Department of Politics
Feedback: Whether or not you are asked to complete a standardized course evaluation, I am interested in your comments and suggestions for improvement of the course, the readings, the assignments and this course description. Feel free to send comments as you think of them. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Instructor: Craig W. Allin, Room 307, South Hall. Telephone: Office, (895-) 4278; Home, 431-1100. If I do not answer the phone, leave me a message or send e-mail to email@example.com.
Office Hours: If I'm not in class with you, you can probably find me in my office. Feel free to make an appointment or just show up. To help you find me,the most current version of my schedule is available for your electronic inspection over the campus network if you are using Microsoft Outlook [not Outlook Express / not Outlook Web Access].
From 8:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, Cheryl Dake, faculty secretary for South Hall (ext. 4283) can consult my calendar and make appointments for you.
E-Mail Attachments: Please deliver your papers and independent reading abstracts. Please save your papers and other submissions in Microsoft Word (not Works) or Rich Text Format. Attach your file to an e-mail addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unfamiliar with e-mail attachments, click here for instructions.
Class Meetings: South Hall, Room 300. Consult Course Calendar & Assignments for times.
Focus & Approach: Our topic, Campaigns & Elections, is unusually well suited to mixing politics and science.
In this course we will endeavor to understand campaigns and elections from the varying perspectives of candidates, voters, consultants, journalists, lawyers, judges, and even political scientists. Each has a vantage point; each sees part of the whole. By examining campaigns and elections from multiple vantage points, we hope to provide a more complete, more nuanced, and more interesting perspective than could be provided from any fixed location.
Just as we embrace multiple points of view, we also embrace multiple approaches to learning.
COMMON TEXT. We will be reading and discussing it together. You'll need a copy.
CURRENT NEWS. Pick a daily newspaper and scan it daily for news of interest to the class. You can pick one of the hundreds of daily papers that are now available on-line at no charge whatsoever. You can kill two birds with one stone by picking a daily paper that serves the same Congressional District that you pick for your Campaign Research Assignment.
CAMPAIGN RESEARCH ASSIGNMENT. The biggest portion of your course grade depends upon your performance on the Campaign Research Assignment. Collectively the books below comprise an indispensable resource for the completion of this assignment. Use them selectively to help you figure out both (a) what to do and (b) how to do it.
In the Reference Section:
Internet Resources: The Politics Department Web Site contains valuable links for research in politics including a special page of links created just for this class. The links on the Campaigns & Elections page include several that are probably indispensable for your Campaign Research Assignment. Click the appropriate links at the top of this document.
Video: For the past 50+ years political campaigns have been media driven. One result is that there is a lot of good video, both classic and contemporary. You'll have a chance to see some of the best. Consult Course Calendar & Assignments for the video schedule, which is subject to change on short notice.
As is the custom in many graduate seminars, you have reading and reporting responsibilities that go beyond the assigned texts. Course Calendar & Assignments lists discussion topics for each day of the class. When the responsibility has been assigned to you, you are obligated to locate, read, analyze, and share additional material relevant to the day's discussion topic. Your independent reading assignment for any given day is one article in a scholarly journal. You could guess about what is "scholarly," or we could argue about it. For the purposes of this assignment, scholarly texts exceed 15 pages and are accompanied by complete bibliographic annotation: citations (parenthetical notes, footnotes or endnotes) and references (reference list, works cited or bibliography). For a refresher course on identifying scholarly sources, consult A Guide to Evaluating Resources. Each selection must be within the scope of the day's discussion topic and should bear some relationship to the topics covered in the assigned reading for that day. Assignments will be made during the first class period.
Your grade for this portion of the course will depend upon both what you contribute to the seminar discussion and what you submit in writing. For the discussion your job is
Your written assignment is a formal abstract of the selection you read. Please send it to all members of the class by e-mail attachment at least two hours prior to the beginning of the class during which you will report. Your abstract should contain the complete bibliographical entry using one of the approved manuals of style followed by an accurate synopsis of the selection in proper English and approximately 500 to 600 words. Note: Your abstract synopsizes only the contents of your selection. It does not include the analyses that are part of your oral report. Please consult How to Write an Abstract for guidance and a model written assignment. Visual aids are not a required part of this assignment, but they can be helpful. Here is a nice example.
It is my hope that this form of assignment will have at least four benefits:
Here are some hints to get you started:
Long before any serious political campaign is launched, long before candidates admit to "testing the waters" through calculated public exposure, close advisors of potential political candidates engage in a kind of feasibility study. There are no established rules for such a study, and the results are only rarely revealed outside the inner circle. Nevertheless, it is apparent that every such study must merge the results of constituency research and candidate research into a strategic plan for winning the election.
Your assignment is to produce such a feasibility study for an unnamed candidate considering a campaign against an incumbent member of the United States House of Representatives. Only one student may work on any given Congressional district. A sign-up sheet will be available in the classroom. You may not sign up until you can provide ALL the information requested on that sheet.
The study has three parts, each of which will occupy you for about a week. Each part of the assignment is outlined below. By itself, this outline is insufficient. To understand adequately what you should do and how to go about it, you will also need to consult the references on reserve in the library. Most of the books on reserve are aimed at helping people organize and run successful campaigns for public office. They provide a variety of models for how to conduct each of the tasks outlined below. Be sure to cite these sources when you borrow their ideas and approaches. See CAMPAIGN RESEARCH ASSIGNMENT, for a listing of reserve materials. See Course Calendar & Assignments for due dates. See Campaigns & Elections Research Data Sources for links to useful Internet sites.
