Political Science 310
Theories of American Politics

Course Syllabus
Fall 1999
MWF 11:00-11:50 a.m. in 247 MARB

Instructor: Jay Goodliffe
Office: 752 SWKT
Phone: 378-9136
e-mail: goodliffe@byu.edu


Office Hours

Office Hours

I will hold office hours on Monday and Wednesday 1:00-3:00 p.m. I am also available at most other times if you make arrangements with me. I encourage you to come by for any reason whatsoever.

You should check your email regularly (as well as this syllabus web page) for updates, announcements, corrections, etc. You are responsible for any announcements made in class even if you did not attend. I suggest that you exchange phone numbers and/or e-mail addresses with other students in the class.


It is understood that students enrolled in this class will have taken at a minimum Political Science 110 (Introduction to American Politics) and Political Science 200 (Political Inquiry). Thus, I expect all students to have a working knowledge of American politics, and to know how to write a paper. If you have not taken both of those courses, take this course after you have. It will also be of great benefit to have taken Economics 110.


This course is designed to serve as the intermediate theory course for the sub-field of American politics. In the first section of the course, we will study the major approaches to studying social science. Students should be able to identify and apply these approaches to various topics in American politics. In the second section of the course, we will select topics in American politics (one per week), and examine theories that attempt to explain political phenomena, often using the seminal readings on the subject. Throughout the course, you will have the opportunity to develop your critical thinking skills through writing assignments and a group presentation. At the conclusion of this course, you should have four distinct skills:

  1. the ability to identify the major types of theories that structure the study of politics;
  2. the capacity to use these theories to explain current practices in American politics;
  3. the capability to derive testable hypotheses from these theories; and,
  4. a refined ability to analyze and think critically.


The course will be conducted primarily as a seminar. Therefore, it is incumbent that you have read the material to be discussed during each class period prior to the class. It is expected that you will attend regularly and come prepared to participate in the discussion. You should anticipate that I will call on you to contribute your opinion. We will also have various in-class activities and exercises designed to stimulate interest and enhance learning. If I believe that the class is not doing the readings before class, I will administer quizzes at the beginning of class.

I actively encourage questions, interruptions, cries for help, protests of disbelief, etc. You will never be penalized for participating--even when this takes the form of vague complaints like, "I've got no clue why we are reading this stuff!" I urge--indeed, I expect--you to take advantage of the chance to talk with me during office hours.


Preliminary Papers


Final Paper 25%
Group Presentation 20%
Final Examination 25%
Class Participation 10%

Preliminary Papers

There will be four 2-3 page papers (equally weighted) to help you develop your critical thinking skills and evaluate your understanding of the reading. The topic of each paper will be distributed one week before the papers are due. The due dates are noted in the Schedule. If you cannot make it to class, please leave the assignment with the department secretaries (in the Political Science office--745 SWKT) before class begins. I will deduct 10 points per day (including weekends) for late assignments (on a 100 point scale). That said, I am a reasonable person; if you anticipate a problem with submitting an assignment when it is due, speak to me before the assignment is due so that we can try to work out an alternative arrangement.

Final Paper (see updated instructions here)

At the end of the semester, each individual must submit a 7-8 page paper that uses the theories in the section that he or she presented with his or her group. I expect that your final paper will demonstrate the critical thinking skills practiced in the preliminary papers. The paper must explain current practices in American politics using the theories that you covered in your section. You will select one event, practice, or institution in American politics that you used during your presentation and specify how the theory explains its occurrence. You should use the following structure for your paper:

  1. Introduction to the problem: What is the one event, practice, or institution that you seek to explain? Describe the item and its relationship to American politics. Why is this item significant? This must be one of the examples that you used in your group presentation.
  2. What theory in the section that you presented currently explains why this particular event, practice, or institution occurs? Does it adequately explain the item? What characteristics of the item are not explained by the theory?
  3. What are the properties of the theory? What assumptions does it make about the case you seek to explain? What assumptions does it make about political reality? Does it focus on individuals, institutions, or ideas?
  4. What are the competing theories? Is there another theory that can adequately explain your item? If so, why did you choose the one over the other? What kind of test could you devise to gather data and evidence to support the theory you chose?
  5. Conclusion: Summarize your findings. What is the long-term prognosis for the event that you selected? How robust is your theory at explaining future events?

