• Course Introduction

        • Time: 31 hours
        • Free Certificate
        In this course, we examine core concepts of the American system of government, the workings of its myriad actors and agencies, the critical components of "politics" in the American system, and how the American government shapes and influences individual freedoms and rights.

        First, we explore the core concepts and theoretical underpinnings of the American system of government: American political culture, the Constitution, and federalism. A solid grasp of these concepts provides a foundation for the structure of the American political system. Next, we explore the processes citizens use to learn about politics, including public opinion, the mass media, political parties, interest groups, campaigns, elections, and electoral participation. Then we examine the organizations and processes that impact the political and electoral landscape and how candidates and voters are affected.

        Then, we analyze the major U.S. governing bodies: Congress, the presidency, the bureaucracy, and the courts. Next, we explore how the U.S. government shapes and influences the individual freedoms and rights of its citizens. Finally, we look at U.S. social, economic, and foreign policies and how the broad themes of constitutional principles, political behavior, and governmental institutions have intersected to shape them.

        • Course Syllabus

          First, read the course syllabus. Then, enroll in the course by clicking "Enroll me". Click Unit 1 to read its introduction and learning outcomes. You will then see the learning materials and instructions on how to use them.

        • Unit 1: American Political Foundations

          The American political system is rich in history. To understand the American government, you should recognize how this history impacts today's political landscape. We begin with a concise overview of the American political system. We ask broad questions and explore the defining characteristics of the American government. Next, we identify the origin story of American republican democracy, learning how it developed and evolved into the current U.S. political system. We conclude by examining the key principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution, particularly federalism, and relate its design and development to the unique American political system that is currently in place.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

        • Unit 2: American Political Behavior

          Political values and behaviors are fundamental driving forces of policy in a democracy. Political scientists study political socialization to understand and predict political behaviors and the impact of differing values and have developed tools for analyzing public opinion. In this unit, we explore how citizens learn about politics, political participation and voting behavior, the influence of public opinion, the role of the media, and a variety of factors that shape how citizens differ in terms of their political perceptions, values, and attitudes.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 3: Political Parties, Campaigns, Elections, and Interest Groups

          In this unit, we study campaigns, the electoral process, and how political parties and interest groups shape the political landscape by influencing candidates and voters. First, we focus on the role of political parties (especially in elections), their historical development, and their effect on the political process. We also discover how the American political system maintains a strong two-party system (made of Democrats and Republicans) that makes it difficult for a third party to gain meaningful influence in government. Finally, we explore how interest groups impact campaigns, candidates, and voters. Interest groups often use aggressive issue advocacy and campaign contributions to gain influence and maintain the status quo.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

        • Unit 4: American Political Institutions

          In this unit, we explore the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the American government. The power to create, implement, and enforce the law is distributed across these three institutions. This separation of powers among these three institutions represents the main strategy the founders created to check governmental power and infuse accountability and limits during every stage of the governing process. As you learn about the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, consider each institution's role in governing and how each institution limits the power of the others.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 9 hours.

        • Unit 5: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

          The civil liberties and civil rights granted to Americans in the U.S. Constitution are central to the American government. The founders' philosophical and political beliefs about individual freedoms and rights fundamentally shaped the American political system. These ideals continue to play a major role in our society. The Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, defines our rights and freedoms. However, our perception and realization of civil liberty and civil rights have changed as society has refashioned itself with every new challenge and historical event. In this unit, we explore the freedoms and rights of American citizens.

          We begin by examining civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution, especially in the Bill of Rights. We focus on the rights as defined by the First Amendment, including the right to free speech, religion, and the press. Next, we explore the evolution of civil rights in the American political system, emphasizing the civil rights movement and the political equality of all Americans. Pay attention to how the American political system has maintained a balance of order, freedom, equality, and rights.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 hours.

        • Unit 6: Policymaking in American Government

          Unit Six examines making public policy. In previous units, we explored the foundation documents of the American political system, the role of public opinion and political participation, the development and influence of political parties and interest groups on campaigns and elections, and the role institutions play in developing, implementing, and evaluating laws. We also explored how these groups, processes, and institutions have impacted the maintenance and expansion of civil liberties and civil rights.

          Now let's turn from the processes and institutions to the substance of policymaking. We begin with an overview of the policymaking process and categorize the types of public policy. Next, we explore domestic policy by examining social and economic policies. Finally, we read about foreign policy.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Study Guide

          This study guide will help you get ready for the final exam. It discusses the key topics in each unit, walks through the learning outcomes, and lists important vocabulary. It is not meant to replace the course materials!

        • Course Feedback Survey

          Please take a few minutes to give us feedback about this course. We appreciate your feedback, whether you completed the whole course or even just a few resources. Your feedback will help us make our courses better, and we use your feedback each time we make updates to our courses.

          If you come across any urgent problems, email contact@saylor.org.

        • Certificate Final Exam

          Take this exam if you want to earn a free Course Completion Certificate.

          To receive a free Course Completion Certificate, you will need to earn a grade of 70% or higher on this final exam. Your grade for the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you can take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt.

          Once you pass this final exam, you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.