Part I: Constituency Research Memorandum and Supporting Documents. The first task is to produce a report on the Congressional District in which your candidate is considering making her/his race. The report should be clearly organized and should present and assess information that is relevant to the conduct of the proposed political campaign. I hope you will discover a wide range of relevant data on your constituency. Relevant data include measures of population, age, wealth, race & ethnicity, economic base, media, institutions, and voting history. Your goal is to produce a report with the maximum of electoral usefulness, so you should attempt not only to assess the politically relevant characteristics of the district as a whole, but should, whenever possible explore the characteristics of its component parts and make comparisons to state and nation. Similarly data about previous elections is most useful if actually utilized to "target" swing voters, percentage of effort, or GOTV. [If these concepts are foreign to you, you will need to educate yourself using the reserve materials in the library.]
The format of Part I involves two interconnected parts: the constituency research memorandum (limited to 1000 words) and the supporting documents. The memorandum should focus on critical facts, analyses and conclusions. It should answer fundamental questions, such as: what data are important? why are they important? what are the electoral lessons to be learned from your constituency research? The memo should make regular and clear reference to the supporting documents, which in turn require source citations. Supporting documents are likely to include maps, tables, figures, calculations, and texts. Ideally the entire constituency memorandum and supporting documents should be submitted as a single digital document. If you find that extremely problematic, for this assignment, you may submit one word processing file and one spreadsheet file. A sample assignment and some thoughts about how I read and evaluate these memoranda are posted here. [Be sure to click this -- and other -- explanatory links. You will regret it if you don't.]
Part I will count for 15% of the course grade.
Part II: Opponent Research Memorandum and Supporting Documents. Candidate research comes in two major varieties: self-assessment and opponent research. Since your candidate is unnamed, there will be no self-assessment here. Your task is opponent research, and your opponent is an incumbent member of the United States House of Representatives. This report should present and assess information about your opponent which has political relevance. It is important to include basic biographical information and evidence of recent electoral performance. You must also explore your opponent's "record" including (a) stands on issues as measured by votes in Congress and (b) standing with various interest groups. To be electorally useful, opposition votes must be described in some detail. At minimum we would want the date of the vote and a clear description of what was being decided by that vote. We ought to have a page specific citation (ideally to primary documents, e.g., the Congressional Record). Members of Congress are reelected every two years. Votes cast more than two years ago are likely to be of small value in your research because they are old news to voters. Your primary emphasis should be on what your opponent has done lately. Other information might be drawn from speeches in Congress or elsewhere. Group support can be measured by examining the ratings of various interest groups. For this information to be meaningful, you need to supply the reader with the information required to interpret the numbers. Group support can also be measured by campaign contributions. Who gave your opponent money has obvious electoral possibilities, especially if you can establish a linkage between acceptance of contributions and official performance. In short, explore personal characteristics, sources of support, voting record in Congress, and apparent compatibility with the district represented. Data from Project Vote Smart and the Federal Election Commission are available on the Internet. Your opponent should also have a web site, and the odds are good that you can find local news sources on the Internet that cover the district in question.
This report also comes in two interconnected parts: the opposition research memorandum (limited to 1000 words) and the supporting documents. The memorandum should focus on critical facts, analyses and conclusions. It should answer fundamental questions, such as: what data are important? why are they important? what are the critical strengths and weaknesses of my opponent? what are the electoral lessons to be learned from your opponent research? The memo should make regular and clear reference to the supporting documents, which in turn require source citations. Here, too, you may supplement your word processing file with a spreadsheet file if you find that helpful. Here is an example from a recent class.
Part II will count for 15% of the course grade.
Part III: Strategic Plan. The final task is to prepare a strategic plan to guide your unnamed challenger in her/his attempt to defeat the incumbent in the general election. Here you must synthesize everything you know about the constituency from Part I, everything you know about the incumbent from Part II, and everything you know about winning elections from Politics 363 generally and from the reserve resources specifically. The primary measure of quality here is the degree to which you are able to integrate the theoretical knowledge from your class and reserve reading with the facts of your specific situation in one specific Congressional district represented by one specific Member of Congress. Among the things I would hope to see here are discussion of the political atmosphere in which the campaign will be fought, the characteristics to be desired in a candidate who might hope to succeed, the organizational structure best suited to your situation, the theme of the campaign and the issues to be developed (sample media offerings are a nice touch), the budget for your campaign and how you expect to raise it, and the time line or general sequencing of activities you propose.
Your constituency and opposition research memoranda (Parts I & II), along with their supporting documents should be treated as virtual appendices to your strategic. You will certainly want to make reference to them, but you need not attach them to the strategic plan. Whether you pull information in from those sources or simply refer to them is a judgment that ought to be based on principles of efficient communication. Things that can be efficiently imported probably should be because it saves your reader from hopping back and forth. Bulky chucks of information should be referenced because actually importing them would tend to overwhelm the structure and flow of your plan. Here is a paricularly inspiring example.
Part III will count for 15% of the course grade.
Success on this project will require careful research, effective organization, lucid prose, and complete documentation. For further information on papers in general, please see the section on PAPERS in COMMON SENSE FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS.