them often or sparingly, depending on the historical and policy circumstances of the time. Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed more legislation than any President before or after him. Why do you think this was the case?

URL Richard Valelly's "Divided They Govern"

Read this article. What are the pros and cons of both united and divided government?

4.2.4: The President and the Media Page The Regents of the University of California: "Presidential Politics, Polls, and the Press"

Watch this presentation to learn more about presidential politics and public perception.

URL Michael Nelson's "Why the Media Love Presidents and Presidents Hate the Media"

Read this article on the often-complicated relationship between presidents and the news media. Why do you think they need each other so much?

4.2.5: The Executive Branch – Vice President, Executive Office of the President, and the Cabinet Page The Regents of the University of California: "The White House"

Watch this presentation to learn more about the White House offices and individuals that play a major role in a President's tenure. The second topic will discuss the different management styles that modern presidents have used in the White House.

4.2.5.1: The Vice Presidency URL The United States Senate: "The Vice President of the United States (President of the Senate)"

Explore this webpage to learn about the history of the Vice Presidency. The Vice Presidency is often the least understood of all constitutional offices, but some remarkable men have held the position. The Vice President constitutionally holds the Presidency of the Senate. This article explains the origins and duties of the Vice Presidential office, as well as the evolution of the office from its founding to the modern Vice Presidency.

URL Harold C. Relyea's "The Vice Presidency: Evolution of the Modern Office, 1933-2001"

This report documents the evolution of the Vice Presidency that we know today, beginning with the New Deal Era.

4.2.5.2: The Executive Office of the President URL The White House: "Executive Office of the President"

Read the White House website, housing the Executive Office of the President (EOP). On this website, you can see all the offices that are considered part of the EOP. To enhance your reading, visit the individual departments' websites within the EOP by clicking on the hyperlinks on the webpage.

URL Harold C. Relyea's "The Executive Office of the President: An Historical Overview"

Read this document.

4.2.5.3: The Cabinet Page The Regents of the University of California: "The Cabinet"

Watch this presentation to learn more about the history and evolution of the presidential cabinet.

4.3: The Executive Branch – The Bureaucracy URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "The Bureaucracy"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Bureaucracy lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Bureaucracy"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 14: The Bureaucracy"

Read this chapter. Whether they realize it or not, Americans interact with the bureaucracy every day. Federal agencies reflect the ways in which the political system attempts to identify our most important national goals and address them.

4.3.1: History of the Bureaucracy URL Development of the US Bureaucracy

Read this article on the history and development of the bureaucracy in the American political system from the "spoils system" to the Pendleton Act, which mandated that certain segments of federal civil service jobs be merit-based. Legislators passed this act in the aftermath of the assassination of President James Garfield by a disgruntled government office-seeker.

4.3.2: Characteristics and Organization of the Bureaucracy Page The Regents of the University of California: "The Nature of the Bureaucracy" and "Other Bureaucratic Bodies"

Watch the first two topics in the first three-part presentation to learn more about the perceptions and organization of the federal bureaucracy.

Then watch the second presentation to learn about regulatory agencies and government corporations.

4.3.3: Regulating the Bureaucracy URL Frederick Kaiser's "Congressional Oversight"

Read this report. Oversight is an integral part of the system of checks and balances between the legislative and the executive branches of government.

Page The Regents of the University of California: "Checks on the Bureaucracy"

Watch this presentation to learn about checks on the bureaucracy.


4.3.4: Bureaucratic Reform Page The Regents of the University of California: "Bureaucratic Reform"

Watch this presentation to learn about bureaucratic reform.

4.4: The Judicial Branch URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "The Judiciary"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Judiciary lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "The Judiciary"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 15: The Courts"

Read this chapter. Judges in the United States play a more active role in the political process than they do in most other democracies. Unlike other countries, the US has a dual judiciary – federal and state court systems. In both federal and state courts, individuals must have standing to sue, and must assert a personal injury. Courts decide only justiciable cases, not political questions.

