Introduction to politics by eleonora arca

What is Politics? #

DEF: ongoing competition between people, usually in groups to shape policy in their favour, can be found whenever human competition plays out

can be identified in different contexts: government and nongovernment (families, workplace, classroom etc)

Political Power #

DEF: ability of one person to get another to condition other’s behaviour (Machiavelli)

Critics of the idea of political power appreciate the idea of self-governing and self-regulating communities, but these do not seem to last: political power seems to be built into the human condition, so why do some people hold political power over others?

Aristotle: “man is by nature a political animal”


Humans need each other for sustenance and survival, and it is natural that they arrange each other in ranks of leaders and followers like animals.

The modern biological explanation following from Aristotle claims that forming a political system and obeying its leaders are innate behaviour that are passed with the genes.

Humans are imperfectly social animals, for example when they disobey their leader.

Closely related to the biological explanation: both derive from evolution in the formation of political groups.

Milgram study: people are willing to surrender their actions to an authority figure and most individuals are naturally conformist, they see things from a group’s perspective, ignoring doubter who tell them an idea will fail. Groupthink suggests that human needs fit into groups and norms (EX. the Holocaust).

DEF: human behaviour is learned as opposed to inherited

“Nurture vs. nature debate”: how much of human behaviour is learned and not inherited?

20th century dominant view – all differences in behaviour are cultural, political communities are held together based on values that are transmitted and learnt by factors like religion, child upbringing, economic development etc.

Optimism of the theory is all human behaviour is created, bad behaviour can be unlearned, and society can improve in a slow change through generations.

Problems of the theory:

  • where does culture come from?
  • If all behaviour is cultural, political systems should all be different based on different cultures
  • in the political field we see similar political attitudes in countries with quite different cultures

DEF: approach to politics based on the ability to reason, people know what they want most of the time and they have good reasons for what they do

EX. Hobbes and Locke: humans form civil societies because their powers of reason tell them that it is much better than anarchy. People form governments to safeguard life and property, and when they are not satisfied with them anymore, they have the right to dissolve them and form new ones.

  • Locke’s view on the topic influence the U.S Founding Fathers

DEF: based on the power to use fear and myth to cloud reason

Dominant view of the late 19th century: people are irrational, especially when it comes to politics: they are emotional, dominated by stereotypes and crows are easily dominated by strong leaders (EX. Mussolini, Hitler, and Bin Laden)

Problems of the theory:

  • this theory easily leads to war, economic ruin, and tyranny

What is Political Science? #

DEF: political science is a method of how to study politics and the analysis of politics, how it grows, how it does damage, understand the forces of nature that condition politics and work with them to improve humankind’s existence.

The Master Science #

Aristotle called politics “the master science” because almost everything happens in a political context, the decisions of the polis govern everything else (economics too is especially liked to politics”.

Harold Laswell said that politics is the study of “who gets what”.

Can politics be studied as a science? #

There have been attempts at studying politics as natural science: to quantify data and manipulate them statistically to validate a hypothesis.

One of the problems is that small areas of politics are quantifiable but big ones are not (ex. congressional votes vs “how do leaders make their decisions?”)

Political science is an empirical discipline that accumulates both quantified and qualitative data, with which we can find patters and then generalize. Once generalizations become stabler they can be called theories. In the few cases in which theories become definitive they can be called laws.

The struggle to see clearly. #

An enquiry should be reasoned, balanced, supported with evidence, and a little theoretical.

The reasoning must be evident and spelled out, if there are assumptions in the reasoning, they must be made known to minimize bias.

+ info: Weber said that any finding that supports the researcher’s political views mist be discarded as biased.

Bias can also be minimized by looking at the topic from other perspectives, mentioning different approaches and what previous research have found. Moreover, knowledge of the literature can be useful and to criticize previous studies and explaining your opinion.

Studies require both quantified and qualitative evidence, with declared sources.

Enquiries are always connected to theoretical topics, given that new studies should enlarge knowledge on the discipline or refute past theories.

  1. What is good Political Science?

Professional political scientists should push their views aside while doing a research to archive an objective analysis. Political science can be a key element in support of politicians (ex. erosion of trust in government in the USA in the mid-60s’)

  1. Subfields of political science
  • US politics
  • comparative politics
  • international relations
  • political theory
  • public administration
  • constitutional law
  • public policy

3. Theory in Political Science

DEF: Theories are not facts themselves but provide structure that give meaning to patterns of facts and give suggestions on how these facts should be organized

There are different theories that scientists use to understand patterns in the political world:
DEF: empirical study of actual human behaviour rather than abstract or speculative theories.

19th century – middle 20th century theory focused on institutions and on constitutions because they assumed what was on paper was how things worked.

Stalinism, Fascism and Nazism shook this belief and forced scientists to re-examine their focus. Post-war scientists followed August Comte’s positivist method to study society in an applying natural science methods with the aim of bettering society.

Behaviourists were good to examine social bases, attitudes, and value of citizen and in voting patterns but were also criticized because they focused on minor topics, which resulted in their studies being almost irrelevant.

Critiques: in the late 60’s it came under attack by young political scientists for its conservative and static approach which made it impossible to tackle urgent tasks.

They examine only what is present at a given time, excluding the possibility for chance, tending to accept only the status quo, and appreciating already well-established democratic systems.

DEF: movement born in 1969 as a synthesis of traditional, behavioural, and other techniques in the study of politics

Revival of the focus on institutions in the 1970s

Government structures have lives of their own and shape the attitudes of the people who live within and benefit from them. Institutions are not simply the reflection of social forces.

The post-war invention of political systems by David Easton contributed to our understanding of politics by simplifying things, the idea comes from biology: looking at complex entities as systems and highly integrated living organisms that perform their function in a way that keeps the being alive. You cannot change one component otherwise all the other change as well.

System theory states that the politics of a given country work a loop, like in a biological being citizen’s demands (inputs) are recognized by the government decision makers, who process them into decisions and actions (outputs). These outputs influence the social economic and political environment on the outside. The feedbacks can come back positive, negative, or positive and according to it, the government can take further actions to rectify the decisions.

The system is very static and biased towards the status quo but also the public reacts only later the decision has been made. Easton also added the existence of within-puts, pressures from parts within the government itself.

DEF: we can generally predict political behaviour by knowing the interests of the actors involved because they rationally maximize their interests

From the 1970s many rational-choice theories back out of their position and now define themselves as new institutionalists because all their choices are made within an institutional context. Rational-choice theory did not define a new paradigm but was important to remind that politicians are often opportunists.

Some rational-choice theorist later subscribed to a branch of mathematics called game theory.

Game theory approaches political decisions as if they were table games. Seeing how the players interact gives us insight of what can go wrong in crisis decision making.

Constructing the proper game explains why policy outcomes are often unforeseen but not accidental. Games can also show how decision makers think. These games can also be mathematized and put into computers.

The weak point of game theory is that it relies on the payoff that decision makers can expect, and these are only approximations arrived at by examining historical records, for this reason game theory can be seen an alternative way to clarify history.

4. “Political theory” vs theory in political science

political scientists study politics by trying to understand how things do work = descriptive approach

political theorists approach the study of politics from the perspective of how things should work = normative approach

4.1 The normative study of politics

Some say Plato founded political science but, in his work, “Republic”, he approaches the idea of polis from a normative point of view. On the other hand, Aristotle was the first empirical political scientist: he gathered data on which he based his work “Politics” which combined descriptive and normative approaches. Seeing the decline of Athens, the started to look for a good and stable political system.

Middle Ages/Renaissance:
Most scientists in this age took a religious approach to the study of politics and were mostly normative, trying to find which system of government would be closer to what God wanted.

Machiavelli in his work “The prince” focused about getting and managing political power. He argued that it is almost impossible to be both a good politician and a good person in the traditional sense. He the argued about his concept of virtù for politicians, which includes wisdom, strategy, strength, bravery but also ruthlessness. He uses the term “criminal virtue” to express the need of a leader that knows how to be cruel in the name of the state and yet good as a leader.

He was a realist: he worked with the world as it was and not as he wished it to be and he argued that to accomplish anything good the Prince had to be rational, though in the exercise of power and that the main task of the ruler is to defend the state from external and internal threats.

According to Machiavelli a good leader is the one that knows how to defend, enrich, and bring honour to the state. Ultimately what keeps people from disobeying is terror.

