American Federal Government 

POS 2041 Honors (3 credit hours), Spring 2021


Professor Michael D. Martinez
208 Anderson
(352) 273-2363

Office Hours: Wednesdays 9 – 11 am (EST) / 1400 – 1600 UTC on Zoom
Request an appointment using Calendy

My office is in 208 Anderson Hall, which is a beautifully refurbished building on University Avenue just northeast of Smathers Library and across University Avenue from Chipotle.

Course Description

What is democracy, and how democratic are American political institutions?  How do political institutions help societies solve classical political questions? What is political power, and how concentrated is it in the United States relative to other democracies? How resistant to change is the United States Constitution, relative to other national constitutions?  Are American political parties relatively strong or weak, and what difference does that make? Why are we have an Electoral College, and who benefits from it? Can Congress effectively represent and effectively legislate at the same time?  What is the role of an unelected judiciary in a democracy? Are federal bureacrats responsive to political institutions?

We will address these and other questions through a survey the structural foundations, political linkage institutions, and governmental institutions in the United States. Our discussions will include some historical references, comparisons and contrasts to other countries' political systems, and comment on current developments. We also expect to host some guest speakers, who will offer their perspective on how and why various instituions work the way that they do. By the end of the course, students should be able to critically evaluate claims about the U.S. political system using empirical evidence.

Objectives and Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course, students will be expected to have achieved the following learning outcomes in content, communication and critical thinking:

Content: Students will acquire a basic knowledge of the component elements of a democracy, the structural foundations of American politics, including the Constitution, the fragmentation of political power (horizontally and vertically), America's political culture, economic development, and the role of the US in the international system; the multiple dimensions of public opinion, and which parts of public opinion are reflected through linkage institutions, including the media, interest groups, social movements, political parties, and the electoral system;institutions of Congress, the presidency, the judiciary, and the federal bureaucracy.

Communcation: Students will communicate knowledge, ideas and reasoning clearly and effectively in written and oral forms .
Critical Thinking : Students will analyze information carefully and logically from multiple perspectives

Class Meetings

Our normal rhythm will be

  1. On Thursday, I will preview the next week's topic, readings, and assignments.

  2. On Tuesday, I will usually lecture to introduce a topic, and sometimes discuss New York Times or Wall Street Journal articles that reflect how current events are related to our discussion.

  3. A weekly assignment and/or quiz will be due at 7:25 am on Thursdays on Canvas. It will cover the major concepts in the text and other readings. This is intended to ensure that students are keeping up with the lectures and readings, and are prepared for discussion on Thursday.

  4. Thursday will be partly lecture but mostly a discussion of the assigned readings (including those from The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal). Students are expected to have read and reflected on the readings by the beginning of class on Thursday, and come to class ready to discuss them. On some Thursdays, we will have guest speakers by Zoom.

This is a Hy-flex class, meaning that there are concurrent face-to-face and online sections which will meet on Tuesdays 2 (8:30 - 9:20 am) and Thursdays 2-3 (8:30 - 10:25 am).

The face-to-face section (Section 101H/Class 17732) will meet in FLI 0117.

The participation portion of your grade for this class will be calculated on the basis of your attendance and the quality of your participation in class discussion.

Some class meetings will be designated as Zoom only.  On those dates, the instructor will not be in the classroom, and students enrolled in the face-to-face section are expected to participate by Zoom. Those dates are
In response to COVID-19, the following policies and requirements are in place to maintain your learning environment and to enhance the safety of our in-classroom interactions.

The online section (Section 101I/Class 17733) will meet on Zoom only.

Resources and Readings

Some readings will be accessible online through links on Canvas.

