Contemporary Politics and Government in the United States - POLI6170

Looking for a different module?

Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2023 to 2024.


PO617 offers a comprehensive introduction to the politics and national government of the United States. The course is divided into four inter-linked parts. In Part I students will be introduced to the 'foundations' of the US political system. Students will examine 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. Part I therefore provides essential knowledge upon which the rest of the course builds. In Part II students will examine those ‘intermediate’ institutions (interest groups, parties, elections and the media) that link people to their government. We will look at why Americans vote the way they do; at the role US parties play and their relevance to Americans’ lives; at whether interest groups have usurped the role of parties; and at whether the media exacerbate cynicism about politicians and the wider political system. In Part III students focus on the three institutions of the federal government: the Congress, Presidency and Supreme Court. We will examine both the institution that is Congress and the individuals that are elected to it and ask whether they have compatible goals or not, and whether Congress has usurped some of the roles and power of the presidency. Similarly, we will examine the extent to which the Presidency is an institution in decline or resurgent in the new century. Finally, we will examine the political and legal role that the Supreme Court plays in the modern US political system. In the fourth and final part of the course, students focus on the policymaking process in the US. We will look at how and why policy is made, and examine the extent to which the policy solutions produced by the political system are optimal.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 44
Private study hours: 256
Total study hours: 300


The module is open to all students on the School of Pol/IR undergraduate degrees

Method of assessment

Exam, 3 hours, 50%
Essay 1, 2500 words, 25%
Essay 2, 2500 words, 25%

Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

* David McKay, American Politics and Society, 7th edition (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)

* Gillian Peele, Christopher J. Bailey, Bruce Cain and B. Guy Peters (eds.), Developments in American Politics 6 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010)

* Bert A. Rockman, Andrew Rudalevige and Colin Campbell (eds.), The Obama Presidency: Appraisals and Prospects (CQ Press, 2011)

* Andrew Wroe and Jon Herbert (eds.), Assessing the George W. Bush Presidency: A Tale of Two Terms (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009)

* Russell Duncan and Joseph Goddard, Contemporary America, 3rd edition (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Have a thorough knowledge of the structure of the US governmental system;

2. 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;

3. Understand how the individual institutions interact and work together (or not, as the case may be);

4. Comprehend the relationship between government institutions and the US’s cultural and societal attributes;

5. Understand how the governmental structure and political culture interact to produce certain policy outcomes;

6. Understand and be able to make predictions about the US’s role and place in the world; and

7. identify and analyse some of the major political problems facing the US at the dawn of a new century.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
Back to top

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.