Share Course Ware
Social Studies > Political Science > Introduction to the American Political Process
 Introduction to the American Political Process  posted by  member150_php   on 2/14/2009  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
Further Reading
More Options

Berinsky, Adam, 17.20 Introduction to the American Political Process, Spring 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Introduction to the American Political Process

Spring 2004

Popular vote results for Al Gore in 2000 U.S. Presidential election. (Image courtesy of the Federal Election Commission.)

Course Highlights

This course features a complete set of lecture notes and downloadable assignments.

Course Description

This class introduces students to innovative as well as classic approaches to studying U.S. government. The writing assignments will help you explore, through a variety of lenses, statis and change in the American political system over the last three decades. In the end each student will have a solid grounding in our national political institutions and processes, sharper reading and writing skills, and insight into approaching politics critically and analytically.


Welcome to Introduction to the American Political Process. This course, as the title implies, is intended to present you with an introduction to American government and the political system. This is not a history course, nor is it a class on current affairs (though both of these subjects are critical to the study of political science). Instead, we will focus on currents of thought among social scientists about the workings of U.S. politics and develop a systematic way to think about political institutions, behaviors, and traditions in the United States.

Requirements and Expectations

You are expected to attend lecture and sections. You are further expected to come prepared to discuss the issues raised in the readings. Please read the assigned materials before class on the date they are listed. Feel free to ask questions about current events, assigned readings, or lecture material during or after lecture.

To meet the purpose of the course, you will be expected to both consume and digest readings from scholarly and journalistic sources. You are also expected to be aware of current events, especially relating to American politics. I highly recommend that you subscribe to and read a national newspaper, such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

Lectures are an important part of the class. However, in two hours a week, I can only hope to provide you with an introduction to the material. The lectures will attempt to give you a framework for thinking about the readings. Hopefully, they will help you build a more comprehensive picture of each week's topic from the assigned texts.


This is a communication intensive course. As such you are required to write at least 25 pages and participate in class discussions. Your grade will be determined as follows:

  1. 20 percent participation: Regular attendance and participation in class discussion is required.

  2. 20 percent weekly assignment: Each Tuesday, you will be given a short assignment to complete by the Thursday class. These assignments will help prepare you to write the three papers due during the course of the semester.

  3. 45 percent papers: Over the course of the semester, you will write three 6-8 page papers. The papers are due on Lecture 7, Lecture 11, and Lecture 14. Details concerning these assignments will be handed out in class two weeks before the paper is due. The first paper will be rewritten based on comments form your TAs and turned in on Lecture 11.

  4. 15 percent observation paper. During the first month or so of the course I would like you to attend the meeting of a local governmental body — city council, school board, state legislature, or court. You are to write a paper at least five pages in length on your observations. What is the authority of the body you observed? Who is on this body and how is it organized? What issues or cases did the organization address at the meeting you attended? Who attended the meeting and who participated in the meeting? How did the deliberations go (that is, who spoke about what)? What decisions were made and how? Finally, offer observations about what you learned about decision-making within this body (even if obvious).

I expect that all papers will be turned in on time: no exceptions; no excuses. In addition, plagiarism is entirely unacceptable. Should you turn in a plagiarized paper, appropriate University sanctions will be pursued. If you are unclear what constitutes plagiarism, please talk to me. Finally, grades for your paper will be based on both substance and style. The papers will be graded on the quality of thought and analysis, the research you do, and the quality of writing. Use proper grammar, appropriate language and (please, please, please) proofread and spell-check the final copy of you paper before turning it in.


Part 1: Introduction and Preliminaries
1 What is the Role of Government?  
Part 2: Institutions and American Politics
2 Understanding Institutions: The Median Voter Theorem Assignment #1 due
3 Agenda Setting: The Committee Model Assignment #2 due
4 Making Legislation: Veto Players Assignment #3 due
5 Making Legislation: Ideas and Policy Entrepreneurs Assignment #4 due
6 The Preferences of Policymakers: Elections and Responsiveness  
Part 3: Public Opinion, Elections, and Democracy
7 Campaigns and Elections  
8 The Measure and Meaning of Public Opinion Assignment #5 due
9 The Structure of Public Opinion Assignment #6 due
10 Understanding Public Opinion and American Politics: War and Race  
Part 4: Personal Interests and Political Equality
11 Mobilization of Interests Assignment #7 due
12 Participation and the Political System Assignment #8 due
Part 5: American Politics: Bringing it all Together
13 The Welfare Implications of Government  
14 Conclusions   Tell A Friend