Greenberg, Edward and Benjamin Page. 2019. The Struggle for Democracy: 2018 Elections and Updates Edition (Twelfth Edition; ISBN 9780135246849). This text argues that policy results from a combination of structural, political, and governmental effects. Greenberg and Page also argue that American democracy is evolutionary, and offer numerous comparisons to other political systems.  This text is available as an e-text or in paperback.

optional REVEL electronic package

Pearson Higher Education includes access to Revel (an electronic package to accompany the Greenberg and Page text) at no additional cost to students.  It is also available as a stand alone product (without the printed text) for $70. Revel is not required for this class, but you may use it as a study guide (or just as an electronic version of the text) if you wish. Revel includes the entire textbook (in both text and audio), plus some videos and simulations, short quizzes, key word reviews, and chapter exams to help students prepare for exams.  If you wish to use Revel, here is how to register:
  1. Visit this link:
  2. Sign in with your Pearson Account. You can either: sign in with an existing Pearson username and password OR create a new Pearson account if this is your first Pearson digital product.
  3. Choose your course under 'My Courses' and choose an access option: redeem an access code that you got with the purchase of the textbook or you may purchase access online. There is a free trial if you are waiting for financial aid.

You may wish to bookmark to easily access your materials. Pearson recommends using the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, or Safari with this digital product.

Again, Revel is not required for this course. No extra credit for doing the assignments in Revel, and no penalty for not doing them. But some students may prefer the convenience of an electronic text, and find the extras and assignments interesting or helpful as a study aide.

Kollman, Ken, ed. 2019.  Readings in American Politics: Analysis and Perspectives. Fifth Edition. New York: W. W. Norton.  (ISBN: 9780393679168; paperback)

This collection of classic and contemporary essays elaborate on themes discussed in the text, and make either normative, legal, or empirical arguments about some aspect of the American political system.  

Periodically, I will assign articles from The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal that are relevant to the topics that we are discussing. Those articles may be discussed in lecture or in discussion section, and should be considered required reading for an upcoming test or discussion section.  Announcements and links will be provided on Canvas.  UF students have free digital subscriptions to both (courtesy of the Provost's Office and Student Government).

Course Requirements and Grades
Midterm Exam (Thursday, March 11) 25%
Final Exam (Thursday, April 29, 7:30  - 9:30 am)
Weekly assignments (usually due Thursdays at 8:25 am)
Attendance and Participation
Total 100%

Grading Scale:

Lower boundaries for grades are:

B+ 87.0%
C+ 77.0%
D+ 67.0%
A 93.0%
B 83.0%
C 73.0%
D 63.0%
A- 90.0%
B- 80.0%
C- 70.0%
D- 60.0%

Note that 82.97% is less than 83.0%, and is therefore a "B-". "A minimum grade of "C" is required for general education credit."

Midterm Exam (25%) and Final Exam (30%)

There will be two examinations. Each will be a combination of true-false justify (short answers) and essay.  Both exams will cover lecture, readings, completed assignments, and articles discussed in class.

Exams will be administered via Proctor-U, which requires the use of a laptop with a camera.

Absences from exams will only be excused if the student can provide written and verifiable documentation of illness, bereavement of an immediate family member, or a conflicting University or legal obligation.

The date and time for the final exam were assigned to this class by the UF Registrar in order to assure that all students have time to prepare for all of their exams and avoid exam conflicts. Please advise parents, spouses, fairy godparents, and others who may be making travel plans for you of your final exam schedule. If you have unavoidable plans that prevent you from taking the final exam on April 29, you should consider dropping the course or registering for a different section of the course.

Weekly assignments (30%)

Weekly assignments will generally be due on Thursday before class, and will often form the basis of class discusion on Thursdays. Assignments may take a variety of formats, including (1) quiz questions on the assigned readings, (2) a short reaction paper to one or more of the readings, (3) a reflection on how a contemporary political issue or event is related to the readings or lecture, (4) preparation of questions for guest speakers, or (5) a task that can be completed online that is related to one or more of the readings or a point made in lecture.

Attendance and participation (15%)

This portion of the grade will be based on the quality of your participation in class discussions, including listening, preparation, quality of contributions, impact on the class, and frequency of participation.  Opinions held by other students, the instructor, and the guest speakers should be respected in discussion, and conversations that do not contribute to the discussion should be held at minimum, if at all.  Regular attendance is expected, in accordance with University policy and in the spirit of Honors students helping each other learn through respectful, engaged, and informed discussion with one another, the instructor, and the guest speakers.