4.2 The contractualists

They analysed why political systems existed at all. They agreed that all humans have joined in a social contract that everyone had to observe.

To what extent should we obey rulers? When should we start revolutions and oppose governments?

traditional theory: it is god that appoints all kings and that one should obey the rules because God said so (the divine right of kings)

This theory was not so convincing anymore, people started to think that the right to rule did not lay in the king himself but in ordinary people who gave the king power, so they should obey him if his ruling was just (social contract theory of government)

In “Leviathan”, Hobbes imagined that in the state of nature, so humans before civilization, before civil society was founded life was not good, all men were enemies. To get out of this situation humans decided to enter a social contract and form a civil society and even submit themselves to a king to escape anarchy, hence society was born out of fear.

Who should rule a country? And on what legitimate basis?

Locke tried to answer in his “Two treaties of government”. He considered the divine right of kings and Hobbes’s theory.

Locke thought that the original state of nature was not that bad, and people lived in equality and tolerance, but they could not secure their own property and to escape the uncertainty of ownership humans formed a civil society and secured “life, liberty and property”, and they willingly cede part of their rights to rulers to better preserve their rights. If government turned into tyranny the people had the right to over their own the leader and form new governments

Rousseau thought that life in the state of nature was good and people lived without jealousy, the element that corrupted humans was society itself, since it made them sinful and vicious. What corrupted humankind was an unhealthy self-love, which was centred around vanity and jealousy. This self-love emerged with the birth of cities, where individuals started comparing themselves to others. He also added that society can be improved to lead to human freedom. A good society would be a society with a general will where humans gain dignity and freedom.

In his “Analects”, Confucius based his vision of a stable, good government on two things:

  1. the family

  2. the moral behaviours instilled in rulers and ruled: the emperor sets a moral example and if he does not his empire will crumble. He will be copied by his subjects, down to the father of the family, which is the “emperor” of the family to whom wife and children are subjected since moral life beings in the family.

4.3 Marxist theories

Marx developed his theory around three pillars:

  • a theory of economics
  • a theory of social class
  • a theory of history

Like for Hegel’s zeitgeist (theory according to which each epoch had a distinctive spirit which moves history along) Marx said that his epoch’s cause was economics.

Marx focused on the surplus value or profit. He argued that the proletariat (working class) work paired with low wages resulted in repeated overproduction which leads to depression. Eventually there will be a depression so big that the capitalistic system will collapse.

Every society is divided into two classes: the bourgeoisie (small class of those who own the means of production) and the proletariat (large class the works for the bourgeoisie).

Society is run by the first class that needs to maintain itself in a position of power, and most laws are property laws because the elite is so attached to their goods (ex. war is a bourgeoise need for economic gain). The proletariat had no country, they all suffer under the elite.

By analysing economic and social conditions Marx explained historical changes.

When the proletariat shift position in respect to what the dominant class has established the system collapses (ex. the French Revolution).

Marxism when applied in the Soviet Union and Communist countries led to tyranny and failure but it can be useful if seen as an analysis.

Marxism contributions:

  1. He highlighted how societies are never fully unified and peaceful but always riven with conflict.

  2. We must ask “who benefits” in any political controversy.

Marxism weaknesses:

  1. Capitalism has not collapsed: Marx did not get the flexibility and adaptive nature of the system.

  2. Marx did not grasp that capitalism is not just one single system but is many: French, American, and Japanese capitalisms are distinct from each other.

  1. Functions of Parties

Political parties serve as links between citizens and government as a means to input citizens’ demands into the political process.

1.1 A Bridge Between People and Government

One of the most important is to serve as a bridge between citizens and government by serving as inputting devices that allow the interests of citizens to be heard and acted upon by government.

In doing so, citizens feel that they have a mechanism for affecting policy.

It also gives citizens the feeling that they have some power, which increases efficacy.

It also serves to increase the legitimacy of government because it connects citizens to their government, which is at the core of democratic politics.

1.2 Aggregation of Interests

Political parties serve to aggregate diverse interests in society into larger interests.

If politics were just interest groups in competition, there would be chaos as there would be no articulation of broad interests that would guide the general direction of policy.

Contemporary parties are effectively loose coalitions of interest groups that have coalesced.

The Democratic Party, for example, is a broad coalition of interests ranging from the centre to the far left of American politics

1.3 Integration In the Political System

Political parties also help new groups integrate into the political system. This helps give new groups both a pragmatic and psychological stake in the system.

It can also help increase the loyalty of these new groups to the political system. It can also help prevent groups from becoming radicalized and violent

1.4 Political Socialization

Parties also serve as agents of socialization by helping members learn to play the political game and acquiring political competence.

This deepens their sense of trust in the system and it also can serve as a training ground for future leaders.

1.5 Mobilization of Voters

Parties also help to mobilize citizens to engage with politics.

Parties are key players in helping citizens turn out to vote on election day, and there is a strong correlation between party strength and voter turnout.

Parties produce a great deal of propaganda and some argue that this has the effect of turning citizens off of politics, but this propaganda serves the critical role of simplifying complex issues for citizens, making election choices clearer.

  1. Organization of Government

Parties are also the agents that organize government and the winning party has a great deal of latitude in not only setting government policy, but also in distributing government jobs.

They also gain power in government itself.

Some states, such as Britain, have more effective party control of government due to strength of their party.

No party can ever totally control government, if they did it would be a dictatorship.

  1. Parties in Democracies

Parties can be described based on three criteria:

  • degree of centralization (control exercised by national headquarters)

  • the extent to which a party participates in policy

  • how the party finances itself

    1. Centralization

The level of centralization affects the amount of control that the party leadership can exercise over its members.

States such as Israel have highly centralized parties that control the election lists and place loyal party members at the top of the list to ensure their election to parliament.

The UK is also centralized but less so, and candidate selection is a process of negotiating between the national party and local constituency offices.

Germany has decentralized national party control.

Parties that have high levels of centralization are much more coherent, ideologically consistent, and disciplined.

The United States has a history of decentralized parties, which means that American parties are much less coherent. In addition, the candidates are much more independent of the parties.

This has contributed to rifts and splits in U.S. political parties.

  1. Settling Government Policy

When thinking about setting government policy, the question is how successful is the majority in enacting its legislative agenda?

Parliamentary systems are far more successful at this than presidential systems because the government is the majority and the majority must resign if they cannot muster enough votes to pass their agenda.

The high levels of decentralization in the United States make this very difficult.

Ex. Blue Dog (conservative) Democrats often vote against their own party and there is little the leadership can do to stop it.

  1. Party Participation in Government

European systems are much more conducive to responsible party government (voters electorally reward or punish governing party for its policies), which is when the majority presents a clear legislative proposal and then acts to pass it.

In the United States, this can occur when there is a strong president whose party controls both houses of Congress, such as Johnson, but it is difficult.

  1. Financing the Party

American campaigns have become very expensive and as a result parties are heavily dependent on wealthy donors for their operating budgets.

There is a great deal of concern about the lack of transparency in these relationships and the appearance of corruption.

Many democratic states have tried to limit the amount of campaign donations.

The United States allows taxpayers to designate a small portion of their federal tax returns for the presidential election fund as a method to publicly fund presidential elections, but few Americans choose to donate. PACs have stepped in and filled in the gap.

  1. Classifying Political Parties

A useful way to classify parties is by placing them on the ideological spectrum from left to right. Their placement is the sum of various policy positions held by the party.

  • Left-Wing parties generally want to nationalize major industries.

  • Centre-Left parties favour welfare states.

  • Centrist parties are generally liberal on social issues but conservative on economics.

  • Centre-Right parties want to rein in the welfare state in favour of free enterprise.

  • Right-Wing parties want to dismantle the welfare state and break the power of labour unions.

  • Far-Right parties are generally nationalistic and anti-immigrant.

    1. Communist Parties

The classical Communist party structure of Lenin featured the interlocking of a single party with the economic system of the state. The economy was not directly ruled by the party, though.

Under the Soviet system, the Central Committee of the Politburo (Russian for “political bureau”, the ruling committee of a communist party) was the heart of the system and made all the decisions that directed the economy and the state.

Gorbachev worked to change the party system of the Soviet State because a single party that attempts to control everything develops problems over time.

The Soviet system was rife with corruption and highly resistant to change.

The Soviet experience serves as a lesson to other single-party states that single-party systems that monopolize power are unworkable over time.

Communist-type systems are inflexible and cannot adapt well to changing conditions.

