17.20 | Fall 2020 | Undergraduate

Introduction to the American Political Process

Final Exam

Please select two of the following four questions to answer in short essays (3–4 double-spaced pages).  

  1. Advise the incoming Biden Administration on how to implement an ambitious policy agenda to combat climate change. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Democrats have won both Georgia runoff races, making the Senate 50-50 (with VP Kamala Harris casting a vote in case of a tie), and that the House has a Democratic majority. What specific strategies would you recommend to the President to help him realize his goals? How should he work with Congress, the bureaucracy, and the American people? If the President goes by your playbook, how optimistic are you that he will succeed?
  2. What does the study of race contribute to our understanding of American political behavior? In other words, what can a racial lens illuminate that theories about retrospective voting, partisanship, self-interest, and other drivers of political behavior we’ve studied in the class might miss?
  3. Is federalism good for democracy? Discuss its pros and cons with respect to representation, compared to a centralized regime in which the national government makes all key decisions. In other words, under what circumstances can giving more authority to state and local governments improve democratic outcomes, and when can it make things worse?
  4. What if everyone in America over the age of 18 could vote? Discuss the consequences of instituting a regime of universal suffrage (including for the currently/previously incarcerated and noncitizens) with automatic voter registration. (You can assume we have the capacity to implement this regime without voter fraud.) You may (but need not) consider: descriptive representation, substantive representation, policy outcomes, polarization, and legislative productivity.

General Instructions:

You should make an original argument. Don’t be afraid to make assumptions (that you state clearly), to make policy prescriptions, and to speculate about the future—in other words, be a pundit. That said, you should be an informed pundit: your answers should lean heavily on factual, theoretical, and empirical claims from the readings throughout the course. There should be plenty of in-text citations throughout your exams. (Just author and year in parentheses is fine; no need for a bibliography.) You will be graded on the level and quality of your engagement with the texts on the syllabus.

The exam is open book; you may use your notes, the original texts, slides, Internet sources, etc. Since these questions require original analysis using the course readings, there isn’t really a way to cheat. The only thing that is forbidden is discussing your answers or working collaboratively once the exam has been distributed. You must complete the exam on your own, without any help from or discussion with your peers.

Please submit your exam by the final session. 

I expect you to take about three to four hours to complete this exam, but obviously there is no way for me to enforce a strict time limit, so you are free to take the time you need. However, an A-level exam can be written in three hours: I’m looking for succinct, clear, well-organized and well-structured essays that do not necessarily have to be polished and certainly don’t have to be long. Don’t waste your time writing excessively or over-editing.

Student Examples

“Consequences of Universal Suffrage.” (PDF) (Courtesy of MIT student.)

“Biden’s Climate Change Policy.” (PDF) (Courtesy of Ronak Roy.)

“Federalism.” (PDF) (Courtesy of Daniel Stein.)

Note: All examples appear courtesy of MIT students and may be anonymous by request.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2020
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Exams with Solutions
Written Assignments with Examples