American Politics 2014
Political Science 1100
  Introduction to American Politics
 - Spring 2014 -
Click here for a printable version

Class Meets Monday & Wednesday, 9:30-10:20 am, Clark Hall 100
Professor Dave Robertson  
Office 801 Tower; Phone 314-516-5855

Office Hours: Monday & Wednesday, 10:30-11:30;
Thursday 9:00-12:00;
              & I can easily arrange other times to fit your schedule.

Click here to learn more about the topics in this course covered in Political Science at UM-St. Louis

Teaching Assistants:    

Joseph Bell, office: 810 Tower, Hours: Tues 2-4 / ph: 314-516-5575 / email:
   Sections 0A3 (Wed 11:00-11:50, Benton 242) & 0A6 (Wed 2:00-2:50, SSB201)
Tyler Chance
, 910 Tower, Hours: Mon 12-2 / ph: 314-516-5539 / email:
0A1 (Wed 11:00-11:50 SSB 201) & 0A5 (Wed 12:30-1:20, Clark 313)
Eric Royer
, office: 809 Tower, Hours: Tues 10-12 / ph: 314-516-5283 / email:
   Sections 0A2 (Wed 12:30-1:20, Clark 214) & 0A4 (Wed 11:00-11:50, Clark 308)

What is this course about?

  What texts are required?

 Do I need to attend class?

What are they exams like?

 How are grades assigned?

 When is the reading due?

How about current events?

What else should I know?


Sample exam questions

What's the memo assignment?

What's the policy on plagiarism?


Americans expect a lot out of their government -- we expect it to protect us from terrorists and the effects of natural disasters, to keep the economy running smoothly, to ensure that people are treated fairly, and to make certain that we have quality education, a clean environment, and good roads, among many other things. We also expect government officials to listen to us and care about our complaints. But we disagree with each other about what problems government should help solve, and how government should help solve them.

This course provides a fair-minded and thoughtful description of the way this American government deals with our expectations, the reasons that it works the way it does, and the challenge of governing America today.  We will examine the Constitution, rights and liberties; participation in politics; elections, political parties, interest groups and the media; Congress, the presidency, and the courts; and the ways that government had addressed problems ranging from the financial crisis and unemployment to war and terrorism. This semester we will have plenty to talk about, including the 113th Congress, President Obama's second term, intense partisan battles between Democrats and Republicans, and political struggles over spending, taxes, the deficit, surveillance, immigration, health care, and the difficulties of keeping the nation prosperous and secure in a world that is always unpredictable and sometimes dangerous.

Our Contract.  By enrolling in this course, you and I have made a contract with each other.  l'll work hard to be prepared, enthusiastic, fair and respectful of every student and their opinions.  I'll be accessible and try my best to return graded materials after no more than a week.  By enrolling in the class, you've agreed to (1) attend every class, (2) to participate by asking questions and joining in class discussions, and (3) reading the assigned material and completing written assignments on time.  Of all the consumer purchases you make, don't let your University of Missouri education be the one expensive purchase where you expect less for your money.


These are the books that are required for this class. They are available at the UM-St. Louis bookstore. 


Yes. Attendance is required in class and discussion sections. MOST LECTURES DO NOT COVER THE READINGS. The lectures substantially expand on and interpret the reading materials, and provide opportunities to discuss the lectures and books. The discussion sections give you the opportunity to review and discuss the week’s material, to discuss the memo assignment, and to explore topics not covered in class.  Each section will provide a review prior to each exam.

About half the material on the exams comes from the lectures. In my experience, if you do not attend class regularly, you will perform very poorly on exams.  

Outlines for each class are available through this syllabus on the evening before class. Just scroll down to "Daily Assignments" and then click on the title of the class for the day.  For example, for the first class on January 22, you would scroll down to:
    January 22 (Wednesday):
American Government in Your Life
and click on "Introduction: American Government in Your Life
".  The Powerpoint presentations will only be shown during lecture - they will not be made available online.


There will be four exams (three in class: February 12, March 10, and April 9; the final exam, May 14, will be given from 8:00 am to 9:45 am).  Each exam consists of three parts: 50 modified true/false questions worth 1 point each, 15 multiple choice questions worth 2 points each, and 1 short answer question worth 20 points. The first three tests and about 90% of the final are not cumulative. Ten to twelve percent of the points on the final are cumulative; they will consist of questions from the previous three exams. Please plan your activities on exam days so that you are in your seat at the moment class; late arrivals may be required to take a makeup exam.  Please do not schedule end of semester travel prior to the final exam. Makeup exams; they will be given only for dire circumstances (vacations are not dire circumstances); makeup exams are 80% essay.

It will be essential to attend lectures and to read the material.  Again, about half the material for each exam is drawn from lecture; about half is drawn from readings.  Current events -- that is, keeping up with the news --  constitutes about 5% of the points on each exam.

