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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lobbying Tactics

Here are the possible FRQ questions for your midterm exam. The exam will focus on the material over the last 8 weeks (public opinion & ideology, political participation, campaigns & elections, political parties, and interest groups). It will be structured with 50 multiple-choice questions and one FRQ.

Today, we are continuing our look at lobbying tactics. 

Supplying information, and even sometimes helping write legislation is a common form of lobbying. In addition to providing information to legislators, interest groups provide information to their members, both in the form of newsletters/magazines, and through rating/grading system of elected officials and candidates. These ratings serve as a cue for members when deciding who to vote for.

One way interest groups try to influence lawmakers is through direct lobbying. This involves one on one contact with legislators and is referred to as an insider strategy. Sometimes this lobbying goes too far and breaks ethical rules as evidenced by the case of Jack Abramoff. There are also complaints about the revolving door, or the frequency of former government officials moving into private lobbying firms.

Other groups utilize grassroots lobbying or an outsider strategy. This involves mobilizing members to influence public opinion and put pressure on elected officials. It may include letter/phone campaigns, marches, and demonstrations.

Groups like the NAACP and ACLU often use litigation, or lawsuits, to achieve their policy goals. Sometimes when public opinion differs, and elected officials are reluctant to change policy or success is not obtainable through legislative or executive action, a legal remedy through the courts is the best option.

Another lobbying tactic is the use of money by interest groups or political action committees (PACs).  Billions of dollars are donated with the primary goal of access to lawmakers. Open Secrets is a great web site that illustrates the use of money in lobbying.

Sometimes interest groups engage in cooperative lobbying or coalition building. Multiple interest groups with disparate interests work together to achieve a common policy goal, like daylight savings time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Interest Group Formation & Types

HW due Friday: Read 306-318 and take the reading quiz.

What are interest groups? Where are they located? How do they form? What are the various types of interest groups? How do interest groups try to shape policy and achieve their group's goals? These are just a few of the questions we will try to answer during this unit on interest groups.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Mischiefs of Factions: Federalist #10

HW for Wednesday: Read 297-305 and take the reading quiz.

Interest Group Identification Terms

Once again, I am gone today attending a seminar by the Bill of Rights Institute on Congress and the Constitution. We are starting our next unit--Interest Groups. Just as George Washington warned about the "baneful" effects of political parties, James Madison warns about the dangers of factions (aka interest groups) and the newly proposed Constitution's ability to mitigate them in Federalist #10.

Today in class, you will read Federalist #10. As you read (or after you are finished) please fill out this chart on Federalist #10 to help you further understand Madison's arguments.

Here are a couple of videos that might help you understand Federalist #10:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Decline of Political Parties: Is the Party Over?

HW due Wednesday: Read 249-258 and complete the reading quiz.

As the charts above illustrate, the number of individuals who are identifying as independents is at an all time high. But why? What is causing the decline in party identification and what impact does that have on the political process?

Read the article, Party Decline,  to help understand some of the causes for the decline of parties over the last half century. As you read, take note how each of the following contributed to to this decline:
  • The role of the media
  • The rise of interest groups
  • Political reforms like primaries and the Australian ballot
  • Money and candidate-centered campaigns
However, not everyone believes the rise of independent voters and the decline of political parties is real. Read this article to see why.

Finally, would we be better off with a nonpartisan system? Several states (most notably the Great State of Nebraska) have adopted nonpartisan primary elections. The Atlantic takes a look at this proposed reform.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Democrats vs. Republicans

HW due Wednesday: Read 249-258 and complete the reading quiz.

On Friday, you researched the Democratic and Republican party platforms. Today we will review those platform positions and take a closer look behind the curtain at the two parties and their differences.

Why is the Democratic Party represented by a donkey and the Republican Party represented by an elephant?

Task #1: Platform Review

Task #2 Click on this link to look at some more differences between the Democrats and Republicans.

Task #3 Read this article about the ideological differences and group dynamics of the two parties.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Comparing Democratic & Republican Party Platforms

Party Platforms
One of the purposes of political parties is to articulate a set of policy positions and a vision for America. These contrasting viewpoints are usually best illustrated in each party's platform, or its stand on particular issues.

Click on this link to find a summary of each party's platform on a variety of policy issues. Either download the pdf version or read the embedded platform on the website. As you read, fill out this GoogleDoc chart comparing the two parties and their stance on issues. You may work together with your tablemates in groups of 3-4. Which party's beliefs do you agree with? What differences (tone, word choice, central message, etc) do you notice? Any similarities?

Please work quietly and diligently while completing this assignment.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Third Parties in the US

Despite their lack of electoral success, there are many third parties in the United States political system. Today we will look at the various types of third parties and what impact they have on our political system.

Exploring Third Parties: Click on this link to look at some of the various third parties that exist today. Take about 10-15 minutes to research 2-3 minor parties and be prepared to share your findings. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tasks & Functions of Political Parties

HW due Friday: Read 241-249 in Janda and take the reading quiz.

