Syllabus and Calendar

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Prerequisites

There are no formal prerequisites, though it is helpful to have previously taken an introductory political science course such as 17.20 Introduction to American Politics.

Course Description 

This course provides an overview of electoral politics in the United States, covering presidential, congressional, state, and local elections. It covers the development of American elections over time, electoral rules and institutions, the macro-structural forces shaping electoral outcomes, the key organizations involved in elections (parties, etc.), candidates’ calculations and campaign strategies, and the role of ordinary citizens in the electoral process, as well as potential reforms to the U.S. electoral system. Students’ main assignment will be to follow a specific electoral race and report on its outcome. The course has no recitations or teaching assistants, only lectures, but it nevertheless involves a good deal of in-class participation.

Learning Goals

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Identify the basic rules governing U.S. elections and how they have changed.
  • Describe the most important structural determinants of election outcomes and how they shape the strategic choices of candidates, parties, and interest groups.
  • Explain the key forces influencing citizens’ political participation and preferences.
  • Evaluate the functioning of U.S. elections and the merits of proposals to reform them.
  • Apply the general themes of the course to specific electoral contests.

Expectations

  • Participate actively in the course, whether in the form of answering the questions the instructor poses to the class, interrupting with your own questions, or engaging in productive conversation and feedback with your fellow students.
  • Treat each other with respect**.** In particular, this means:
    • Refraining from dominating the conversation.
    • Listening attentively and politely while others speak.
    • Acknowledging the right of others to hold and express contrary views.
    • When criticizing, focusing on what people said, not who they are.
    • More generally, helping to foster a safe and welcoming environment for students with a diverse range of perspectives and identities.
  • Maintain academic integrity. Among other things, this means never taking credit for words or ideas that are not your own, and always giving your readers enough information to evaluate the source and quality of your evidence. For more information on plagiarism and academic integrity, consult Academic Integrity at MIT: A Handbook for Students.

Required Books

Sides, John, Daron Shaw, Matt Grossmann, et al. Campaigns and Elections. 3rd ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. ISBN: 9780393664676.

Additional readings can be found in the Readings section.

Grading Policy

ACTIVITIES PERCENTAGES
Class participation 10%
A mark up of one reading before each lecture 25%
Submission of choice of race to follow throughout the term 5%
Source list for race report 5%
Pre-election “state of the race” report 20%
Presentation of post-election race report  10%
Final post-election report 25%

For detail on the activities above, see the Assignments section.

Calendar

LEC # TOPICS DUE DATES

1

Introduction

 

2

The Logic of Electoral Democracy

 

3

American Electoral Institutions

 

4

Development of the American Electorate

 

5

Development of the American Elections

Submit choice of race to follow throughout the term

6

Political Parties

 

7

Candidates

Submit initial list of sources for race report

8

Nominations

 

9

Fundamental Factors in General Elections

 

10

Forecasting Elections

 

11

Campaign Finance and Interest Groups

 

12

Campaign Strategies

 

13

Media and Information

Submit pre-election “state of the race” report

14

Presidential Campaigns

In class: Peer feedback on pre-election reports

 

15

Congressional Campaigns

In class: Peer feedback on pre-election reports

 

16

State and Local Campaigns

In class: Peer feedback on pre-election reports

 

17

Voter Participation

 

18

Voter Choice

 

19

Consequences of Elections

 

20

Evaluating American Democracy

 

21

Reforms I - Voter Fraud and Voter ID

 

22

Reforms II - Gerrymandering

 

23

Reforms III - Electoral Systems

 

24–26

Presentations

In class: Post-election report presentations

Submit final post-election report during Lecture 26

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

assignment Written Assignments
notes Lecture Notes