China has tried to avoid some of the Soviet problems by allowing private ownership of much of the economy.

  1. Party System

DEF: party system is how parties interact with each other

Party systems are not the same as parties.

Parties seek power; party systems are about the interactions of several parties with each other.

Party systems have an effect on the overall health of the political system of a state.

System stability is affected by the number of parties in the system.

System stability is affected by whether parties in the system are centre-seeking or centre-fleeing.

  1. Classifying Party Systems

Party systems can also be classified based on the number of parties that exist within the system.

They are associated with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. A single party controls everything and is the only legal party. When allowed, citizens repudiate one-party systems

Opposition parties contest elections, but the deck is stacked against them. Dominant party can offer lots of incentives to supporters. Dominant party controls television an opposition parties are deliberately kept weak

Ex. India’s Congress Party, Japan’s Liberal Democrats, Mexico’s PRI

Two parties each have a fair chance of winning, third parties exist but aren’t competitive, they only remind the major parties of voter discontent.

There are several political parties that compete. They can be unstable but not always.

There are two major parties plus a third party that is competitive and relevant

Usually found in new and unstable democracies, that are fluid and inchoate, in which parties rise and fall quickly.

Often personalistic parties that have no overarching program or ideology.

  1. The Party System and the Electoral System

Competitive party systems are party systems that have at least two political parties in competition for power (Sartori).

The development of a party system is a complicated process that is heavily affected by each state’s individual political history.

Some very different states have similar party systems.

Japan and India are culturally different but both developed dominant-party systems. The political science question is why?

The single most important factor in determining a party system is the electoral system of the country.

Single-member district systems tend to produce two-party or two-plus party systems.

Only a plurality is needed to win

Small parties cannot compete

Encourages parties to avoid fragmentation

The single most important factor in determining a party system is the electoral system of the country.

Proportional representation systems

Uses multimember districts and awards seats based on the proportion of the party vote

Encourages parties to fragment and split as they can still win seats in parliament

Changing a country’s election laws can change the party system.

The Future of Parties

Political parties are not what they used to be and are facing serious challenges.

Membership in parties has been steadily declining over the years.

Voters are considerably less loyal to political parties.

Most parties have become mainstream, centrist, and similar.

Political parties are not what they used to be and are facing serious challenges.

As a consequence, other actors have assumed some of the major functions of political parities.

These actors include the mass media, interest groups, and think tanks.

This may not be a good thing overall.

The highly decentralized nature of U.S. political parties may foreshadow the future of other political parties around the world.

U.S. political parties tend to be money-poor and heavily dependent on interest groups.

The parties are highly decentralized and candidates are independent of the party and party leadership, often running against the party’s leaders, depending on the district.

The highly decentralized nature of U.S. political parties may foreshadow the future of other political parties around the world.

U.S. parties are extremely centrist and many voters feel as if they have little choice.

Can anything be done to stop the decline of parties?

Realistically we can expect no change to the U.S. two-party system

Can anything be done to stop the decline of parties?

There are advantages to decentralized parties.

Flexible, big-tent parties may be better able to process the demands of citizens.

They are less likely to fall into the hands of ideologues.

They may attract a broader variety of voters.

  1. Why do people vote?

Historically, American voter turnout is pretty low: presidential elections averaged between 55% and 65% over the years, while nonpresidential elections are far worse, averaging 40% or less.

There are lots of reasons why people do not vote:

  • Many citizens feel their vote does not make a difference.

  • Citizens feel there is a lack of quality candidates.

  • No interesting, clear-cut choices due to the nature of the two-party system.

  • Negative television advertising turns voters off by the end of the election cycle.

Political scientists debate whether or not nonvoting is bad for democracy.

  1. One school says that low voting is bad for democracy and that nonvoting illustrates a lack of legitimacy.

  2. The other school suggests that nonvoting means citizens are basically satisfied.

Americans vote less when compared to Europeans because of automatic registration, elections on Sundays, the ballots are simpler, and there are heavier limits and controls on television advertising.

  1. Who votes?

In most democracies, the average voters are middle aged people who are better educated, living in urban areas and they likely to identify with a political party.

  1. Income and Education

Voter turnout is affected by both income levels and education levels.

People with high income levels are much more likely to vote than those with lower income levels.

People with higher education levels vote at higher rates than those with less education.

The two factors are reinforcing: the higher your education level, the more likely it is that you will make more money.

A factor that explains the difference between the two demographics is efficacy.

Higher education leads to a feeling that you at least have a little power and means to influence the system.

Efficacy is much higher for citizens who are professionals and much lower for those in the working class.

Education also has the effect of broadening interests and increasing the perception of having a stake in the system.

There is a puzzle of voting behaviour with respect to education: as education levels have increased, voter turnout has declined, which may mean that education as a predictive factor of voting behaviour means less than it used to.

Some of this can be attributed to the effects of post materialism in advanced societies. (theory according to which all industrialized countries have moved away from manufacturing and into knowledge and information industries, which cause a shift in values from the society to the self, which means that only personal thing matter in the New Age)

  1. Race

Until recently, African Americans had a much lower turnout rate than other groups in society. The gap closed when African American income and education levels rose when Barak Obama ran for president.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act removed many of the barriers to voting for African American individuals, that had kept turnout levels low.

  1. Age

young people vote at consistently lower rates than older citizens: young people under the age of 25 are less likely to vote (about half are not registered to vote)

The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in the United States, but young people still do not vote.

Young people are less economically involved and therefore have lower voter turnout rates.

This changes as they age, they pay taxes, and their stake increases.

  1. Gender

Traditionally, women have voted at lower rates than men, but this has changed in recent years, with women’s turnout rates surpassing men.

This is correlated with education rates increasing among women.

  1. Place of Residence

Urban areas have higher voting turnout rates than rural areas.

This is a reflection in part of the higher turnout rates among people with higher levels of education, as urban areas have higher concentrations of people with higher levels of education.

Polling stations are also nearer in urban areas than in rural, which makes voting much easier for many citizens.

Regional differences do matter in voter turnout as well: U.S. South used to have lower voter turnout rates than many other parts of the United States, but this has changed in recent years.

Southern France has lower voter turnout rates than Northern France.

  1. Who Votes How?

Voting is affected by two kinds of factors:

  • Long-term factors affect how a person votes over the course of his/her lifetime.

  • Short-term factors affect how a person votes in a given election.

Besides the factors listed below there is also to take into consideration the issues involved and the characteristics of the candidates

  1. Partisan Identification

The attachments that citizens feel toward a party for a long time, will influence how a citizen votes in elections.

Citizens with strong party identification will habitually vote for one party, while citizens with weak party identification will be much easier to swing and may cross party lines.

A person’s party identification is heavily influenced by his/her parents, and people will usually adopt the party ID held by their parents.

Party identification is important in helping to ensure electoral stability. If party ID is stable, then politicians are able to anticipate what voters want and will work to deliver it.

Weak party identification leads to volatility in voter preferences.

Party ID used to be very important in European elections but seems to be weakening as a predictor of voting behaviour. This can be attributed in part to the decline in class voting in Europe, in addition to the effects of post-materialism.

Groups that tend to identify with certain parties are called voting blocs, and politicians design their campaigns to try to win the blocs most likely to vote for them.

No bloc is entirely solid, though.

Increasingly, Americans occupy alternate universes, with very little common. A study finds 81% of voters say they cannot agree with the other side on basic facts.

  1. Class Voting

Social class is a determinant of voting behaviour, and people will support political parties based on how they perceive their social class.

Class voting lower in the United States than in Europe, but still relevant.

Two things that muddy class voting.

  • Working-class people who vote for conservative parties due to self-identification as middle-class, family traditions, or individual convictions.

  • Middle- and upper-class citizens who vote for parties on the left due to a working-class family background or the effects of higher education.

As a result, class voting is not as accurate of a predictor of voting behaviour as we would like, although it is still extremely relevant.

  1. Regional Voting

Some regions identify strongly with certain parties. This is especially true in states that have a core/periphery struggle.

Ex. Celtic fringe votes for the British Labour Party.

U.S. South solidly Republican since the 1980s, the Northeast votes solidly Democratic.

Regional voting can change over time: The North/South voting patterns in the United States are now the reverse of the period following the Civil War.

  1. Race and Ethnicity

Non-whites are a growing electoral force in U.S. politics; this is especially true with the increased growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, the voting patterns of which seem to support the Democratic Party. African Americans also vote for the Democratic Party.

