Political Science 1100, Introduction to American Politics, February 17, 2014


Current Events 



Part 2 of the Course: Why do Americans seem so Divided Today?

Participation in Politics
Political parties
Interest groups


Participation in Politics

How do Americans Participate in Politics?

A. There are some kinds of political participation
        we take for granted, such as


Contacting officials (Calling, writing, emailing)


Social Media


Joining political organizations
(parties, interest groups)


Rallies and protests


Litigation (Going to court)




A very important form of participation today: Donating money to campaigns


B. There are some kinds of political participation
     we'd like to overlook, but they occur sometimes anyway

Political Corruption and Scandals





2. Who Participates?

   The Pyramid of Participation:

        Most Americans are Political Spectators who register to vote,

        Fewer are Serious players who contact officials, contribute money and work for candidates

        Still fewer are Intensive players who join parties, work in campaigns, or run for office

Serious and Intensive Players are :

More partisan and ideological than average
Enjoy above average incomes and jobs than average
Older than average
Less often racial minorities than average 


Example: Campaign contributions:

.01% of donors contribute over 24% of campaign contributions


Result: Many of the people who are most involved in American politics are more partisan, ideological, and uncompromising than the average American.  

3. American Government Was Designed

to Control & Mange Participation

The Fragmentation of American government

a    Made it hard for anyone to build majorities and use government by y

       Providing Lots of places to participate
      (national and state governments;  legislatures, courts, and the executive)

        and lots of Alternatives for Opponents to block each other


     Which makes political compromise essential for making American government work



Voting and Elections





Under Ideal Circumstances,
Rational Voters Cast Prospective Votes For the Candidates That Offer Future Policies They Prefer


Prospective voting assumes that voters

    - are well informed

    - carefully consider several candidates, and
    - vote for the candidate who will do what the
individual voter thinks is best



2. THE REALITY OF AMERICAN ELECTIONS: American Circumstances are far from idea.

Turnout tends to be Low


Those who turnout are not perfectly representative of voting age adults.


Four Reasons that Voters Choose One Candidate Over Another


a. Party Identification





b. The Image Of The Candidates




c. Candidates' Stands On Major Issues





d. Incumbents' Past Performance in Office



In Reality, we tend to cast Retrospective Votes: We Tend To

       Retrospective voting is particularly important in voting for President


2008: A Change election favors challenger Obama


2012: Obama was now the incumbent