You must make every effort to write lucid and compelling papers. Higher grades will be given to those papers that are clear, interesting, and virtually free of spelling and grammatical errors. Your paper should also display a rich understanding of the theory and item you select. As you write your paper, please keep in mind that the "A" paper must contain the following properties:

Students will be assigned to a group of three. Each student in the group will distribute his or her paper to the other two students for peer evaluation. (Students will evaluate two peers' papers, and return each of them with an evaluation sheet--found here and here.) After incorporating the appropriate suggestions and criticisms, students will turn in their final paper. Twenty percent of your final paper grade is determined by your initial submission, 20% of your final paper grade is determined by how well you evaluate your peers, and the final 60% is determined by your final submission to me.

The paper is due at the beginning of class on the day designated in the course Schedule. If you cannot make it to class, please leave the assignment with the department secretaries (in the Political Science office--745 SWKT) before class begins. I will deduct 10 points per day (including weekends) for late assignments (on a 100 point scale). That said, I am a reasonable person; if you anticipate a problem with submitting an assignment when it is due, speak to me before the assignment is due so that we can try to work out an alternative arrangement. The papers may be picked up in the Political Science office (745 SWKT) after they are graded. The papers will be discarded at the end of the Winter 2000 semester.

Group Presentation

To facilitate discussion of the issues, each student will participate in a group presentation at some point during the semester. A group presentation should identify the one or two most important questions that the readings seek to answer, consider alternative explanations and answers from other theoretical approaches, examine recent occurrences in American politics and what the theories say about them, and analyze their importance for the future of American democracy. You can be as creative as you wish in your approach to the group presentation. You can use video clips from news programs or movies to illustrate a particular point. You may want to use music that expresses the same themes found in the readings. The class period belongs to you. You are responsible for helping us to understand why these theories and the questions they raise explain such persistent patterns in American politics. The first presentation will be September 27th in order to give you time to think about what you might want to do. The groups will be small to minimize the "free-rider" problem. However, 40% of your grade for the group presentation will depend upon the evaluation of the other members of the group. If the other students do not think that you contributed significantly and meaningfully to the presentation, they can penalize you.

Each person in the group must apply a theory to a recent example in American politics during the presentation. This example will be used in the final paper (see above).

Each group must meet with me before their presentation to discuss their plans, and to examine the readings.

More details on the group presentation can be found here.

Final Exam

There will be a final examination that will be comprehensive. The final exam will be administered in the Testing Center (265 HGB) December 13-17 (as noted on the final exam schedule). You may bring any notes that you have written yourself into the exam (i.e., you may not bring anyone else's notes, the text, or any articles). There will be no time limit. The exam will consist primarily of short-answer questions and essay questions that assess the skills listed in Objectives. The exams may be picked up in the Political Science office (745 SWKT) after they are graded. The exams will be discarded at the end of the Winter 2000 semester.

Class Participation

Since this class is a seminar, students should be ready to engage one another in discussion. Of course, in order to participate, one needs to attend class. I am particularly interested in your participation when other groups make their presentations. Active, collaborative learning not only enhances your education, but is more interesting to both student and instructor.


I do not grade on a curve.