Racial minorities form 28% of electorate.

Working-class whites usually vote Republican.

American political parties seem to be polarizing along racial lines, which is not good for American democracy. If republicans cannot find a way to win African American or Hispanics votes Democrats will dominate elections.

How the mainstream parties, especially Republicans, will bridge this gap as yet is unclear.

  1. Religious Blocs

Single strongest factor in U.S. voting, with those who identify as being religious much more likely to be conservative and vote for Republicans.

Other states have religious/secular divide as well, they are just not as pronounced as the United States’.

  1. Age Groups

Young people “catch the tide” of their youth and stay with it: young people socialized to politics during the Great Depression vote Democratic for most of their life.

Reagan’s enthusiasm among young voters in the 1980s gave them a permanent identification with the Republican Party.

In the 2012 election young voters identified with Obama and it is likely that many of them will continue that identification through their lives.

Young People’s Voting Behaviour in Europe by Nicola Maggini

Book about young people’s voting behaviour in six European countries in a long-time perspective. The methodology used is “stacked analyses”, which considers not only the tradition individual variables obtained by surveys but also the relationship between parties and electors.

What emerges from the book is that what matters is the generation-effect that is to say the period when political socialization occurred + the period effect, that is the occurrence of an event in a specific year which potentially influenced all the generations regardless of their age.

So, for young people values and political involvement are more important than the social identities; whereas for adults traditional sociological variables still play a significant role: as time goes by the importance of traditional cleavages will progressively decrease, as newer generations will replace older ones.

The progressive disengagement from politics among young generations is shown also by the low level of trust towards institutions, or just by the increase in abstentionism: the tendency to collocate themselves in the centre is an indicator of the fact that young people are getting distant from politics.

The fact that young people do not base their vote anymore on traditional social identities makes their voting behaviour less predictable than those of older generations and young people in the past, generating electoral volatility, which impacts the stability of European political systems.

  1. Gender Gap

The growing gap between the voting behaviour of men and women is becoming increasingly important in politics in the United States.

Women used to be more traditional and conservative than men, but now are more liberal by several percentage points and consistently vote for Democratic candidates, something that helped the candidacy of Obama.

  1. Marriage Gap

Unmarried people are much more likely to vote for Democrats than are married people, who tend to be more conservative and vote for Republicans.

The problem for Republicans is that fewer people are getting married, which is a product in part of post-materialism.

  1. Gay Gap

2012 was the first time exit polls asked about sexual orientation, so the data we have concerning this trend are relatively limited but still compelling.

5% identified as gay and three-quarters of these supported Obama, which seems to suggest that gays and lesbians have a strong identification with the Democratic Party, although as rights-based issues such as same-sex marriage get resolved and other issues become salient this may change.

  1. 10 Urban Voting

Big cities vote strongly liberal or left.

This is due in part to both a high concentration of working-class voters as well as greater levels of education.

Small towns and rural areas tend to vote conservative.

This because these voters embrace conservative political values.

  1. Electoral Realignment

Electoral realignment is a theory that seeks to explain how party identification can change.

In general, people retain party identification for years. However, according to realignment theory, certain watershed elections lead to voters dissolving existing, long-term partisan identifications in favour of new ones.

Critical elections set the stage for the emergence of new issues, debates, and topics.

This can lead to one party having dominance but not absolute control of government and the direction of public policy.

  • 1800: Jeffersonians Democrats emerge

  • 1828: Jacksonian Democrats emerge

  • 1860: Lincoln Republicans emerge

  • 1896: Business Republicanism emerges

  • 1932: New Deal Democrats emerge

    1. A New Realignment?

Republicans argued that sweeps of 1980 and 1984 were signs of a new realignment that would end the dominance of the Democratic Party at the national level.

Party registration rose for Republicans and declined for Democrats.

In addition, young people registered and voted Republican.

Democrats argued that 2008 and 2012 were realignments in their favour.

This then speaks to one of the major difficulties of realignment theory.

If there has been a realignment, it may be difficult to spot.

Problems with realignment theory

  • Some political scientists want to throw the whole theory out.

  • It applies only to presidential elections.

  • Americans sometimes choose to vote for divided government.

  • Clinton’s and Obama’s victories were based on the economy, which undermines realignment theory.

    1. What Wins Elections?

In modern elections, the rational choice of voters is heavily manipulated by candidate personality and the mass media. Modern parties showcase their leaders’ personalities, and that ideology is rarely mentioned or advertised.

It is the image of leaders that matters, and candidates are presented as charismatic, calm, and caring.

Ex. Reagan and Obama

Candidates who are optimistic about the country and its prospects tend to win.

In 2008 Obama appeared more optimistic than McCain, which was a contributing factor in voters casting ballots for him.

The campaigns are also media intensive, with photo opportunities and a heavy emphasis on managing the candidate by professionals as the worldwide trend.

Increase is due to the influence of mass media: television is the campaign itself.

The television spot, an American invention, now dominates campaigns worldwide. There are three types:

  1. The jingle clip: attention-getting

  2. The ideological clip: ideas in images

  3. The allegorical quip: candidate as the epic hero

Increasingly, elections are won by candidates with the best ads, which also means the candidates with the most money.

  1. Retrospective Voting

Retrospective voting occurs when citizens vote based on their overall evaluation of the incumbent’s performance according to Fiorina.

They look at the last four years in retrospect and choose a reward or punishment model: rewards the incumbent’s party if things (especially the economy) are going well; punishes the incumbent’s party if things are going badly.

Ex. Financial meltdown of 2008 swung the election decidedly in Obama’s favour as voters punished Republicans for what they perceived as a mishandling of the economy.

  1. Candidate Strategies and Voter Groups

Candidates want to avoid alienating their home base and want to win swing independent voters.

This is a difficult task as candidates are pushed and pulled by competing forces. In the end, this pressure makes candidates and campaigns incredibly centrist.

Presidential candidates focus on close, battleground states in the Electoral College.

States that are lopsided for one party over the other get little time and money.

Ex. Even though California and Texas have large electoral vote totals, because the states are so solidly in one corner or the other candidates spend little money and time there, as there is little to swing or win over.

Strategy reached high point in 2012 when presidential candidates campaigned in only ten swing states.

  1. The Origins of Parliaments

Political institutions become more differentiated and complex as they become more modern.

Feudalism is where balance of power between the various institutions of government begins in the evolution of parliaments.

Countries with limited government usually have experience with feudalism.

Balancing act is seen in the oath of loyalty in Aragon to a new king.

Political institutions become more differentiated and complex as they become more modern.

Absolutist monarchs begin to see their powers limited by fledgling parliaments in part because of their need for tax revenues.

In exchange for power of the purse, monarchs gave nobles limited influence on royal policy.

Serves as the basis for British, Swedish, and French parliaments.

French parliament soon forgotten as French monarchs turned to absolutism and the nobles in parliament failed to resist the solidification of governing power in the hands of the monarch.

By contrast, British and Swedish parliaments slowly expanded their powers and resisted monarchical attempts at absolutism.

The English Civil War was a bloody struggle between parliament and the king, with the parliamentarians gaining the upper hand, beheading Charles I in 1649.

Various political philosophers have written on the importance of parliaments.

  • Locke said that the Parliament is the most basic and important institution.

  • Montesquieu said that the only way to ensure liberty is to divide government into two branches.

The Magna Carta is sometimes regarded as the foundation of democracy in England. It retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers (against King John at the time), and as a guarantor of individual liberties and its is today known as a symbol of liberty around the world.

The most famous clause, still part of the law today, gives free men the right to a fair trial (even if most of the population at the time was unfree man because they were slaves of feudalism).

It can be considered an inspiration for the United States Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. its most important contribution to present law is that everyone, including leader, must obey the law.

  1. Presidential and Parliamentary Systems
  1. Presidential systems

DEF: those systems with separate election of executive as opposed to symbolic president

Presidential systems show most clearly the idea of separation of powers between legislative and executive branches.

Contrary to what most Americans believe, presidential systems are a minority of the world’s systems.

President combines the roles of head of state and head of government, which in effect makes them the symbolic leader of the country in addition to the chief of public policy.

Presidents are elected (more or less) directly by the people.

The United States still retains the slightly archaic indirect method of selection through the Electoral College.

Presidents in general have a lot of power.

