Citizen Politics in America: Public Opinion, Elections, Interest Groups, and the Media

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Week 1: Public Opinion
This session will examine the attributes of public opinion and explore its impact on the decisions of policymakers—a subject that has been closely studied by political scientists.We will also explain the theory and practice of polling, which has become the primary method of assessing public opinion.

Week 2: Political Parties
Unlike most democracies, the United States has a two-party system, the Republicans and the Democrats. This session will examine this feature of the U.S. party system and will explain the nature of today’s Republican and Democratic parties. Party realignments will be a focus of the session.

Week 3: Campaigns & Elections
This session will begin with a look at the presidential nominating process, which includes what’s called the “invisible primary” along with the primaries and caucuses. The focus will then shift to the general election campaign, which centers on the battleground states—those that are competitive enough to be won by either candidate.

Week 4: Political Movements
This session will examine the factors affecting the success of political movements, such as their ability to attract the resources required for sustained advocacy. Four cases will be used to illustrate the significance of these factors: the black civil rights movement, the Vietnam War protest movement, the Tea Party movement, and Occupy Wall Street.

Week 5: Interest Groups
This session will examine interest groups, focusing on group influence and why some interests are more influential and fully organized than others. The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, enacted in response to the economic downturn that began in 2008, will be used to illustrate key points about group influence.

Week 6: News Media
This session will examine the news media’s influence on politics, focusing on the extraordinary changes that have taken place in the news system in recent decades and on the consequences of those changes. The U.S. news system was once dominated by the television broadcast networks and local newspapers. Today, they have to compete with cable and Internet outlets, many of which operate by a different standard. News coverage of Trump’s and Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaigns will be used to illustrate key points.