For more about the exam format and sample questions, click here


There are 500 total points in the course. Each exam counts for 100 points, or 1/5 of the final grade. The policy decision memo, due April 23, counts for 75 points (5 points for the topic paragraph due March 3).  The grade for participating in your discussion sections is 25 points.  The Memo plus the discussion section grade counts for 100 points, or 1/5 of the final grade. You will not be allowed to drop any of your exam grades. Essay make-up exams will be scheduled only if you have a very serious problem attending a scheduled test.  This table will let you determine your grade in the course at any time.















 & the 
 Memo +













 for the 













NOTE: You are NOT competing with other students  for grades.  There is NO CURVE for the course overall.  Each student can get an A; each student can get a D or an F.  It's up to you.

On the first exam only, if the average for the class falls below 75, all the exams in the class will receive the additional points necessary to bring the class average to 75 (Example: Class average on exam 1 is 73; all those taking the exam receive 2 points).

All your exams will count in the final grade. In one of two cases, I will drop the lowest grade on the first three exams. First, I will drop the lowest grade if one exam score is two full grades below all the rest (that is, 3 As and 1 C). Second, I will drop the worst exam of the first 3 exams if the exams show steady progress of two grades from the first exam to the third and fourth exams (for example, a pattern of D, C, B, A or C, B, A, A).  NOTE: The final exam grade cannot be dropped.   

Note that a paragraph about your policy decision memo topic is due March 3. This paragraph is worth 5 points. The policy decision memo is due April 23.  Information about the memo is detailed further down in this syllabus.  Late Papers lose one point per day (that is, each day that ends in the letter "y") - no exceptions.  


We will grade the memos and return them to you at the last section meeting. You can revise the memo and resubmit it for a grade adjustment on the day of the final exam. 


Your reading assignments are listed on the attached class schedule. I expect you to have read the material before coming to class, and that you will be prepared to discuss it.


UMSL students can get a free copy of three daily papers on campus: New York Times, USA Today, and the St Louis Post-Dispatch.  Students in this course should read the national news section of one of these papers each day. The New York Times has most inclusive coverage; leaders of both major political parties, and of all ideologies, read the Times. In addition, daily analysis is available in newspapers such as the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal. A wealth of newspapers and news sources can be found at Newslink You can look at the front pages of hundreds of newspapers from around the world daily at the Newseum. The St. Louis Beacon is an on-line newspaper that features some of the best reporters in our region.  We are very fortunate to have St. Louis Public Radio, the National Public Radio affiliate for St. Louis, located on the UM-St. Louis campus; here's the link to St. Louis Public Radio. The Newshour shown at 6 PM weeknights on Channel 9 provides in depth coverage and interviews with notable political leaders and analysts. C-SPAN provides live coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives, and C-SPAN II provides live coverage of the U.S. Senate; the C-Span site offers streaming videos of both, and also much other coverage of hearings, major speeches, press conferences, rallies, and historical sites.  Two weekly publications provide incomparable coverage of American politics and policy from the inside: Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report and the National Journal. The National Political Index has links to many other political sources.

There are many sources available for keeping up with day to day politics. Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, CNN/Time's AllPolitics, Real Clear Politics are very good sites. Many political insiders consider NBC News's First Read to be "must" reading.  Politics1 and Dave Varadian's Left, Right and Center provide additional links.  In addition to the general sources above, see these sites: The Hill; Mondo Politico; Campaigns & Elections magazine; and Yahoo! Politics index.


For Missouri politics, see, the St. Louis Beacon Issues and Politics Page, the Post-Dispatch's Political Fix, The Kansas City Star Politics Page, Missourinet, and Stateline.


Are political leaders telling the truth? Check the Truth-O-Meter


For help in evaluating websites, click here

To find out more about government, politics, and public policy, visit the UM-St. Louis Library:


I welcome and strongly encourage you to ask questions about the material or current events in American government and politics. Please ask questions.

Please turn off distracting electronic devices (cell phones, pagers, games, metal detectors, etc.) during class. You may take notes on a laptop, and you are allowed to tape record the lecture.  Phones, laptops, and other electronics are not allowed during exams.

When I return your exam, please check to make sure that I have computed your grade correctly. Please be in your seat by the time class begins, and do not hold conversations during class. If you do not understand lecture, if you have further questions about lecture, please don't hesitate to interrupt and ask your question. If I begin to speak too quickly, please tell me to slow down.

Daily Assignments

January 22 (Wednesday): Introduction: American Government in Your Life

January 27 (Monday): What Were the Founders Thinking?


January 29 (Wednesday):  Federalism: What Government Should Tackle Public Problems?


February  3 (Wednesday):  Civil Rights: When Should Government Protect Freedom and Fairness?


February  5 (Wednesday):  Civil Liberties and Tolerance: Who Should Government Protect?


February 10 (Monday): Public Opinion: How do Americans View Government and Politics?

February 12 (Wednesday): --- EXAM 1 --- / Study Guide for Exam 1


February 17 (Monday): How do Americans Participate in Politics and Government?  

February 19 (Wednesday): How do Americans Vote and Why?  

February 24 (Monday):  Do Political Parties Still Matter?

February 26 (Wednesday): Why did the 2012 Presidential Election turn out the way it did?


March  3 (Monday):  How Do Interest Groups Affect American Politics?


March  5 (Wednesday): How does the Media Affect American Politics?


March 10 (Monday): --- EXAM 2 --- / Study Guide for Exam 2  


March 12 (Wednesday):   What do Members of Congress Do, and Why? 


March 17 (Monday): How Does Congress Work?


March 19 (Wednesday): What is it Like to be President?



March 24-26  Spring Break; class does not meet



March 31 (Monday): How does the Presidency Work?


April  2 (Wednesday): How Powerful is Bureaucracy, and How does it Work?


April  7 (Monday): What does Watergate tell us about the Way American Politics Works?


April  9 (Wednesday): --- EXAM 3 --- / Study Guide for Exam 3


April 14 (Monday):   Why are American Courts So Powerful?


April 16 (Wednesday):   Courts and Policy-Making


April 21  (Monday):  Markets, Government, and American Prosperity

April 23 (Wednesday): How does the Government Try to Manage American Prosperity?  

April 28 (Monday): Social Welfare: How Does the Government Protect Economic Security?


April 30 (Wednesday) Foreign Policy and Globalization I


May  5 (Monday): Foreign Policy and Globalization II


May 7 (Wednesday):  Conclusion 


May 14 (Wednesday): --- FINAL EXAM --- /  8:00 am - 9:45 am Study Guide for Exam 4

Exam Format and Sample questions

The exam consists of three sections: 50 modified true/false statements, 15 multiple choice questions, and 1 short answer question.

Section 1: This section consists of 50 true/false questions. Mark the answer to each question on your machine readable answer sheet. For each question, there are only two possible answers. If the answer is true, darken in the space under A on the answer sheet. If the answer is false, darken in the B on the answer sheet. The remaining letters (C,D,E) are irrelevant for this section of the test. Try to spend no more than 20 minutes on this section. Each correct answer is worth 1 point.

Before the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the United States was experiencing a number of serious problems.  Which of the following are true?

    1. The states were interfering with each others’ trade, and some were taxing imports from other states.

    2. Under the Articles of Confederation, there was no U.S. Supreme Court.

    3. Under the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. had a king with the power of a dictator.

On the machine-readable answer sheet, you would answer "A" (true) for statement 1, "A" (true) for statement 2, and "B" (false) for statement 3.

Section 2: This section consists of 15 multiple choice questions. For each answer, there is only one correct answer. Select the letter, A, B, C, or D, that best answers the question and mark that answer on your machine readable answer sheet. Try to spend no more than 10 minutes on this section. Each correct answer is worth 2 points.

51. According to Jillson, which of these was a participant in the U.S. Constitutional Convention and an author of the Federalist?
        a. John Stuart Mill.
        b. Thomas Paine.
        c. John Locke.
        d. James Madison.

On the machine-readable answer sheet, you would fill in "d" as the answer for number 51.

Section 3. This section consists of a short answer in response to one of the following questions. The best answers will be clear, concise, and they will use specific examples. Only one question will appear on the exam. This section is worth a maximum of 20 points.

1. Describe the four important compromises at the Constitutional Convention, according to lecture. What was the result of each compromise? Be specific.

You would write the answer in the space provided on the exam.

The Policy Decision Memo Assignment

(Topic paragraph due March 3;  Memo due April 23; late memos lose 1 point a day, for each day that ends with the letter "y")

- (for two samples of a similar assignment, click here and here. Note that this is an older paper written for an assignment that differed somewhat from the one required this semester. Be sure to follow the requirements listed below).

You work for a company that gives advice to political candidates of both parties.  Your firm has a contract with the strictly nonpartisan Congressional Research Service to provide a number of five-page memos to help members of Congress from both parties make decisions about critical policy issues.  Your firm wants you to choose one specific policy decision that is critical for the United States in the next several years.  The legislators need to know (1) why the issue is so important, (2) how the issue has developed over time, (3) what the alternative choices are, (4) who supports and opposes each alternative, and (5) what are the benefits and costs of each alternative.  NOTE: You must write memos that are completely fair and speak objectively about all sides of the issue.

First, choose a question about a national public policy decision. Turn in a 2-4 sentence paragraph about the issue, why it is critically important, and describe the chief alternatives.  Include 4 specific references. Turn this paragraph in on March 3.  We have to approve your topic. We will return your topic statement to you with comments. The topic paragraph is worth 5 points.

