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Political communication

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  • Class Participation (10%): You are expected to attend every class unless you have an excused absence. (Please email me in advance if you will not be in attendance.) You are also expected to actively participate in class, to do the readings in advance of class, and to share readings, news articles, and examples that you encounter outside of class that may be relevant to discussion.
  • In Class Exam #1 (25%); In Class Exam #2 (25%): You will be completing two in class, open book essay exams that test your understanding of key theories, topics, and concepts and your ability to apply these principles to strategy.
  • Annotated Bibliography (10%): For your semester-long research paper, you will be analyzing the communication and media dimensions of a major environmental issue. To inform your analysis, you will be preparing an annotated bibliography of 10 ­relevant scholarly and research-based sources. (Graduate students are required to complete 15 annotations.)
  • Draft & Final Research Paper (30%): You will research and write a 10-15 page paper drawing on your annotated bibliography and other sources, assessing the major findings and insights from scholarship relevant to your topic, and the implications for understanding the nature of political debate and for informing the work of political professionals, advocates, and/or journalists. (Graduate students are expected to complete a 15+ page paper).

*Writing an Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to scholarly books, book chapters, journal articles, and reports.  Each citation – usually around 300-500 words — is followed by a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph called “the annotation.”  For your annotated bibliography, you should be able to find and describe in your own words relevant journal articles, book chapters, and books on your topic. The journals, edited volumes, authors, and fields referenced in this course are good places to start to search for relevant sources.

Dates for Exams and Assignment Deadlines

  • Oct 15 — First Essay Exam
  • OCT 29  — Annotated Bibliography Due
  • NOV 30 — Draft final paper due
  • DEC 3 — Second essay exam due
  • Exam Period—Final version of paper due


Sept 14 & 17— Debating the Union: The Federalists, Anti-Federalists & Sectarian Politics

Discussion questions

  • In the years after the American revolution and before the Constitutional Convention, describe the type of national and state political system that the Articles of Confederation had established. Drawing on Kramnick, describe the multiple reasons that the Federalists argued that the Articles of Confederation system needed to be replaced. As we discussed in classed, how were these arguments specifically framed?
  • Drawing on Kramnick and Woodard, describe the contrasting visions of democracy that divided Federalists and anti-Federalists and how these conflicting visions translated into very different ideas about the design of political institutions. Make sure to discuss differences in terms of national versus local decision-making; the separation of powers among branches of government; the separation of church and state; the valuing of majority opinion/”voice of the people” versus an emphasis on protecting individual rights and guarding against the tyranny of a specific faction; and beliefs about the need for like-mindedness among a local constituency as the basis for effective government versus a belief in geographic distance and political diversity as a basis. Make sure to pair your explanations with specific examples from the readings and class discussion.
  • Describe Woodard’s thesis of different “American Nations” that trace back several centuries, shaping differences in political culture across the U.S. today. Describe specifically the political cultures of Yankeedom, the Left Coast, Greater Appalachia, and the Deep South and how they are reflected in today’s politics. Finally, according to Woodard, what do these longstanding differences in political culture in the U.S. mean for successfully navigating efforts at crafting national policy and for telling a more unifying national story?

Tues Sept 21 & Fri Sept 24  — Public Opinion, the News Media, and Democracy

  • Glynn, C. J., Herbst, S., Lindeman, M., & O’Keefe, G. J. (2015). Public opinion. Westview Press, pgs. 1-56 & 89-104.

Discussion questions

  • Drawing on Glynn et al describe the multiple reasons why scholars, journalists, political leaders, and citizens consider public opinion essential to liberal democracy and governance; the various meanings of public opinion that have been used and applied across history; and the specific definitions [or ways of observing and measuring] public opinion that exist. Make sure to provide specific examples of each of these reasons why public opinion is important; examples of the the specific meanings; and examples of the specific definitions.

Fri Oct 1 & Tues Oct 5 — Yesterday & Today: A Crisis of Legitimacy, Trust, and Authority

  • Kruse, K. M., & Zelizer, J. E. (2019). Fault lines: A history of the United States since 1974. WW Norton & Company, pgs 1-43.*
  • Read & Watch Obama’s Farewell Address.* 
  • Remnick, D. (2016, Nov 18). Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency. The New Yorker.*
  • Patterson, T. E. (2019). How America lost its mind: The assault on reason that’s crippling our democracy. University of Oklahoma Press, xi-25.
  • Rauch, J. (2021). The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth. Brookings Institution Press, 1-19.

Discussion questions

  • Drawing on Obama, Kruse and Zelizer — along with class discussion — describe the various “fault lines” that began to divide the country starting around the 1970s and that became deeper and wider during the Obama/Trump years. For each fault line, discuss the specific factors that made these divisions more prevalent in the years leading up to and during the Obama/Trump presidencies. Apart from what Obama, Kruse and Zelizer identify as fault lines and factors — what would Woodard’s analysis suggest are deeper historical causes of these divisions?
  • Drawing on Kruse and Zelizer — along with class discussion — explain why the 1970s were an era when there was a crisis of legitimacy and a sharp drop in trust on the Federal government, political parties, the news media, and other important political institutions. In recent years, are the same drivers of a loss of confidence and trust still at play; or are there also new factors to consider? In comparison to Kruse and Zelizer, what would Woodard argue are the main factors shaping distrust and a loss legitimacy today?

Fri Oct 8 NO CLASS

Tues Oct 12  — Debating Race, Inequality, and Crime, pt 1

Discussion question:

  • Drawing on Kruse and Zelizer, Nisbet, and class discussion, describe the significance of Nixon’s Southern strategy; and the Reagan revolution in the shift from a 1960s “Great Society” framing of the causes of poverty, racial inequality, and crime and its solutions to a “dog whistle” style framing during the 1980s/90s that poverty and crime among black communities was due to a “culture of poverty” that could not be fixed by more government spending and programs. Be specific, drawing on Nisbet, on how this type of framing was used to promote welfare reform during the 1990s; and strategies that could be used today to reframe race and poverty around dimensions of social inclusion; and away from attributions of individual responsibility.

Fri Oct 15 — Debating Race, Inequality, and Crime, pg 2

  • Sharkey, P. (2018). Uneasy peace: The great crime decline, the renewal of city life, and the next war on violence. WW Norton & Company, pg xi-114.

Discussion question:

  • Drawing on Sharkey and class discussion, describe what today experts consider to be the multiple factors that promoted a dramatic increase in violence crime and murders in major U.S. cities from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s and the factors that likely explain for the sudden drop in crime between the mid-1990s until 2020. What role did the news media and entertainment media play in dramatizing and framing the causes and threat of crime; along with the specific solutions like proactive policing versus other effective solutions like local organizations that provided community and social services that were missing from black neighborhoods?

Tues Oct 19  — Catch Up & Review

Friday Oct 22 — Catch and Review



Fri Nov 2 to Dec 3–The Politics of Mass Destruction in a Liberal Democracy at Risk, pt 1

Fri Nov 2 to Dec 3–The Politics of Mass Destruction in a Liberal Democracy at Risk, pt 2

  • Rauch, J. (2021). The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth. Brookings Institution Press, Chaps 2-8.a
  • Patterson, T. E. (2019). How America lost its mind: The assault on reason that’s crippling our democracy. University of Oklahoma Press, 101-130.
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2020). Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century. Cambridge, Mass.: American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Dec 7 — Last Day of Class — SECOND EXAM EMAILED