Political Science | Pol Parties & Interest Groups
Y301 | 0504 | Schaffner

Some of the most important politicians in American history have disagreed,
and continue to disagree, about the role that parties and interest groups
play in the American political system.  Indeed, the constitutional framers
feared parties and special interests-Madison attacked them in the Federalist
Papers and Washington warned against them in his farewell address-and
present-day politicians and commentators continue to blame parties and
interest groups for everything that is wrong with politics.  At the same
time, parties and interest groups continue to thrive in America and many
believe that they are absolutely necessary for the functioning of democracy.
This course will broaden your understanding of parties and interests groups
and the roles they play in American politics.  In the process, I hope we can
address a number of important questions about these institutions.  For
example, why do we have interest groups or parties at all?  What roles do
they serve?  What would politics be like without them?  Is their influence
waning or on the rise?  And are these institutions really so bad after all?
The course will discuss parties and interest group organizations as
intermediaries between citizens and the government.  Readings and
discussions about the "Contract With America" and other recent policy
debates will be used as tools for understanding the role that parties and
interest groups play in government policy making.  In addition, because this
is an election year, special attention will be paid to the role that parties
and interest groups play in the electoral process.  The party primary
process will be dissected by drawing heavily on events from the most recent
primary season.  We will also examine the transition period between the
primaries and the general election, especially the party conventions.
Finally, interest groups often play a decisive role in American elections
and that role will be discussed during this course with a specific focus on
the current election period.
In order to achieve the goals of this course, students will take two exams
and complete a research paper on a topic of their choice.  In addition,
students are expected to read the assigned material and attend class
prepared to debate these issues that are so critical to American democracy.