4.4.1: The Constitutional Role of the Judicial Branch URL National Constitution Center: "US Constitution, Article III"

Read Article III, which describes the constitutional role and duties of the judicial branch. As you read, click on the highlighted phrases, which will provide a detailed explanation of each section.

4.4.2: The Development and Organization of the Federal Courts File Administrative Office of the US Courts: "Understanding the Federal Courts"

Read this report on the history, development, and organization of the US federal court system. Compared to the legislative and executive branches, the judicial branch did not receive as much attention in the drafting of the Constitution. The Constitution requires a Supreme Court, which the framers felt was a necessity if the national government were to have the power to make and enforce laws that would take precedence over state laws. As you may recall, the lack of a national court was one of the many shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation. However, the framers left it to Congress to create lower courts (also known as "Article III courts").

Page The Regents of the University of California: "The Federal Court System"

Watch this presentation to learn more about the structure of the American federal court system.

4.4.3: The Supreme Court Page University of California, Irvine: Erwin Chemerinsky's "The Supreme Court"

Watch Professor Chemerinsky's lecture on the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the only court that has complete control over the cases that it chooses to hear. Its nine justices dispose of thousands of cases annually, and most of their time is concentrated on the fewer than 100 cases per year that they accept for review. These cases usually deal with substantial federal questions or constitutional issues. The court's decisions and opinions establish guidelines for lower courts around the country.

Page The Regents of the University of California: "The Nature of the Supreme Court"

Watch this presentation to learn more about how Supreme Court justices interpret the law through the competing legal philosophies of judicial restraint versus judicial activism. This lesson also discusses the historic impact of the court's immense power of judicial review, and how they are the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution.

4.4.4: The Politics of Judicial Confirmation URL University of Missouri, Kansas City: Doug Linder's "Judicial Confirmation and the Constitution"

Read this article, which discusses the constitutional role of the Senate in confirming the President's judicial nominations. The selection of federal judges has always been a significant part of the political process. It makes a difference who serves on the federal courts. The courts have come to play an even more important role in the policy-making process. And as more and more interests – African Americans and women, for example – participate in this process, judicial-selection politics has come front and center on the political stage (which would probably dismay the Founding Fathers, whose goal was to create an independent judiciary free from political passions).

File Denis Steven Rutkus' "Supreme Court Appointment Process: Roles of the President, Judiciary Committee, and Senate"

Read this report on the Supreme Court nomination process. Read pages 1-16 carefully, and skim the remainder of the report. Pages 1-16 of the report give a detailed account of the president's role in the filling vacancies on the Supreme Court. The rest of the report explains the Congressional process.

Page American Constitution Society: "The Filibuster and the Pace of Judicial Confirmations"

Watch this video, which discusses how the Senate uses the filibuster – the right of an individual to unlimited debate to prevent a vote on a given proposal – as a mechanism to delay floor votes on controversial presidential judicial nominees.

5.1: American Civil Liberties URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Civil Liberties and the Struggle for Equal Rights"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Civil Liberties and Equal Rights lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Civil Liberties"

Watch these lectures.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 4: Civil Liberties"

Read this chapter. Civil liberties are the rights and freedoms of individuals that the Constitution says government should not infringe upon. What these freedoms entail is much disputed in American politics and affects a wide range of policies.

5.1.1: The Bill of Rights and Extending the Bill of Rights to the States Page The Regents of the University of California: "Incorporation"

Watch this presentation to learn more about how many of the rights protected by the Constitution have been extended and are now protected by the states in a process known as incorporation.

URL U.S. Department of State: "Amendments to the US Constitution, Annotated"

Read the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights, and the accompanying annotations. The Bill of Rights lists the individual rights and freedoms that government may not infringe upon. It was adopted in 1791 by the founders to address fears about the potential of the new federal government to abuse power. The Bill of Rights now applies, though unevenly, to the states as well as the federal government. What these liberties are and how far they extend continues to be the focus of political debate.