Strong Needs Development Unsatisfactory
Listening Actively and respectfully listens to peers and instructor Sometimes displays lack of  interest in comments of others Projects lack of interest or disrespect for others (including browsing other materials during class)
Preparation Arrives fully prepared with all assignments completed, and notes on reading, observations, questions Sometimes arrives unprepared or with only superficial preparation Little evidence of having completed or thought about assigned material
Quality of contributions Comments are relevant and reflect understanding of assignments, previous remarks of other students, and insights about assigned material Comments sometimes irrelevant, betray lack of preparation, or indicate lack of attention to previous remarks of other students Comments reflect little understanding of either the assignment or previous remarks in class
Impact on class Comments frequently help move class discussion forward Comments sometimes advance the conversation, but sometimes do little to move it forward Comments do not advance the conversation or are actively harmful to it
Frequency of  participation Actively participates at appropriate times Sometimes participates but at other times is “tuned out” Seldom participates and is generally not engaged or absent

Grading scale for participation component:
Statement on Students with Disabilities

The University of Florida and the instructor are committed to providing academic accommodations for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities requesting accommodations should first register with the Disability Resource Center (352-392-8565, The University and the instructor encourage students with disabilities to follow these procedures as early as possible within the semester.

Course Evaluations

Students are expected to provide feedback on the quality of instruction in this course by completing online evaluations at . These evaluations are important to merit committees and Department chairs in the evaluations of teaching, to future students who are looking for good classes, and to the instructor as he revises the course for future semesters. Evaluations are typically open during the last two or three weeks of the semester, but students will be given specific times when they are open. Summaries of course evaluation results are available to students at

University Honesty Policy

UF students are bound by The Honor Pledge which states, “We, the members of the University of Florida community, pledge to hold ourselves and our peers to the highest standards of honor and integrity by abiding by the Honor Code.” On all work submitted for credit by students at the University of Florida, the following pledge is either required or implied: “On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid in doing this assignment.” The Honor Code  specifies a number of behaviors that are in violation of this code and the possible sanctions. Furthermore, you are obligated to report any condition that facilitates academic misconduct to appropriate personnel. If you have any questions or concerns, please consult the instructor.

Cookie policy

If a cell phone rings during class, the owner of the cell phone is obligated to bring cookies (or healthier treats) for the entire class at a future date to be arranged with the instructor. (The instructor happens to like Heath Bar cookies from the Publix bakery.)

Discussion of grades

Please do not phone me to discuss a grade.  You are welcome to call to schedule an appointment, but please refrain from asking about your grade directly over the phone.  This helps me protect your statutory rights to privacy, as I am generally unable to verify your identity or the presence of others over the phone.


The following is provided as a guideline to the course. I reserve the right to make adjustments to the calendar if needed, delay particular assignments, or to change them to optional. I will add links to short articles in the electronic media from time to time.

Seq Dates Topics Struggle Chapter(s)Readings in American Politics
1 January 12-14 Political Power:  Who Governs? 1
  • Jane Mansbridge, from "What Is Political Science For?," American Political Science Review
  • Robert A. Dahl, from Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition
2 January 19-21 Constitution:  America's Founding Compromise 2
  • Brutus, The Antifederalist, No. 1 
  • Robert A. Dahl, from How Democratic Is the American Constitution?
  • Mila Versteeg and Emily Zackin, from "Constitutions Unentrenched: Toward an Alternative Theory of Constitutional Design," American Political Science Review

January 19
No class meeting;
an asynchronous lecture will be provided on Canvas

3 January 26-28 Federalism:  Vertical fragmentation 3
  • Christopher Hammons, from "State Constitutions, Religious Protection, and Federalism," University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy
  • William H. Riker, from Federalism: Origin, Operation, Significance
  • Pamela McCann, et al., from "Top-Down Federalism: State Policy Responses to National Government Discussions," Publius
4 February 2-4
Structural Foundations: How Well Developed is the United States? 4
5 February 9-11 Public Opinion and Media:  Are We Polarized?  If so, is it the Media's Fault? 5 and 6
  • Katherine Cramer, from The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker
  • James Campbell, from Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America
  • Lilliana Mason, from Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity
6 February 16-18 Interest Groups: What Accent the Heavenly Chorus? 7
  • Ken Kollman, from Outside Lobbying: Public Opinion and Interest Group Strategies
  • Larry M. Bartels, from Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