I include the following information from the BYU 1999-2000 Undergraduate Catalog which guides how I grade and determine workload:

"The grade given in a course is the teacher's evaluation of the student's performance, achievement, and understanding in that subject as covered in the class. The following adjectives indicate the meaning of the letter grades:
A Excellent
B Good
C Satisfactory
D Minimum passing
E Unacceptable
"Hence, the grade A means that the student's performance, achievement, and understanding were excellent in the portion of the subject covered in the class.
"There are prerequisites that qualify students to be admitted to the more advanced classes offered by a department. A senior has added experience, understanding, and preparation and, consequently, progresses in courses that would have been impossible when the student was a freshman. The level of performance, achievement, and understanding required to qualify for each grade that carries credit (any grade other than E, UW, I, IE, or WE) is higher in a more advanced class than in those classes that precede it, and the student is prepared to work at this higher level" (p. 34).
"The expectation for undergraduate courses is three hours of work per week per credit hour for the average student who is appropriately prepared; much more time may be required to achieve excellence" (p. 32).


The text for the course is

It is available through the BYU Bookstore, or you may want to purchase it through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, bigwords, or any number of other on-line bookstores.

The other readings are either available through JSTOR or Electronic Course Reserve in the Lee Library. You must access JSTOR from a BYU computer, and to print, the computer must have the Adobe Acrobat reader. You can access the Electronic Course Reserve from any computer, but must also have the Acrobat reader to print. Where possible, I have linked the article directly to this syllabus.

You should also read a national newspaper daily. Knowledge of current events will help you in your group presentation, preliminary and final papers, and active participation in class. I suggest subscribing to a national paper, or at the very least, reading on the web the national news of The New York Times (free with registration), The Washington Post (free), The Los Angeles Times (free), or The Wall Street Journal (not free).

I may add or subtract readings during the semester.

Theories of Social Science (August 30 - September 24)

Terence Ball, "Is There Progress in Political Science?" in Idioms of Inquiry, ed. Terence Ball, State University of New York Press, 1987.

Daniel Little, Varieties of Social Explanation, Chapters 1-8 (skim 7), Westview Press, 1991.

David Easton, " The Future of the Postbehavioral Phase in Political Science," in Contemporary Empirical Political Theory, ed. Kristen Renwick Monroe, University of California Press, 1997.

Susan J. Carroll and Linda M. G. Zerilli, "Feminist Challenges to Political Science," in Political Science: The State of the Disipline II, ed. Ada W. Finifter, American Political Science Association, 1993.

Applications of Theories to American Politics

Power in America (September 27, 29, October 1)

Nelson W. Polsby, "How to Study Community Power: The Pluralist Alternative," Journal of Politics 22:474-484 (1960).

G. William Domhoff, "Who Governs America Today?" in Primis Sociology database, eds. Craig Calhoun and George Ritzer, McGraw-Hill, 1997.

John Gaventa, "Power and Participation," in Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley, University of Illinois Press, 1980.

The Constitution (October 4, 6, 8)

Charles A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (excerpts), 1913.

John P. Roche, "The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action," American Political Science Review 55:799-816 (1961).

John B. Londregan, "Deliberation and Voting at the Federal Convention of 1787," (1999).

American Culture (October 11, 13, 15)

Louis Hartz, "The Concept of a Liberal Society," in The Liberal Tradition in America, Harcourt, Brace, 1955.

Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba, "An Approach to Political Culture," in The Civic Culture, Little, Brown, 1965.

Robert D. Putnam, "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital," Journal of Democracy 6:65-78 (1995).

Voting (October 18, 20, 22)

Angus Campbell, Philip E. Converse, Warren E. Miller, and Donald E. Stokes, "Theoretical Orientation," in The American Voter, University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Anthony Downs, "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy 65:135-150 (1957).

Morris P. Fiorina, "An Outline for a Model of Party Choice," American Journal of Political Science 21:601-625 (1977).

Interest Groups (October 25, 27, 29)

David B. Truman, "Group Politics and Representative Democracy," in The Governmental Process, 2nd edition, Alfred A. Knopf, 1971.

Mancur Olson, Jr., "The Logic," in The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities, Yale University Press, 1982.

Richard L. Hall and Frank W. Wayman, "Buying Time: Moneyed Interests and the Mobilization of Bias in Congressional Committees," American Political Science Review 84:797-820 (1990).