5.1.2: First Amendment Rights: Freedom of Religion, Press, and Expression Page The Regents of the University of California: "First Amendment Rights"

Watch these presentations to learn about the various components of the First Amendment.

5.1.3: The Right to Privacy Page The Regents of the University of California: "The Fourth Amendment"

Watch this presentation to learn more about privacy rights established under the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment prevents the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. A reasonable search is conducted with a warrant issued by a judge and based on probable cause. What is unreasonable varies with how much privacy people can expect when they are being searched.

5.1.4: Rights of the Accused  URL U.S. Department of State: "Rights of the Accused"

Read this article. The framers of the Constitution had fresh memories of a government that accused people of crimes they did not commit and then convicted them in unfair trials. Consequently, they went to great lengths to assure that the new government they established would not engage in such practices. Toward that end, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights guarantee a series of important protections for individuals accused of committing crimes in the United States.

5.2: Equality and Civil Rights URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 5: Civil Rights"

Read this chapter. Civil rights protect people against discrimination. They focus on equal access to society and to political activities such as voting. Groups that have been historically disadvantaged and discriminated against, such as African Americans and women, are vocal advocates for civil rights.

5.2.1: Roots of Inequality: The Civil War Amendments and Racial Segregation Page The Regents of the University of California: "Civil War Amendments and the Civil Rights Movement"

Watch the first part of this two-part presentation on the Civil War amendments. In addition, click on the picture links under the Explore heading to learn more about the history of the civil rights amendments (also known as the "reconstruction amendments") and the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which legalized the segregationist doctrine "separate but equal".

5.2.2: Political Pressure for Desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement Page The Regents of the University of California: "Civil War Amendments and the Civil Rights Movement"

Watch the second part of this two-part presentation on key figures in the civil rights movement. Compare and contrast the tactics each of the featured civil rights leaders used to gain attention for the movement.

Page The Regents of the University of California: "Post WWII Civil Rights Legislation"

Watch the first three parts of this four-part presentation on the civil rights movement.

5.2.3: Civil Rights for Other Groups URL Civil Rights for Women and Minorities

Read this article, which examines the civil rights movements and obstacles to equality for African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, women, the disabled, and the LGBT community in the history of the United States.

5.2.4: Post-World War II Civil Rights Legislation Page The Regents of the University of California: "Post WWII Civil Rights Legislation"

Watch this presentation to learn about how several presidential administrations pursued civil rights legislation.

6.1: Making Public Policy URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Making Public Policy"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Public Policy lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Public Policy"

These lectures will cover the rest of this unit on public policy in the American political system. Watch them both at the beginning of this unit to gain some general understanding of important terms and concepts for future readings and assessments.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 16: Policymaking and Domestic Policies"

Read this chapter. When government decides to act, it mostly does so through public policy, which is a specific course of action that government takes to address a problem, such as the federal budget deficit. A public policy can be conveyed to the public in the laws passed by Congress and signed by the president, opinions issued by the Supreme Court, and/or rules written by the executive branch. In many ways, public policy tells the public who gets what – and when and how – from government.

Page Flagler College: Professor Patrick Moser's "The Policymaking Process"

Watch these lectures on the policymaking process and the specific issues involved in creating domestic policy. Part One covers health and environmental policy, and Part Two covers energy, welfare, immigration, and criminal justice. While watching the videos think about what makes policy making a process.

6.2.1: Theories of Economic Policy URL Theories of US Economic Policy

Read this article. Differences of opinion on how government power should be used are usually based on competing philosophies about how much government should be involved in regulating the economy.

6.2.2: The Federal Budget Process Page The Regents of the University of California: "The Budget"

Watch this presentation to learn more about the budgetary process in American government. Deciding the federal budget is a complicated and often contentious process involving the presidency and Congress.

File Jessica Tollestrup's "The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction"

Read this report, which examines the roles of Congress and the President in developing the yearly federal budget.

