Contemporary Politics and Government in the United States - PO617

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Autumn and Spring
View Timetable
5 30 (15) DR A Wroe


This module is a pre-requisite for PO616 The Politics of Trust (in the USA)





PO617 offers a comprehensive introduction to the politics and national government of the United States. It introduces students to the ‘foundations’ of the US political system, examining the history of the republic, its economy and society, the values and beliefs American people subscribe to, and the basic structure of the political system. We will also examine those ‘intermediate’ institutions (interest groups, parties, elections and the media) that link people to their government, and the three key institutions of the federal government: the Congress, Presidency and Supreme Court. Lastly, we focus on the policymaking process in the US. We will look at economic policy, civil rights and liberties and foreign policy, ask how and why policy is made as it is, and examine the extent to which the policy solutions produced by the political system are optimal.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

44 hours lecture/seminar

Method of assessment

50% coursework (2 essays of 2,500 words each (equally weighted), 50% exam (3hr)

Indicative reading

McKay D, American Politics and Society, -8th edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2013)
McKay D, Houghton D & Wroe A Controversies in American Politics and Society, (Oxford Blackwell, 2002)
Brogan H The Penguin History of the United States of America, revised edition ( London: Penguin, 2001)
Hudson, WE American Democracy in Peril: Eight Challenges to America’s Future, 6th edition (CQ Press, 2009)
Peele G, Bailey CJ, Cain B & Peters BG (eds.), Developments in American Politics 7 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014)
Singh R Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy ( Oxford: OUP 2003 )

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students will:
- Have a thorough knowledge of the structure of the US governmental system;
- Be able to describe and account for the operation of the US's political institutions, including those 'intermediate' institutions (parties, media etc) that link citizens to their government;
- Understand how the individual institutions interact and work together (or not, as the case may be);
- Comprehend the relationship between government institutions and the US's cultural and societal attributes;
- Understand how the governmental structure and political culture interact to produce certain policy outcomes;
- Understand and be able to make predictions about the US's role and place in the world; and
- Be able to identify and analyse some of the major political problems facing the US at the dawn of a new century.

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