American Federal Government (Honors)

POS 2041 (3 credit hours)

Spring 2019

Section 1E70
Class meeting time:  Tuesdays 4 (10:40 - 11:30 am) and Thursdays 4-5 (10:40 - 12:35 pm)
Matherly 118
Professor Michael D. Martinez
208 Anderson
(352) 273-2363
Office Hours W 2:00 - 4:00 pm

Course Description and Objectives

How do political institutions help societies solve classical political questions? What is political power, and how concentrated is it in the United States? Where does the United States rank on the UN Human Development Index?  How resistant to change is the United States Constitution, relative to other national constitutions?  How will presidential-congressional relations be different, now that Democrats are a majority in the House and Republicans are a majority in the Senate?   How influential can Chief Justice Roberts be in shaping the Supreme Court?  What influences some people to be political gladiators and others to be political spectators?  How will Americans make up their minds when choosing our next President? If more people favor gun control than oppose it, why is the NRA so powerful? Are political parties relatively strong or weak, and what difference does that make?

We will address these and other questions through a survey the structural foundations, governmental institutions, and political linkage 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 Our discussions will include some historical references, comparisons and contrasts to other countries' political systems, and comment on current developments. By the end of the course, students should be able to critically evaluate claims about the U.S. political system using empirical evidence, and discuss contemporary events in the context of structural foundations of the American political system.

This course satisfies a Social and Behavioral Science (S) General Education requirement, and satisfies major introductory requirements in Political Science and a requirement for College of Journalism majors.  It is also a prerequisite to many other courses in American politics in the Department of Political Science.

We will get into a regular rhythm after Martin Luther King Day (January 21). In a normal week, on Thursday, I will introduce the next week's topic, readings, and assignments. Tuesday will be partly lecture as an introduction to the topics, and partly discussion of the how contemporary events (which will be reflected in assigned readings from The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal) relate to the week's topic. Weekly assignments will be due on Canvas prior to class on Thursday, and Thursday class periods will be primarily a discussion of the readings and/or the assignments.  Guest speakers may disrupt this rhythm on either Tuesdays or Thursdays.

Resources and Readings

Canvas will be the course management system for this course.  Make sure that you see this course when you log in to  Some readings will be accessible online through links on Canvas.

Kollman, Ken. 2017.  The American Political System.  Third Edition. New York: W. W. Norton.  (ISBN 9780393283570 for the paperback edition; ISBN 9780393631159 for the e-book edition)
This text focuses on recurrent collective dilemmas and principal-agent problems, and how political institutions solve those problems and affect how costs and benefits are allocated in society. 

Kollman, Ken, ed. 2018.  Readings in American Politics: Analysis and Perspectives. Fourth Edition. New York: W. W. Norton.  (ISBN: 9780393283686; 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 additional articles from The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that are relevant to the topics that we are discussing. Those articles should be considered required reading.  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, February 28) 25%
Final Exam (Thursday, May 2; 12:30 - 2:30 pm) 30%
Weekly assignments
Discussion and participation12%
Total 100%

Grading Scale:

Lower boundaries for grades are:

B+ 85.0%
C+ 75.0%
D+ 65.0%
A 91.0%
B 81.0%
C 71.0%
D 61.0%
A- 88.0%
B- 78.0%
C- 68.0%
D- 58.0%

Note that 84.97% is less than 85.0%, and is therefore a "B".


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.

On exam days, students will be asked to remove hats, caps, and sunglasses.  Initiating or receiving outside communication (using voice, email, text, Morse code, or any other medium) using a phone or other device during an exam constitutes receipt of outside information, and will result in an immediate failure on that examination.  Do not forget to turn off your cellphone before a test.  If you do forget and the cellphone rings, don't answer it.  Surrender the phone to me, and you can pick it up after the exam is over.  In addition, see the cookie policy below.

It is important that you show up on exam day.  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. Plan to be on campus at this time, and do not ask to take the exam early or late, unless you have an exam conflict that is recognized by the UF Registrar. 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 to be out of Gainesville on May 2, you should consider dropping the course or registering for a different section of the course.

Weekly assignments

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.

Discussion and participation grade

12% 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. 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.

StrongNeeds DevelopmentUnsatisfactory
ListeningActively and respectfully listens to peers and instructor
Sometimes displays lack of interest in comments of othersProjects lack of interest or disrespect for others (including browsing other materials during class)
PreparationArrives 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 No comments, or comments reflect little understanding of either the assignment or previous remarks in class
Impact on classComments 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
Regularly attends class, with no more than three total unexcused absences, and no more than one unexcused absence from discussion on Thursdays.
Moderate number of absences.
More than three total unexcused absences, and more than one unexcused absences from discussion on Thursdays.

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, by providing appropriate documentation. Once registered, a student should present his/her accommodation letter to me supporting a request for accommodations. 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. Summary results of these assessments are available to students at .

