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Analyzing Data on American Political Divisions

This page is authored by Steven Schier, Carleton College, based on a class he taught on Divisions in American Politics.
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This material was originally developed as part of the Carleton College Teaching Activity Collection
through its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Summary

Students conduct data analysis about American political divisions and create two papers from this data analysis. Students are assigned to group projects involving data analysis from assigned chapters in MICROCASE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT, a textbook that includes access to a variety of datasets. Their first papers are due on the date of their analysis group reports, which involve class presentations with PowerPoint. These papers are 5-7 pages in length. Their second papers, incorporating a discussion of related literature from class readings and a revised and expanded data analysis of their analysis group project, are due on the last day of class and are 8-10 pages in length.

Learning Goals

Context for Use

This project works well in many American politics classes. The project takes several days for students to complete. It coordinates well with class readings. Windows computers and PowerPoint presentation facilities are necessary. Students need to master the rudiments of quantitative data analysis in the Microcase American Government book in order to succeed in the project.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students conduct data analysis about American political divisions and create two papers from this data analysis. Students are assigned to group projects involving data analysis from assigned chapters in MICROCASE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT, a textbook that includes access to a variety of datasets. Their first papers are due on the date of their analysis group reports, which involve class presentations with PowerPoint. These papers are 5-7 pages in length. Their second papers, incorporating a discussion of related literature from class readings and a revised and expanded data analysis of their analysis group project, are due on the last day of class and are 8-10 pages in length.

Students thus work in analysis teams to create group presentations based on their research. This research identifies and explains some major divisions among American citizens or governing elites within the subject area of their group topics.

Each group uses their online Microcase datasets to complete the analysis exercises for their two chapters. First, group members identify particular paper topics to pursue in analyzing the data from the chapters. Then, each group prepares a thirty-minute presentation that includes findings from each group member's paper. The presentation has to answer three questions: (1) Which findings from your group are most important in understanding that group's topics? (2) Why are these findings the most important for understanding the group's topics? (3) In summary, what major new understandings about American political divisions result from your group's work? I recommend that students first work through the exercises at the end of their two chapters because they often yield some important findings. However, they are free to go beyond each chapter's assigned exercises when analyzing data for their papers and group reports.

Students are instructed to include the following in their papers and group presentations: control variables, directional measures of association (TauB and TauC) and measures of statistical significance. On the day of a group's presentation, each student has to hand in a one-page report on the activities of each group member in preparing the group presentation. Each group also has to hand in one set of completed exercises for their two chapters.

Syllabus

Class syllabus (Microsoft Word 50kB Feb4 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Regular consultation with students about group projects is recommended.

Assessment

Two papers, graded and based on individual data analysis and group presentations. See description for more details.

References and Resources

Textbook
Barbara Norrander and Michael Corbett, AMERICAN GOVERNMENT USING MICROCASE (9th edition) Wadsworth Publishing, 2005. (NOTE: you must have a NEW copy of this book in order to access its datasets.)

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