Civil Rights (November 1, 3, 5)

Doug McAdam, "Tactical Innovation and the Pace of Insurgency," American Sociological Review 48:735-754 (1983).

Dennis Chong, "Conclusion," in Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement, University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Verta Taylor and Nancy E. Whittier, "Collective Identity in Social Movement Communities: Lesbian Feminist Mobilization," in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, eds. Aldon D. Morris and Carol McClurg Mueller, Yale University Press, 1992.

Bureaurcracy (November 8, 10, 12)

Fred Block, "Beyond Relative Autonomy: State Managers as Historical Subjects," in Revising State Theory, Temple University Press, 1987 [1980].

James Q. Wilson, "The Bureaucracy Problem," Public Interest 6:3-9 (1967).

Roger D. Masters, "Why Bureaucracy?" in The Nature of Politics, Yale University Press, 1989.

Representation (November 15, 17, 19)

Richard F. Fenno, Jr., "U.S. House Members in Their Constituencies: An Exploration," American Political Science Review 71:883-917 (1977).

Julie Dolan, "Support for Women's Interests in the 103rd Congress: The Distinct Impact of Congressional Women," Women and Politics 18:81-94 (1997).

James A. Stimson, Michael B. Mackuen, and Robert S. Erikson, "Dynamic Representation," American Political Science Review 89:543-565 (1995).

Congressional Budgeting (November 22, 29, December 1)

Richard F. Fenno, Jr., "The House Appropriations Committee as a Political System: The Problem of Integration," American Political Science Review 56:310-324 (1962).

D. Roderick Kiewiet and Mathew D. McCubbins, "Congressional Appropriations and the Electoral Connection," Journal of Politics 47:59-82 (1985).

J. McIver Weatherford, "The Ritual of Legislation," in Tribes on the Hill, Rawson, Wade Publishers, 1981.

Critique (December 3, 6, 7)

Gerald H. Kramer, "Political Science as Science," in Political Science: the Science of Politics, ed. Herbert F. Weisberg, Agathon Press, 1986.

Theodore J. Lowi, "The State in Political Science: How We Become What We Study," American Political Science Review 86:1-7 (1992).

Daniel Little, "Toward Methodological Pluralism," in Varieties of Social Explanation, Westview Press, 1991.

Schedule (subject to change)

Date Topic Assignments
August 30 Introduction  
September 1 No class-APSA Work on Writing #1
3 Overview Ball
6 No class-Labor Day  
8 Causal Analysis Little 1-2; Writing #1 Due
10 Rational Choice Little 3
13 Interpretivism Little 4
15 Functionalism Little 5
17 Marxism Little 6 (skim 7)
20 Statistics Little 8
22 Behavioralism Easton
24 Feminism Carroll and Zerilli
27 Power in America Polsby; Domhoff; Gaventa
October 1   Writing #2 Due
4 Constitution Beard; Roche; Londregan
11 American Culture Hartz; Almond and Verba; Putnam
15   Writing #3 Due
18 Voting Campbell, et al.; Downs; Fiorina
25 Interest Groups Truman; Olson; Hall and Wayman
29   Writing #4 Due
November 1 Civil Rights McAdam; Chong; Taylor and Whittier
8 Bureaucracy Block; Wilson; Masters
15 Representation Fenno; Dolan;
Stimson, MacKuen, and Erikson
19   Peer Paper Draft Due
22 Congressional Budgeting Fenno; Kiewiet and McCubbins;
24 No class-Thanksgiving  
26 No class-Thanksgiving  
December 1   Peer Reviews Due
3 Critique Kramer
6   Lowi
NOTE! 7   Little 11
8 Review Final Paper Due
10-11 Reading Period  
13-17 Final Exam  

Jay Goodliffe's home page

This page is http://fhss.byu.edu/polsci/courses/fall99/310s001.htm