More importantly, they are not responsible to the legislature for their power or their term of office and as a result they are extremely difficult to remove from office.

Even impeachment does not guarantee results, as evidenced by efforts to impeach Bill Clinton.

  1. Parliamentary systems

DEF: those systems with election of parliament only, which in turn elects the prime minister

In parliamentary systems, the head of state is weak, symbolic, and distinct from the head of government.

Citizens vote only for the legislature, not for the chief of government, who is a member of parliament and is the head of the party that holds a majority.

As a consequence, the government is directly responsible to the majority in the legislature and the government can fall if the majority does not support its policies.

2.1 Separation and Fusion of Powers

American system of separation of powers sets branches of government against each other and is an invitation to struggle (Corwin).

This has been useful in preventing tyranny as it has prevented any single branch of government from becoming too powerful.

It also makes government slow and unmanageable.

Some scholars think that executive-legislative deadlock is common in presidential systems, as competing parties will control different branches of government at different times with no direct responsibility to each other.

European systems that developed after the United States are more modern and are based on the principle of fusion of powers.

In this type of system, it is hard to distinguish the legislative branch from the executive branch, as the executive branch comes from the legislature.

Prime ministers are elected to parliament, like everyone else, before they can become the chief of government. Once their party is in the majority, they can become the chief of government.

They form the cabinet that constitutes the government and is made up of other members of parliament.

The cabinet is essentially a committee of parliament that oversees the formulation and implementation of government policy.

Question Hour in the British parliament: process by which the opposition challenges the government and the majority with an eye toward winning the next election.

This illustrates the link between the executive and the legislative branches.

2.2 Advantages of Parliamentary Systems

There are some advantages to the fusion of powers in a parliamentary system.

  • The executive-legislative deadlock cannot occur what the majority wants the majority gets, because the executive and legislative branches are controlled by the same party.

  • If there is a disagreement, a no-confidence vote can occur, which means no long, drawn-out political drama, which makes removing executives easier.

  • No-confidence votes are rare though in most parliamentary systems nowadays.

Parliamentary systems do have some disadvantages.

  • Votes in parliament can be closely predicted due to high levels of party discipline.

  • Can be prone to coalition governments, which can be less stable in maintaining the coherence of the government.

  • When no party has a majority, an alternative is to form a minority government that depends on the passive support of other political parties. Leadership positions in coalition governments are split. Even if the government falls, it is not as bad as it sounds. Cabinets can be put back together through negotiations with other political parties or new elections can be held.

  • Parliamentary systems can be prone to immobilism because coalitions can get stuck over the same issues, which can lead to an inability to decide major issues.

  1. Bicameral or Unicameral?

Two-thirds of legislatures in the world have bicameral systems.

In general, lower houses are much more powerful.

Only in the United States are the two houses of the legislature co-equal, and some would argue that the U.S. Senate is actually more powerful than the House of Representatives.

A small number of legislatures are unicameral (one house).

Some states, in an effort to deal with multi-ethnic and multi-racial populations, have experimented with multi-chamber legislatures.

Ex. South Africa with its three houses and Yugoslavia with five houses

The larger political development question is why would a state choose a bicameral system, which effectively divides governing power, over a unicameral system?

The main reason for bicameralism comes from the institutional choice of federalism.

In a federal system, the upper house represents component parts such as states or provinces while the lower house represents districts based on population.

Some states have upper houses that do not do very much, so the overall utility of upper houses in unitary systems is unclear.

Ex. the British House of Lords, which is a holdover from the early days of aristocratic privilege in the UK. Following the 1999 reforms, the Lords has been mostly a debating society with very little real governing power.

Some countries, such as New Zealand, Sweden, and Denmark, decided that their upper houses served no purpose and abolished them.

  1. What Legislatures Do

Most important bills originate in the government or administration.

  1. The Committee System

Most of the power of legislatures lies in the committee system, which can make or break legislative proposals.

Committees are critical to the ability of legislatures to function.

Public hearings are a mechanism for getting citizen and interest-group input on legislation.

United States has the most well-defined committee system, in part because of separation of powers.

Committees screen bills to help determine which ones are worthy of consideration.

Interestingly, in parliamentary systems, a “government bill” is automatically important and thus evades the committee screening process.

In the 1970s, U.S. reforms weakened the powers of the committee chairs, which had traditionally been appointed on the basis of seniority and ruled committees like small kingdoms, making the legislative process more difficult.

Standing committees, which are relatively permanent, in the United States are based on partisan balance.

  1. A Closer Look at Legislatures

Legislatures pass laws but rarely originate laws anymore, as those functions have shifted.

Most of the legislative initiative rests with executive departments and agencies.

This makes legislatures reactive institutions as they respond to the initiatives of others, as opposed to proactive institutions that initiate proposals.

Ex. in the United States the legislative power of the purse is a reaction to the budget proposed by the president, not by Congress.

As a result, law-making is not the most important thing that legislatures do.

Legislators spend a great deal of time on constituency casework (attention legislators pay complaints of people who elect them), in which they intervene on behalf of a constituent to help solve problems.

The standard complaint: “Where’s my check?”

Constituency work is an important job for legislators as it is a mechanism to help legislators get re-elected.

British Question Hour is an example of this function, where the opposition challenges and questions the government on policy.

U.S. administrations regularly change policy based on criticisms by Congress.

legislatures can work to keep citizens in the loop on matters of governance (should citizens choose to pay attention).

Ex. The televised Fulbright committee hearings on Vietnam provide a good example of how.

All countries now carry extensive press reports on legislative activities and often televise legislative proceedings.

A large part of representation is psychological, which means that while legislatures may not always represent the needs and concerns of citizens, at a minimum people need to feel like the legislature represents them.

  1. The Decline of Legislatures

While Locke believed that legislatures would be the most important party of government, legislatures no longer work the way that Locke envisioned, and this trend of the decline in the importance of legislatures has continued and grown.

Some political scientists argue that expectations for legislatures were too high to begin with and the legislatures are prone to a range of problems that have contributed to this decline.

  1. Structural Disadvantages

Parliamentary systems are very efficient in passing legislation, but their very institutional nature makes them predictable and boring institutions.

This efficiency has led to legislative atrophy.

By contrast, the U.S. system has no such problem with efficiency due to the near feudal nature of Congress and its ongoing struggles with the executive branch.

Congress is more important and livelier than most other legislatures, which is a good thing, but the U.S. system of separation of powers is also contributing to the decline of Congress because of conflict between the two houses in the legislative branch and partisan conflict within the houses themselves.

The 60-vote minimum to end a filibuster in the U.S. Senate is a clear structural disadvantage of the U.S. system.

Turns the U.S. system into a vetocracy and can paralyze government in the United States.

  1. Overspending

Capacity for overspending is inherent within legislatures.

Everyone is generally in favour of a balanced budget, but all legislators want to spend money on their pet interests that are linked to re-election. What is good for the individual may not be good for the aggregate.

Congress has tried to impose limits on spending, but they have been less than successful.

Line-item veto transferred power to the presidency but was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Imposed spending caps were routinely ignored although the recent sequester should prove an interesting test of Congressional resolve.

  1. Incomprehensible Legislation

The average U.S. law passed today is twenty pages.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act was 2,400 pages minimum.

Few Congresspersons read the bills for lack of time.

Legislation cannot be short and simple because modern society is complex, but practically nobody can understand it.

  1. Lack of Expertise

Because most legislators are not technical experts in matters of policy there is a lack of expertise in most legislative branches.

This is not necessarily a bad thing as there is value in a citizen legislature.

However, a lack of expertise leads to a heavy reliance on experts from the executive departments, which diminishes the independence of the legislative branch. In fact, most legislatures have little independent research support.

Only U.S. Congress, due to separation of powers, can generate its own data.

  1. Psychological Disadvantages

Citizens are more impressed with presidents and prime ministers than legislatures.

Parliaments are seen as groups of people who simply squabble with each other.

This can lead to presidential “worship” and a belief that presidents and executives are the most important political actors and are the engines of government.

  1. The Absentee Problem

Most of the time, members of legislature are not present in the chamber; members are only really needed to vote, and often not even then.

British party whips can get high turnouts for important issues and the Swedish use an electronic voting summons.

U.S. legislators are required to be present to vote but can still be absent if their vote is paired with that of another absent legislator.

So, what explains absenteeism?

Some of it is workload, and legislators are busy doing other things such as constituency work, fundraising, committee service, and campaigning.

It is true that some legislators might just be lazy.

There is a bigger issue and that is legislators themselves do not regard legislating as their chief function and have allowed much of their legislative authority to be usurped by other political actors.

  1. Lack of Turnover

Another contributing factor to the decline of parliaments is the lack of turnover.

Many members become career, lifetime politicians who are re-elected as often as they like, which means little new blood or fresh ideas.

Is this a problem of democracy?

Careerism in a legislative branch reduces the ability to innovate and respond to new trends in public opinion as members become increasingly out of touch.

Parliamentary systems do allow for small parties to compete, however, which reduces some of the effects of careerism.

  1. The Dilemma of Parliaments

In the end, parliaments suffer from a dilemma that is well illustrated by the recent post-Soviet experience in Russia.

Russia needed reforms, but there was deadlock as Yeltsin wanted to go one way and the Duma preferred a different course of action.

Putin “solved” the problem by forming his own party, which now controls 2/3 of the Duma seats.

Parliament is responsive to the president and there is no longer deadlock, but Russia is also no longer a democracy.

In the end, legislatures have atrophied, and power has shifted to the executive branch.

To get things done, power must be concentrated; to keep things democratic, power must be dispersed.

  1. Presidents and Prime Ministers

When thinking about executives, it is important to note the difference between a head of state and a chief of government.

Democracies can be considered of two types: presidential or parliamentary systems.

They both have a multi branch governments (legislative, executive and judiciary). In a presidential system these three are strongly separated while in presidential systems the division is blurred. The executive branch is usually the most important one and in a presidential system it is guided by the president while in parliamentary systems is it controlled by a prime minister and a king or queen/a president.

Presidents of presidential systems hold most of the powers, while in parliamentary systems the president’s role is mostly symbolic.

In parliamentary system it is the prime minister who holds executive power, and he is the head of government, while the monarch or president is the head of state.

The head of state is theoretically the top leader, but the duties are largely symbolic, and they serve more to represent the nation as a symbol of unity.

The chief of government is the real working executive and has meaningful political power within the system. In practice they guide government, run election campaigns, and head political parties.

The United States combines the two offices in the institution of the presidency. From appointing judges and granting pardons, to vetoing laws and acting as the nation’s chief diplomat on foreign policy, the Commander in Chief is a pretty powerful person, but actually not as powerful as you might think. The Constitution also limits presidential powers to maintain balance among the three branches of government.

In parliamentary systems the chief executive is indirectly elected by the national legislature from its own ranks. Prime ministers are responsible to parliament and are secure in their seats if they represent a majority party.

This means that there are no institutional limits beyond the support of the majority required for them to stay in office. They can be ousted by a vote of no-confidence or by a loss of the majority in the general election.

This means the prime minister’s strength is dependent on the stability of his or her majority in parliament.

Presidential systems bypass this by having a strong president who is not responsible to parliament and is elected separately for fixed terms.

Presidential systems can suffer from the deadlock of democracy, which parallels parliamentary immobilism.

  1. “Forming a Government” In Britain

The British system is the “classic” of parliamentary systems.

Monarch invites leader of majority party to form a government and become the prime minister.

The prime minister appoints cabinet (the government) and subcabinet officials, all of whom are members of parliament and all represent important groups within the majority.

In theory the PM is the first among equals and guides cabinet to consensus on issues of policy.

However, the PM is not just an equal partner. He or she has real power; for example, he/she can “shake up” cabinet by dismissing ministers.

In practice, the British cabinet now frequently just concurs with decisions made earlier by the PM and a few key ministers.

  1. “Constructive No Confidence” in Germany

The German parliamentary system is built around the idea of constructive no-confidence.

The German chancellor is as strong as British PM in terms of setting policy and running cabinet.

One major difference between the two is the mechanism for removal:
The German chancellor can only be ousted by a constructive vote of no-confidence, which is an attempt to avoid the parliamentary instability of the Weimar Republic.

Parliament must have a cabinet ready to replace the ousted chancellor and it is much harder to replace than just oust, which means that chancellors are much more likely to remain in power.

Executives in a constructive no-confidence vote system are stronger than those without.

  1. “Cohabitation in France”

France’s system is “semi-presidential” and combines a working prime minister with a chancellor.

Russia and China have similar systems.

If both the president and the prime minister are from the same party there is no problem, as the president appoints a PM from his or her party and the parliament approves.

1986 and 1993 saw a socialist president with a conservative majority in parliament, which meant there was a chance that the majority would not approve the president’s selection.

This led to cohabitation.

Gaullist (conservative) premiers appointed to handle domestic affairs and the president (socialist) handled foreign affairs.

This happened again in 1997 with a conservative president and a socialist premier.

Cohabitation allows France to bypass legislative-executive deadlock that is common in presidential systems.

  1. The “Presidentialization” of Prime Ministers

Political scientists have noted the trend of the presidentialization of prime ministers where prime ministers with stable majorities start to behave like presidents.

This tendency is strong in Britain and Germany.

In these situations, the personality of the PM is beginning to matter more than policy, party, or ideology.

  1. Executive Terms

The terms of executives vary between presidential and parliamentary systems.

Presidential terms are fixed and, in some cases, limited in total numbers of terms that can be served.

This makes presidents generally hard to remove from office until their term is expired.

Can be impeached although the process is difficult, and the outcome is not guaranteed.

Prime ministers have no limit on their tenure in office as long as their party continues to win a majority in parliament.

For example, Thatcher was in office 11 years; Kohl was in office 16 years.

Prime ministers have an advantage in that they can dissolve parliament when it is most convenient in electoral terms for their party and hold new elections, which helps ensure that they can retain their majority in parliament.

However, prime ministers can be ousted quickly if they lose the support of the majority.

  1. Executive Leadership

In general, there are two different styles of executive leadership.

Jimmy Carter tried to supervise and manage nearly all aspects of his administration.

Wrong approach: executives scatter and exhaust themselves.

Ronald Reagan supervised little and delegated authority.

Paid little attention to critical matters, letting important issues slide.

With respect to executive leadership, is there a middle ground?

Franklin Roosevelt used a style called Deliberate chaos: setting up multiple agencies and letting them clash to ensure that only really important matters hit his desk.

  1. The Danger of Expecting Too Much

Citizens expect chief executives to solve all the problems in the state, but the reality is that executives cannot (and often do not) solve all the problems, which leads to disappointment among citizens.

Successful executives are ones who can project moods of calm, progress, and optimism and serve as a guiding figure for the public.

  1. Cabinets

Cabinets are the heads of the various executive agencies of the bureaucracy.

In the United States, cabinet heads are called secretaries; in Europe they are generally referred to as ministers.

The cabinet helps develop government policy on a range of issues.

The size of cabinets varies from state to state and there is no “right” size for a cabinet.

The U.S. cabinet has historically been small and slow to change due to the American commitment to limited government.

Economic shocks have led to a gradual expansion of the American cabinet.

  1. Who Serves in a Cabinet?

There is a great deal of difference between ministers in parliamentary systems and secretaries in the American system.

Cabinet ministers come from parliament and continue to serve in parliament while they are in cabinets.

Department secretaries are usually not working politicians but lawyers, leaders in business, and academics.

Given these differences, is one better than the other?

Parliamentary cabinet members have a great deal of experience and can be criticized by the opposition in parliament.

Presidential cabinet members bring a fresh perspective but can be naïve and run into difficulties with Congress.

In the United States, cabinets are becoming less important and the cabinet meets infrequently. As a consequence, most cabinet secretaries are “vice presidents in charge of spending.”

  1. Bureaucracies

DEF: A bureaucracy is any large organization of appointed officials who implement laws and policies.

The term bureaucracy has negative connotations for most people. These agencies were established to help the government manage and carry out laws much more efficiently, to bring the rule making and enforcement closer to the experts.

Max Weber, the German sociologist, studied bureaucracy, disliked it, but saw no way to avoid it as it was necessary to the functioning of modern organizations.

Bureaucracies have specific characteristics that Weber identified. These are ideal types.

  • Operates under rules and procedures.

  • Organized into a hierarchy.

  • Provides rationality, uniformity, predictability, and supervision to government.

Another definition of bureaucracy is “permanent government.”

Other officials come and go but bureaucrats spend their careers with government and have a lot of expertise. Bureaucracies are inherently conservative and hard to change.

  1. The United States

Most civil servants work at the state and local levels of government.