LO 4.C.1: Explain the functions and impact of political parties with regard to the electorate and the government.

Questions to Consider:

  • Who makes up a political party?

Please take a few minutes and read the following:

“Three-headed Giant”

  1. Party in the Electorate: The base of the party; the voters (self-identifying)
  2. Party as an Organization: National, state, and local staff and office (DNC & RNC); decentralized
  3. Party in Government: Elected officials (President, Congress members, etc) who are members of the party; helps organize; not always in agreement; spokespersons

  • What do political parties do? What is their function/task?
1. Nominating Function: Parties select their candidates for office; power has shifted from organization to party electorate through primaries/caucuses (weakening of political parties)

2. Campaign Function: National, state, local organizations help fund/coordinate campaigns; mobilize voters; growth of individual campaigns due to Internet and campaign finance laws/SuperPACs (weakening of political parties in the electorate)

3. Label Function: Provides a cue for voters on candidate positions; although more individuals moving toward independent label (weakening of political parties)

4. Government Function: helps organize Congress (committee system, leadership, etc.); appointments on a partisan basis; polarization of parties (strengthening of parties within government)

5. Watchdog Function: Keep tabs on the party in power; work to become the party in power

Which party function is most important? Why?

Monday, October 10, 2016

History of US Political Parties

Homework due Tuesday: Read 227-241 in Janda and take the reading quiz.

Political Party Identification Terms

Review from Friday: Why does a two party system exist in the United States?
Main reasons:

Question of the Day: What is the difference between political parties and interest groups?

One reason that we have a two party system is that our political system started with two parties and that continues today. Even though they are not the same two parties as the 1800s, the tradition is firmly entrenched. Today we will look at the history and development of political parties.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why a Two-Party System?

Now that we have finished our unit on campaigns and elections, we will be taking a closer look at political parties and their role in our government system. A few of the questions we will address are:

  • Why do we have a two-party system?
  • What is the role of minor parties?
  • What are the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties?
  • How does the decline of political parties affect government and politics?

Homework due Tuesday: Read 227-241 in Janda and take the reading quiz.

 The United States has historically had a two-party system while almost every other country has a multi-party system. Why is that? While the US does have other smaller parties that nominate candidates, they rarely achieve any sort of electoral success. Today we are going to try and answer the question: Why a Two-Party System?

Your task:
1. Using the resources (articles and videos) below, try to figure out why a two-party dominates our political system. Take note of the various reasons (should be able to find 3-5) and be able to explain them. (30 minutes)

2. Discuss with your group members the reasons you found. Help each other understand the each of the reasons. (15 minutes)


1. Why the Same Two-Parties Dominate our Two-Party System

2. SparkNotes: Two Party System

3. Why Only Two Parties?

4. OpenStax 9.2 Two Party System

5. Washington Post: Why Are There Only Two Parties in American Politics?


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Campaign Finance (cont)

Quiz over Campaigns and Elections tomorrow!

Yesterday, you looked at the recent history of government regulation of campaign finance through both legislative acts (FECA, BCRA) and Supreme Court decisions (Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, etc). Today we are going to look at some more information and examples of the role of money in elections.

First, take a look at the Bloomberg Politics Election 2016 money tracker.

What are three things that stand out to you or have questions on?

With the Court's decision in Citizens United, the rise of SuperPACs has increased. Two of the most important in the 2012 election were Restore our Future and Priorities USA Action.  Look at these two SuperPACs and come up with at least two similarities and two differences.

Priorities USA is still active in 2016. Here is one of their ads:

More videos can be found on their YouTube channel.

Looking at the 2016 election, who is winning the money race? The NY Times is keeping track. And this website shows which SuperPACs are aligned with each candidate.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Campaign Finance

Campaign & Elections Quiz on Thursday

"Money is the mother's milk of politics."  Discuss in your group what you think this quote means.

Source: http://www.opensecrets.org/pres16/

Campaign costs previous four presidential election cycles:

Many people complain about the role of money in campaigns and elections. Today, we will be looking at how the government has tried to regulate campaign spending.

Discussion Questions:
  • Should there be limits on how much an individual, business, or interest group can donate to a candidate?
  • Should there be limits on how much an individual can spend on their own campaign?
  • Should there be public financing of campaigns at either the presidential or congressional levels?
  • Does money=speech?

Your Task: What are the rules concerning political contributions? What laws have been passed? What has the Supreme Court said? How is it regulated? Create a timeline that illustrates the government's attempt to limit the proliferation of money in campaigns using the following legislative acts, court cases, government agencies, and related terms.

Key Terms: FECA, BCRA, soft money, FEC, McCutcheon v. FEC, Buckley v. Valeo, McConnell v. FEC, Citizens United v. FEC, SuperPACs

Recommended websites: