Political Science | American Legislatures
Y490 | 23393 | Wright


This is senior seminar on American politics.  Two-thirds of the
seminar is on legislatures and those they represent, and the last
third is on the upcoming presidential election (viewed through the
lens of the 2004 presidential contest). Part I draws on an array of
readings and research about voters and legislatures.  I believe this
linkage or relationship is of vital importance for understanding and
evaluating democratic systems.  Part II is a survey  and some
analysis of my project “Representation in the American
Legislature.”  This has been a massive data collection effort over
the last six year and I am just not beginning to undertake
analyses.  You will have the opportunity to use the data from the
project to test some hypotheses and to write these up as one of your
assignments. Part III allows us to join the growing public obsession
with the 2008 presidential race.  We will do so by using an
understanding of the 2004 election for leverage in making sense of
the unfolding events of the upcoming contest.
The seminar is organized to achieve five objectives. The first is
for us to learn about politics in the state legislatures and
Congress, and the impact of elections and other factors on how they
make public policy. We will approach this by paying particular
attention to the connections between the electorate, the
institutional rules of the legislatures, and how legislative power
is exercised in the context of other influences like interest groups
and the American political culture.

The second objective is to learn and to learn some new research
skills. Seminar participants will do original research, integrating
interviews they will conduct with the themes of the readings,
undertaking a statistical analysis of some aspect of legislative
behavior, and drawing on theories and history to write a scenario
for the 2008 presidential election. In these assignments each
seminar member will draw on a wide variety of research materials and
approaches. The best papers do not just repeat others’ statements
about politics, but develop from a serious emersion in original
evidence.

The third objective is to develop writing skills so that members are
comfortable and competent in expressing both facts and arguments in
a readable, professional and convincing way. Even if you never pay
attention to legislative politics after this class, you will
inevitably be called upon to write reports that clearly convey
important information and which makes recommendations or draw
conclusions based on evidence and which are persuasive to audience
of the report.

The fourth objective is to develop and practice effective oral
communication skills. This involves active listening and
participation in class discussions. It is vital to the success of
the seminar that members share their ideas and viewpoints, and to be
willing to go out on a limb to defend their ideas. Out of our
various perspectives and viewpoints should develop a deeper
understanding of the state politics.

Finally, I hope that by the end of the seminar participants will not
only develop their knowledge and skills, but that each of you comes
to a richer appreciation of your major of political science as a
discipline. It is not just a lot of facts about politics; rather
political science as a discipline is a collective, evolving,
cumulative, but not very organized, quest for a better, sounder, and
more insightful understanding of political life.