Page Khan Academy: "Government's Financial Condition" and "Deficit and Debt Ceiling"

Watch the first video, which discusses the difference between US debt and operating costs and how the government's large financial obligations (popularly referred to as "entitlement spending") can create burgeoning deficits. Then watch the second video, which explains the basics of the federal deficit, debt, and the debt ceiling.

6.3.1: Federal "Entitlement" Programs Page Khan Academy: "Social Security Intro" and "Medicare Sustainability"

Watch the first video, which explains how Social Security works. As you watch, think about governmental concerns over the program's long-term sustainability. Is privatizing Social Security, as many public officials have called for, a good idea? Then watch the second video, which discusses how Medicare works and provides a critique of the program's sustainability and financial viability over the long term.

URL Social Security Administration: "Historical Background and Development of Social Security"

Read this overview of the history and development of social security in the United States. Pay close attention to where and why Social Security began and how it has been reformed over time. The US Social Security program is the largest government program in the world and the single greatest expenditure in the federal budget.

URL Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: "History"

Read the brief overview of Medicare and Medicaid – two governmental programs that provide medical and health-related services to low-income and elderly citizens. They are the largest "entitlement" programs in the United States. Then, download and read the Key Milestones in CMS Programs.

6.3.2: Public Assistance and Welfare Reform URL Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Liz Schott's "Policy Basics: An Introduction to TANF"

Read this article on the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program. TANF became law in 1996 when President Clinton promised "to end welfare as we know it". TANF represents the most comprehensive social policy reform since 1935. The most significant change under welfare reform is that states, not the federal government, use TANF funds to operate their own programs, with minimal federal oversight.

6.3.3: Education Policy URL US Department of Education: "The Federal Role in Education"

Read this brief overview of the role of the federal government in education. Despite its prominent role, education and education policy is primarily the responsibility of state and local governments.

Page C-SPAN: "Education Reform"

Watch this video. It features a panel discussion with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and mayors and superintendents of Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago about their school reform initiatives. Topics include early childhood education, after school programs, US education competitiveness, and higher education.

6.4: Foreign and Defense Policy URL Dr. Patrick Scott's "Foreign and Defense Policy"

Use these slides prepared by Dr. Scott as a reference for taking notes while watching the Foreign and Defense Policy lectures.

Page Dr. Patrick Scott's "Foreign and Defense Policy"

Watch these lectures on foreign and defense policy.

URL American Government and Politics in the Information Age: "Chapter 17: Foreign and National Security Policies"

Read this chapter. The United States has adopted many, sometimes competing, foreign policy goals over the years, from promoting peace in the Middle East to addressing the spread of HIV-AIDS. Today, it is putting its greatest emphasis on winning the war on terrorism and promoting trade in an increasingly global economy.

6.4.1: Making Foreign Policy: Key Players and Institutions File Richard F. Grimmett's "Foreign Policy Roles of the President and Congress"

Read this article to learn more about the key players in foreign policymaking in the United States. As with all policymaking, many people have a hand in setting US foreign policy. The main objective of foreign policy is to use diplomacy to solve international problems, and to try to keep problems from developing into conflicts that lead to military conflicts.

URL US Department of State: "Diplomacy: The US Department of State at Work"

In addition to the State Department's main goals, this publication reviews how the United States exercises diplomatic relations with foreign governments, international organizations, and the people of other countries.

6.4.2: American Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future URL Background of American Foreign Policy

Read this article, which reviews the major trends in the foreign policy of the United States from the American Revolution to the present.

URL C-SPAN: "US Foreign Policy"

Watch this video. Scholars Thomas Pickering and David Sanger discuss US foreign policy, focusing on the cultural and historical aspects of U.S foreign policy and US national security.

6.4.3: Global Policy Issues URL Global Policy Issues

Read this article. After the fall of communism, the United States was the world's sole superpower. Some of the emerging issues in this new world have included global investment, terrorism, the environment, and humanitarian aid.

Study Guide Book Study Guide for POLSC232: American Government
Course Feedback Survey URL Course Feedback Survey