Liberty and Equality in American Politics

Richard Keiser
Carleton College


An introduction to American Politics. Focus is on partisan realignment and dealignment since the New Deal.

Course Size:

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no prerequisites. All Political Science majors are required to take the course. Students are frequently recruited to the major from this course. A formal course in statistical methods is required later in the student's curriculum.

Course Content:

This introduction to American politics focuses on political history since FDR. Students learn about the modern era of divided government and its causes. Students also learn the institutions of government, parties, and interest groups. The debate between Pluralist and Elitist theories is a backdrop for the course. Comparisons with European parliamentary systems are frequent.

Course Goals:

One goal of this course is to give students a solid grasp of 20th century American political history and provide a foundation of informed citizenship in the 21st century. A second goal is to introduce students to social science inquiry, specifically to the logic of hypothesis formation and testing about causation. Students will learn to consider institutional rules, individual attributes (like race or class), factors such as region, and membership in ideological organizations.

Course Features:

Course always includes a student research project that involves electoral analysis. Discussion/lecture is framed as a hunt for solutions to puzzles (hypothesis testing). What are the causes of divided government? How democratic is our republic? What advantages and disadvantages are afforded by parliamentary institutions? How many states are actually up-for-grabs in presidential elections?

Course Philosophy:

When students start to think about competing explanations for particular outcomes they quickly grasp the scientific nomenclature of independent and dependent variables. They also become wary of single answers to complex questions.


Class discussion is required, students work together in groups formulating answers to these puzzles, research papers with options for revision are used. Examinations at midterm and finals are also used.

Teaching Materials:

Previous syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 35kB Oct22 08) Congressional Election Analysis Assignment from Previous Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 23kB Oct22 08)

References and Notes: