Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Overview

This course examines democratic performance in the United States. We begin by examining the theoretical foundations of democratic representation. Then, we spend two weeks on public opinion. We will examine the origins of public opinion, as well as various approaches for measuring public opinion. Next, we examine factors, such as malapportionment, that lead to non-majoritarian outcomes. Next, we review the empirical evidence about how well policy outcomes reflect public opinion, and whether certain groups are over or under-represented in the policy process. Finally, we discuss institutional reforms that might make our democracy more responsive to the American public.

Required Text

Buy at Amazon Erikson, Robert S., and Kent L. Tedin. American Public Opinion: Its Origins, Content, and Impact. 8th ed. Pearson, 2010. ISBN: 9780205745432.

Buy at Amazon Ansolabehere, Stephen, and James M. Snyder, Jr. The End of Inequality: One Person, One Vote and the Transformation of American Politics. W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. ISBN: 9780393931037.

Buy at Amazon Gilens, Martin. Affluence & Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Princeton University Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780691153971. [Preview with Google Books]

Additional readings come from a variety of sources and are detailed in the Readings section.


Class participation 15%
Group presentation on readings 10%
Short written essay assignments 20%
Final paper outline 5%
Final paper 50%

For further details, please see the Assignments section.

Academic Integrity

Students are encouraged to talk to one another outside of class about issues discussed in class and to brainstorm about essays. You often learn best from your peers. However, each student is expected to write his or her own essays and exam notes individually. For more on academic integrity, please see the Academic Integrity at MIT website.