15 percent of the total bureaucracy is at the federal level.

At the federal level there are 15 cabinet departments that comprise 85-90 percent of the federal bureaucracy.

All federal agencies share a common model: Funded by Congress, headed by a secretary who is appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate.

This creates a host of political loyalties among the cabinet secretaries.

Because secretaries and undersecretaries are political appointees, they are technically not bureaucrats using Weber’s definition.

Bureaucrats in the United States are powerful and may be more important in innovating laws than the public or Congress.

A good example of this is cigarette package warning labels, which was a policy initiative that came from the bureaucracy.

Another source of bureaucratic power is that in the United States, departments carry out unclear laws and interpret the meaning and intent of those laws during the implementation process.

Bureaucrats have a lot of knowledge, and that knowledge is power.

Bureaucracies also develop constituencies, which make them very hard to eliminate as illustrated by Reagan’s failed attempt to abolish the Department of Energy.

U.S. bureaucracy is small compared to other states, especially those in Latin America and Europe that have strong statist traditions.

  1. Communist Countries

Soviet Union was one of the world’s most bureaucratic states and it was the cause of its undoing.

In this the Soviet state was ironic because Marxist theory maintained there was no need for Western-style bureaucracy, but it was quickly implemented by Lenin and increased by Stalin.

Five-year economic plans for directing the economy were a clear effort at using the bureaucracy to manage and direct the entire Soviet economy.

The top Soviet bureaucrats were called the nomenklatura, who were a privileged elite, all of whom were members of the Communist Party.

This privileging mechanism made the Soviet bureaucracy very conservative by nature, as the best and brightest were recruited into the bureaucracy and then resisted changes that would affect their positions.

In China, all officials are also party members.

In theory this is supposed to fight corruption, but administration in China is dangerously decentralized, which makes corruption not only easier but more likely.

Bureaucratic corruption is China’s Achilles heel and could easily destabilize the state.

  1. France

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, France set the pattern for the rest of Europe with its heavily bureaucratized state.

Napoleon made the bureaucracy even more rational and effective, drawing on the model set forward by Richelieu.

French bureaucrats are trained at the “Great Schools” that emphasize specialized training.

The power of French bureaucracy was increased due to the instability of the Third and Fourth Republics.

As a result, France is heavily bureaucratized and extremely centralized.

  1. Germany

The German bureaucracy bears the stamp of the Prussian state nobility called Junkers, who controlled almost all civil service positions in Prussia and brought Prussian values, including loyalty to the state, to German administration, following unification under Bismarck.

This was a weakness during the Weimar Republic because bureaucrats had a contempt for democracy, which helped fuel a glorification of the state and militarization.

Following the war, as Germany rebuilt democracy, there has been a strong commitment by German civil servants to democracy and democratic values.

This is illustrated in part by the Interior Ministry and its programs to fight political extremism.

A final distinctive feature of German bureaucrats is that they tend to have the mentality of Roman law, neatly organized and fixed into codes.

  1. Britain

The United Kingdom has strong traditions of local self-government and dispersion of power, which has encouraged legislative control of administrative authority.

Central government did not begin to run things until the twentieth century.

In 1870 a merit-based civil service using competitive exams was established to fight corruption.

British ministers are accountable to parliament, but real power is in the hands of the career “permanent secretary” and other career bureaucrats.

The British bureaucracy more tightly controlled than U.S. bureaucracy.

British bureaucrats pride themselves on being apolitical and on acting solely in the nation’s best interest.

  1. Japan

Japan provides an extreme example of “rule by bureaucrats,” a situation in which the bureaucrats are more powerful than, and often have a great deal of contempt for, elected officials.

The Japanese bureaucracy was based on the French model, so the bureaucracy was always powerful, and it became more powerful after World War II.

The key ministries are finance, industry, agriculture, construction, and trade and they set much of the policy for the Japanese state.

In Japan, the ministries are self-contained, which means they do not cooperate with each other and generally do not work for the good of the whole.

The long-term economic stagnation in Japan has contributed to a new generation of Japanese politicians trying to reform bureaucracy, but there has been little success.

  1. The Trouble with Bureaucracy

As noted earlier, bureaucracy seems to be universally vilified and there are many different sources for this dislike of bureaucracy.

For example, in France and Italy hatred of bureaucrats is part of political culture.

In the U.S., the bureaucracy is frequently the target of hostile political rhetoric and labelled as inefficient and wasteful.

The problem is simply that all the metrics that we would usually employ to evaluate a private program or business, such as efficiency, productivity, and profitability, are hard to apply in government programs.

Bureaucracy can exhibit particular pathologies that also contribute to the continual dislike of bureaucrats and bureaucratic organizations. For example, bureaucracies can develop signs of what is now called Eichmannism and “Parkinson’s Law.”

Eichmannism is the defence of “Just doing my job.”

Parkinson’s Law is an expression that speaks to the inefficiencies with the pithy expression, “Work fills to expand the time allotted to it.”

Another source of frustration with bureaucracy is the apparent connection between corruption and bureaucracy.

The more regulations that are in place, the more bureaucrats who are needed to implement them, which increases the opportunities for corruption.

Early theorists assumed the bureaucracy would never make public policy and believed that bureaucrats would be apolitical implementers of laws passed by legislatures.

In practice the implementation of laws cannot be apolitical, which gives bureaucrats a lot of power even though they are not elected and are unaccountable to the public.

Most nations now have bureaucrats who make public policy and are not publicly accountable.

  1. Types of Law

DEF: positive law That is written by humans and accepted over time, the opposite of natural law

There are five major branches of positive law:

Modern criminal law covers a specific category of wrongs that are considered social evils and threats to the community. The state is the plaintiff or prosecutor.

Offenses are usually divided into three categories:

  • Petty offenses that are punished with a fine ex. traffic violations.

  • Serious but not major offenses that are punished by a bigger fine or short sentence ex. prostitution.

  • Felonies that are punished by imprisonment ex. rape, murder or extortion.

In the U.S some criminal offenses are federal, and other are state concerns, but crimes can also be both.


Civil law (noncriminal disputes among individuals) provides redress for private plaintiffs who can show they have been injured. The decisions are in dollars, not in jail time and private individuals conduct litigations.


DEF: that which grows out of a country’s basic documents

Written constitutions are usually general documents. Subsequent legislation and court interpretation must fill in the details.

In the United States, the ultimate responsibility of interpreting the Constitution rests with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Constitution had not changed, but society’s conception of individual rights did. Constitutional law is not static but a living, growing institution.


administrative law covers regulatory orders by government agencies, it develops when agencies interpret statues, and they begin to build up a body of regulations and case law that guides the commission in its future decisions.


International law consists of treaties and established customs recognized by most nations.

It is different because it cannot be enforced in the same way as national law: It has some judges and courts, but compliance is largely voluntary.

Its key mechanisms are reciprocity (mutual application of legal standards) and consistency (applying the same standards to all)

Modern legal systems are written and largely codified. Putting laws in writing makes them more precise and uniform. Codification began in ancient times and has been a major feature in the development of civilization. The Ten Commandments and the Code of Hammurabi were early law codes, but the great ancient code was Roman law.

The Code of Justinian is the foundation of most of Europe’s modern legal systems. Modern European law is based on an amalgamation of Roman, feudal, and church law.

  1. The Courts, the Bench and The Bar

Judicial systems are always hierarchical with different courts having specific jurisdictions.

  1. The U.S Court System

The U.S. court system consists of fifty-one judicial structures: the national system and fifty state systems.

The federal courts hear many cases in which the issue is one of state laws, but the parties are residents of different states, the so-called “diversity jurisdiction.” Also, of course, they hear cases concerning federal laws.


The ninety-four federal district courts form the base of the U.S. national court system. They serve as trial courts in civil suits arising under federal law, criminal cases involving federal infractions, and the diversity jurisdiction. Most criminal cases, however, even those involving federal law, are tried in state courts.

Federal district court decisions can be appealed to a U.S. court of appeals.

The thirteen courts of appeals consider only whether the law has been misinterpreted or misapplied.

The pinnacle of the federal court system is the U.S. Supreme Court, consisting of one chief justice and eight associate justices. The Court will generally not hear a case unless it involves a constitutional question or some significant point of federal law. Because the U.S. system is based on precedent, the Court’s ruling is national law.


Each of the fifty states has its own court systems. Most of their cases are civil, not criminal. Generally, state trial courts operate at the county level and have original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases.