February 18
Guest Speaker: Ian Rayder

7 February 22 Social Movements: Grassroots or Astroturf? 8

February 24 Recharge Day

8 March 2-9 Political Parties and Elections: 
Why Did Al Gore Win an Oscar instead of the Presidency?
9 and 10
  • John H. Aldrich, from Why Parties? A Second Look
  • Marty Cohen, et al., from The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform

  • Christopher Achen and Larry M. Bartels, from Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government

March 4
Guest Speaker: State Sen. Keith Perry, 2020 Presidential Elector

March 11
Mid-term Exam

9 March 16-18 Congress:  Do We (Sort of) Love our Congressman, but Hate Congress? 11
  • David R. Mayhew, from Congress: The Electoral Connection 
  • William Bernhard And Tracy Sulkin, from Legislative Style
  • Frances E. Lee, from Insecure Majorities: Congress And The Perpetual Campaign

March 18
Guest Speaker: US Rep. Debbie-Wasserman Schultz

10 March 23-25 Presidency:  Are there really Two Presidencies? 12
  • Richard E. Neustadt, from Presidential Power And The Modern Presidents: The Politics Of Leadership From Roosevelt To Reagan
  • Brandice Canes-Wrone, From Who Leads Whom? Presidents, Policy, And The Public 
  • William G. Howell, from Power Without Persuasion: The Politics Of Direct Presidential Action 
11 March 30-April 1
Bureaucracy:  Is our Bureaucracy Tyrannical? 13
  • James Q. Wilson, from Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do And Why They Do It 
  • Mathew D. Mccubbins And Thomas Schwartz, from "Congressional Oversight Overlooked: Police Patrols Versus Fire Alarms," American Journal Of Political Science
  • Susan L. Moffitt, from Making Policy Public: Participatory Bureaucracy In American Democracy

April 1
Guest Speaker: Kate Higginbothom, FEC

12 April 6-8
Judiciary:  Do Unelected Judges Preserve Democracy? 14
  • Gerald N. Rosenberg, from The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change?
  • Marbury v. Madison (1803)
  • Lawrence V. Texas (2003)
  • Tracey E. George And Lee Epstein, From "On The Nature Of Supreme Court Decision Making," American Political Science Review

April 8
Guest Speaker: US Magistrate Judge Gary Jones

13 April 13-15 Civil Rights:  The Struggle Continues 16
  • Michael Tesler, From Post-Racial Or Most-Racial? Race And Politics In The Obama Era
  • Brown V. Board Of Education (1954)
  • District Of Columbia V. Heller (2008)
  • Andrew R. Lewis, From The Rights Turn In Conservative Christian Politics: How Abortion Transformed The Culture Wars

April 29
Final Exam

University Resources

Your security, wellness, and ability to succeed are all important to UF and to the instructor. Please utilize these resources if needed.

U Matter, We Care:
  If you or a friend is in distress, please contact or 352 392-1575 so that a team member can reach out.

Counseling and Wellness Center:, and  392-1575

University Police Department: 392-1111 or 9-1-1 for emergencies.

Sexual Assault Recovery Services (SARS) Student Health Care Center, 392-1161.

University Police Department at 392-1111 (or 9-1-1 for emergencies), or

E-learning technical support, 352-392-4357 (select option 2) or e-mail to

Career Connections Center, Reitz Union, 392-1601.  Career assistance and counseling.

Library Support, Various ways to receive assistance with respect to using the libraries or finding resources.

Teaching Center, Broward Hall, 392-2010 or 392-6420. General study skills and tutoring.

Writing Studio, 302 Tigert Hall, 846-1138. Help brainstorming, formatting, and writing papers.

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Last updated: 22 December 2020

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