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 TopicsAmerican Political
Readings in American Politics Chapters

January 8
Introduction to the course

1January 10 - 15
Collective Dilemmas, Principal Agents, and the Design of Political Institutions
1• JOHN LOCKE, from The Second Treatise of Government
• GARRETT HARDIN, from “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science
• D. RODERICK KIEWIET and MATHEW D. McCUBBINS, from The Logic of Delegation: Congressional Parties and the Appropriations Process

January 17
No class: Southern Political Science Association meetings

2 January 22 - 24
Constitution:  The fragmentation of political power (part one)
2• BRUTUS, The Antifederalist, No. 1
• JEREMY POPE AND SHAWN TREIER, from “Voting for a Founding: Testing the Effect of Economic Interests at the Federal Convention of 1787”
• ROBERT A. DAHL, from How Democratic Is the American Constitution?
3 January 29 - 31
Federalism:  The fragmentation of political power (part two)
3•  CHRISTOPHER HAMMONS, from “State Constitutions, Religious Protection, and Federalism”
• WILLIAM H. RIKER, from Federalism: Origin, Operation, Significance
February 5 - 7
Civil Rights and Liberties: the struggle continues
• 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)
Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)
February 12 - 14 Presidency: Are there really two presidencies? 6
• RICHARD E. NEUSTADT, from Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan
• CHARLES M. CAMERON, from Veto Bargaining: Presidents and the Politics of Negative Power
• 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
• SAMUEL KERNELL, from Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership
• JAMES DRUCKMAN AND LAWRENCE JACOBS, from Who Governs: Presidents, Public Opinion, and Manipulation.
February 19 - 21
Congress: Can members represent and legislate at the same time?
  • February 21 - Guest Speaker: Bob Graham (former Governor of Florida (1979-1986) and US Senator (1987-2005))
• DAVID R. MAYHEW, from Congress: The Electoral Connection
• RICHARD F. FENNO JR., from Home Style: House Members in Their Districts
• GARY W. COX and MATHEW D. McCUBBINS, from Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the U.S. House of Representatives
• JUSTIN GRIMMER, SEAN WESTWOOD, AND SOLOMON MESSING, from The Impression of Influence: Legislator Communication, Representation, and Democratic Accountability.

February 26
Catch up, review, and preview of the second half

February 28
Midterm exam

March 5 - 7
Give me a (Spring) Break!

8 March 12 - 14
Bureaucracy: Is Bureaucratic power tyrranical?
• 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
• DANIEL P. CARPENTER, from The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks, and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862– 1928
• (NEW) SUSAN MOFFITT, from Making Policy Public: Participatory Bureaucracy in American Democracy.
• SEAN GAILMARD and JOHN W. PATTY, from Learning While Governing: Expertise and Accountability in the Executive Branch
March 19 - 21
Judiciary: Do unelected judges preserve democracy?

  • March 19 - Guest Speaker: Gary R. Jones, US Federal Magistrate Judge (Northern District of Florida)
• GERALD N. ROSENBERG, from The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring about Social Change?
Marbury v. Madison (1801)
• LEE EPSTEIN, ANDREW MARTIN, KEVIN QUINN, AND JEFFREY SEGAL, from “Circuit Effects: How the Norm of Federal Judicial Experience Biases the Supreme Court.”
March 26 - 28
Public Opinion and Participation: Are voters dumb? Or, is it dumb to vote?
9 and 10
• ARTHUR LUPIA and MATHEW D. McCUBBINS, from The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know?
• DONALD R. KINDER and CINDY D. KAM, from Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion
• JAMES CAMPBELL, from Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America.
• JANELLE WONG, S. KARTHICK RAMAKRISHNAN, TAEKU LEE, and JANE JUNN, from Asian American Political Participation: Emerging Constituents and Their Political Identities
11 April 2 - 4
Interest Groups and Social Movements: What accent the heavenly chorus?

  • April 4 - Guest Speaker (by Skype): Ian Rayder, former Governmental Affairs Representative at Cisco Systems
• MARTIN GILENS, from Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America
• 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
12 April 9 - 11
Political Parties: Can just two parties orchestrate the heavenly chorus?
• JOHN H. ALDRICH, from Why Parties? A Second Look
• MARTY COHEN, DAVID KAROL, HANS NOEL, and JOHN ZALLER, from The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform
• KEN KOLLMAN, “Who Drives the Party Bus?”
13 April 16 - 18
Elections and Campaigns: If Hillary Clinton got more votes, why is Donald Trump president?
• JOHN R. KOZA, BARRY FADEM, MARK GRUESKIN, MICHAEL S. MANDELL, ROBERT RICHIE, and JOSEPH F. ZIMMERMAN, from Every Vote Equal: A State- Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote
• Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)
• Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder (2013)
• RICHARD FOX AND JENNIFER LAWLESS, “Gendered Perceptions and Political Candidacies: A Central Barrier to Women’s Equality in Electoral Politics,” American Journal of Political Science 55 (2011): 59-73.
• CHRISTOPHER ACHEN AND LARRY BARTELS, from Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government.
14 April 23
Mass Media: Is your "fake news" my "news"?
• MATTHEW A. BAUM, from Soft News Goes to War: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy in the New Media Age
• MARISA A. ABRAJANO, from Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters

May 2 (12:30 - 2:30 pm) Final Exam

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Last updated: 4 January 2019

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