POLS2216 Politics in the USA

6 points
(see Timetable)
Semester 2UWA (Perth)Face to face
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Level 2 option in the Political Science and International Relations major sequence
  • The area of knowledge for this unit is Society and Culture
  • Category B broadening unit for students
  • Level 2 elective
This unit builds on the brief introduction to the study of US politics provided at Level 1. It examines American politics from the perspective of the tension between myth and reality, between America's pervasive ideology of individualism, limited government, equality of opportunity and pluralism, and the realities of concentrated economic and political power, inequality, and interest group leverage. The history and models of individualism, limited government and the free market are used to frame an analysis of America's system of divided governmental power, anti-interventionism and individual self-reliance. Various other issues are also explored by examining contemporary research into such matters as the decline of political parties, the rise of the mass media, and the focused power of the gun lobby and the central intelligence agency (CIA).

The lecture program is in two parts. The first part covers the pluralist and individualist, market-oriented models that predominate in both American ideology and mainstream political analysis, followed by criticisms of laissez-faire logic. Two key attitudes—suspicion of governmental power and support for individual freedom and self-reliance—are related to the design of the American Constitution, and the key institutions of Presidency, Congress, Judiciary and Federal System. The second part draws on political science research on individual opportunity, limitations imposed by concentrations of power, and welfare policy; cultural and media influences on politics; the decline of American political parties and the rise of voter apathy and alienation; the CIA and the constitution; and the power and significance of the American Rifle Association, one of America's most powerful lobby groups. There is a special session on the role of political advertising on television in American elections.
Students are able to (1) explain the key concepts and analytic frameworks utilised by political scientists to explain US politics; (2) identify key features of American political culture and of the operation of the US political system—the elements that make the US distinctive among liberal democratic polities; (3) discuss, in an informed manner, the interaction of political culture, social structure and political institutions in modern US history; (4) demonstrate an understanding of the political significance of social and economic inequality in America, and the tension between American belief systems and political and socioeconomic realities; (5) apply frameworks for understanding political culture to the analysis of contemporary policy issues in the US; (6) communicate information, ideas and argument related to the field in a coherent and logical manner in both written and oral forms; (7) work effectively as a member of a tutorial group; (8) demonstrate research skills appropriate for locating and assessing relevant primary and secondary materials; (9) demonstrate practiced skills of problem analysis and critical reasoning applied to the subject matter of the field; and (10) undertake enquiry-based learning and research on topics related to the field.
Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) written work; (2) tutorial participation; and (3) examination. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Supplementary assessment is not available in this unit except in the case of a bachelor's pass degree student who has obtained a mark of 45 to 49 overall and is currently enrolled in this unit, and it is the only remaining unit that the student must pass in order to complete their course.
Unit Coordinator(s)
Dr Adam Hannah
Unit rules
any Level 1 POLS unit
POLS3316 Politics in the USA
Contact hours
up to 3 hours per week
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Books and other material wherever listed may be subject to change. Book lists relating to 'Preliminary reading', 'Recommended reading' and 'Textbooks' are, in most cases, available via the Booktopia Textbook Finder, which has the functionality to search by course code, course, ISBN and title, and may also be posted or available at the appropriate school's administrative offices. Where texts are listed in the unit description above, an asterisk (*) indicates that the book is available in paperback.