I urge you to consult the “CQ Researcher” on the UMSL library site under “Electronic Databases. Many students who have gotten excellent grades on memos like this have used the CQ Researcher to choose a topic and to do basic research on it. See also Public Agenda at or The Almanac of Policy Issues at ]

Then, write a five-page policy decision memo. The memo should explain: 

Some of the topics you might choose include, but are not limited to: [Other, Original topics not on this list are very strongly encouraged; consult with your TA]

        - Should the U.S. government impose a tax on carbon emissions to reduce climate change?
        - Should the U.S. force the largest banks to break up into smaller banks?
        - Should the U.S. government do more to increase home ownership?
        - Should the U.S. government allow undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. a way to become citizens?
        - Should Congress eliminate the ceiling on the national debt?
        - Should the U.S. government legalize gay marriage nationally?
        - Should the U.S. government ban genetically modified food?
        - Should the Electoral College be eliminated?  
        - Should citizens be allowed to decide how to invest their Social Security funds?
        - Should the Affordable Care Act of 2010 ("Obamacare") be repealed?
        - Should there be a national identity card?
        - Should the Social Security retirement age be raised?
        - Should a national law tightly regulate access to handguns?
        - Should tax breaks for the oil industry be eliminated?
        - Should the U.S. provide more subsidies for wind-powered energy?
        - Should medical marijuana be legalized nationally?
        - Should the national government set high penalties for racial profiling?
        - Should the U.S. government limit tuition increases at colleges and universities?
        - Should the No Child Left Behind Act be repealed?
        - Should the U.S. use military force against Iran?
        - Should the U.S. allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
        - Should offshore oil drilling near U.S. coasts be banned?
        - Should the U.S. ban stem cell research?
        - Should the U.S. dramatically increase funding to combat AIDs in Africa?
        - Should there be a Constitutional amendment banning the death penalty?

ALL PAPERS SHOULD USE NO LESS THAN 6 REFERENCES.  Do not use Wikipedia or other online encyclopedia.

Sources must be indicated in the body of the paper -- for example, (Jillson, 2013: 56) -- and then fully listed in a bibliography at the end.

Here is the appropriate citation style for these bibliographies:

In the text of the memo, if you want to cite a book or article, cite it in parentheses, with author, date, and page number (Jillson, 2013: 123). Then add a bibliography at the end.

The bibliography should list each book, alphabetical by author, with the authors, date of publication, title, place of publication, and publisher listed. Here are examples of a book, an article and a website.  You should arrange the items in the bibliography in alphabetical order.


Glazer, Sarah. 2006. "Video games." CQ Researcher, November 10, 937-960. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from CQ Researcher Online,

Jillson, Cal. 2013. American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change, 7th edition. New York: Routledge

Steinhauer, Jennifer. 2012. "Enduring Drought, Farmers Draw the Line at Congress. New York Times, August 12. <>, accessed August 12, 2012.

Due date:  April 23
Penalty for late memos – 1 point per day (weekends included), no exceptions

The Memo Assignment is worth 75 points of the 500 total points for the course.

(The memo topic paragraph is worth 5 points of the 75) 

Rewrites: Must be turned in by the time of the final exam.
Here are the Criteria for grading the memos:

Thought & Effort (20%)

o       It is obvious that you put time, effort, and thought into this assignment?

Usefulness (20%)

o       It this memo useful to the candidate?

o       Is your tone fair-minded, serious, and logical?  Have you been fair to both sides? 

o       Is your information up-to-date? 

Content (40%)

o       Did you answer all the questions clearly and specifically?

o       Do you use clear evidence to support your assertions?

o       Do you have a clear train of thought?

Structure & Style (20%)

o       Did you cite your evidence? Is your bibliography appropriate?

o       Do you have an introductory paragraph that states what your paper is about and does, and a conclusion? 
        (The introduction is the last part of the paper you should write)

o      Did you use appropriate grammar and correct spelling and punctuation?

Criteria not used for grading:

The political content of the concluding paragraph of the memos - these can be liberal, conservative, independent, partisan, non-partisan, or your own unique perspective. The political views expressed in the paper have no effect on the grade.



Plagiarism means taking the written ideas of someone else and presenting them in your writing as if they were your ideas, without giving the author credit.  Plagiarism (a word which comes from the Latin word for kidnapping) is deceitful and dishonest.  Violations that have occurred frequently in the past include not using quotation marks for direct quotes and not giving citations when using someone else's ideas; using long strings of quotations, even when properly attributed, does not constitute a paper of your own.


Plagiarism in written work for this class is unacceptable. The University's Student Conduct Code classifies plagiarism as a form of academic dishonesty.  Depending on the severity of the plagiarism, punishment can include receiving no credit for the assignment, failing the course and referral for university disciplinary action.

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Last Updated January 13, 2014