  1. Judges


Federal judges are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate. To free them from executive and political pressure, they may serve for life unless impeached.

The attorney general lists eligible candidates; as vacancies occur, the president selects a few names from that list. Senate approval used to be routine but is now highly political: Presidents now appoint judges of their own political party who share their judicial philosophy.

Ex. Bush 43 appointed conservatives as several vacancies occurred on the Supreme Court. In this way, his conservative legacy lived long after his presidency. President Obama appointed two liberal women justices in an attempt to counterbalance the conservative tilt. Partisan polarization has thus entered even the judicial branch.


State judges are either popularly elected or appointed, for terms ranging up to fourteen years.

Both parties often nominate the same slate of judges so that the judicial elections have become largely nonpartisan.

Governors appoints judges from a list given by a bipartisan nomination commission; later, they are subject to a retention vote after they have been on a bench a number of years. Some argue that elected state judges turn into crowd-pleasing politicians with shaky judicial skills.

  1. Comparing Courts

    1. The Anglo-American Adversarial and Accusatorial Process

English and American courts are passive institutions: they wait until a law is challenged or a defendant is brought before them. The system operates on an adversarial (system based on two opposing parties to a dispute) and accusatorial basis (like adversarial but with a prosecutor accusing a defendant of crimes).

the plaintiff must demonstrate how and in what ways the defendant has caused damage. During the trial, the judge acts as an umpire. Both parties present their evidence, call and cross-examine witnesses, and try to refute each other’s arguments. The judge rules on the validity of evidence and testimony, on legal procedures, and on disputed points. After both sides have presented their cases, the judge rules on the basis of the facts and the relevant law.

One weakness of the adversarial system is that the decision often goes to the side that can hire the best attorney. Thus, money may tilt the scales of justice.

  1. British Courts

Britain’s court system is divided into civil and criminal branches.


British judges are nominally appointed by the monarch, but the choice is really the prime minister’s, based on recommendations of the lord chancellor of House of Lords.

British judges have lifetime tenure and are above politics. With the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights in 2000 judicial review was introduced in the system.


In Britain, the government hires lawyers to prosecute crimes. Lawyers can be divided into solicitors, who handle all legal matters except representing clients in court and solicitors, who do defend the client in court.

3.3 European Court System

European courts are heavily based on the Code Napoleon, and they do not have separate criminal and civil division.


Judges play a more active role: the prosecutor is an official who forwards evidence to an investigating, a representative of the justice ministry who conducts a thorough inquiry, gathering evidence and statements. These European magistrates first make a preliminary determination of guilt before sending the case to trial.

In European criminal procedure, the decision to indict is made by a judge, and the weight of evidence is controlled by the court. In code-law countries, the accused bears the burden of having to prove that the investigating judge is wrong.


The trial lawyer does not question witnesses; the court does that. Instead, he or she tries to show logical or factual mistakes in the opposition’s argument.

  1. Courts in Russia

Russia’s legal system has continued much of the Soviet legal structure because most personnel were trained under the Communists. Now Russia is struggling to build “rule of law,” including concepts such as property law and civil rights. In 1991, a Constitutional Court with fifteen justices was established, the first independent tribunal in Russian history. It can theoretically rule on the constitutionality of the moves made by the president and the State Duma. Nonetheless, crime is still rampant in Russia.

Putin used legal-looking procedures to get rid of opponents, who were charged with embezzlement or tax evasion and sent to prison for decades. Rule of law was never established in Russia, and democracy died.

  1. The Role of the Courts

Judicial review is more highly developed in the United States than in any other country.

  1. The U.S Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court’s power to review the constitutionality of federal legislative enactments is not mentioned specifically in the Constitution and has been vehemently challenged.

Judicial review was first considered and debated at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Delegates suggested that, when in doubt, legislators might call on the judges for an opinion on a proposed law’s constitutionality.

In the twentieth century, the doctrine was used extensively. The court itself, however, has always been divided on how it should be used.

Judicial “activists,” have argued that the Supreme Court must be vigilant in protecting the Bill of Rights. Advocates of judicial “restraint,” have argued that only Congress should make public policy and that unless a legislative act violates the Constitution the law should stand.

The courts that followed have been more cautious, reflecting the fact that most of their members were appointed by conservative Republicans. In recent years, conservative justices have mostly favoured restraint, though that was not always true.

  1. The Supreme Court’s Political Role

The U.S. Supreme Court plays an important political role. Personal beliefs and ideology loom large in their decisions, raising the question of whether the Court can be an impartial dispenser of justice.

  1. The Views of Justices

The justices’ personal convictions influence their decisions. Historically, Supreme Court justices used to be WASPs upper- or upper-middle-class males. Radical critics claimed that such judges could not appreciate the situation of the poor or oppressed. That picture has greatly changed.

Many factors affect the justices’ rulings. They are older, averaging close to 70. Southern jurists have usually been more conservative on racial matters, former corporation lawyers may be more sympathetic to business problems.

The two most important influences on voting, however, seem to be party affiliation and the justice’s conception of the judicial role.

Many justices see the Court’s role as standing firm on certain constitutional principles, despite public opinion, but changing public attitudes also influence Supreme Court justices.

Another influence is colleagues’ opinions. Some were able to convert some of their colleagues to their judicial philosophies by force of personality and their judicial reasoning. Many factors, not all of them knowable influence decisions.

The fact that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life may be the most important of all. They are independent and immune to congressional, White House, and private-interest pressures.

  1. The Supreme Court’s Political Impact

Justices are expected to be impartial, but the importance of the Court gives them political power.

The warren Court and implemented its “personal political and social philosophy” and was active and controversial in three key areas: civil rights, criminal procedure and legislative reapportionment, where it rewrote constitutional law.


The Supreme Court’s decision in Brown in 1954 triggered a revolution in American race relations: The Court accepted the argument that segregated public school facilities were “inherently unequal” because they stigmatized African American children and deprived them of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. Southern whites vowed massive resistance.

African Americans, encouraged by this legal support, sought equal treatment in other areas engaged in confrontation with the white establishment; the Court also supported sit-ins which became a major weapon in the civil rights struggle.


The Warren Court ruled that evidence police seized without a warrant was inadmissible in a state court, that indigent defendants must be provided with legal counsel, that a suspect could not be denied the right to have a lawyer during police questioning and that any confessions so obtained could not be used in court and that arrested persons must immediately be told of their right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present during police questioning.


The Court mandated equal population voting districts. Until 1962, many states had congressional districts that overrepresented rural areas and underrepresented cities. In a series of decisions, the Court found that unequal representation denied citizens their Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection) rights. The Court ordered that state legislatures apply the principle of “one person, one vote” in redrawing electoral lines, which many now must do after every census.


  1. The Burger Court:
    Overall, there was a conservative drift but an unpredictable one. The most controversial ruling of the century declared abortion was protected by the right to privacy.

The next year, however, it found that quotas to help African American workers attain skilled positions were constitutional. In 1984, it added a “good faith exception” to the Mapp rule, which excluded wrongfully seized evidence. If the police with a warrant to look for a particular piece of evidence stumble on another, it may be used as evidence. In 1976, the Burger Court found that capital punishment was not necessarily “cruel and unusual” if the rules for applying it were fair.

  1. The Rehnquist Court:
    The Rehnquist Court both pleased and alarmed conservatives. The Court upheld the constitutionality of independent federal prosecutors, something the White House said interfered with the powers of the executive branch. The Court also ruled that burning the American flag could not be outlawed because it is a form of free speech. This ruling brought a mass outcry and a new federal statute outlawing flag burning. In 2003, the court upheld campaign-finance reform, university affirmative-action programs to promote diversity, and other liberal causes.

  2. The Roberts Court:
    The Roberts Court was markedly conservative but not uniformly. In 2013, the Court the burdens the Voting Rights Act placed on Southern states, a setback to African American voting registration. It also decided five to four that a gun in the home is an individual right. The Court, however, required the Pentagon to accord terrorist suspects certain rights and support Obamacare.

The Court ruled that individuals, corporations, and unions could contribute unlimited funds to so-called “super-PACs” on the theory that money is a form of speech and PACs provided information and education.

  1. What is Political Economy?

DEF: Influence of politics and economy on each other; what government should do in the economy.

The definitions given by Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx were inspired by Aristotle, who saw the government, society and the economy as one thing.

Recently the term has revived. Radicals use the term “political economy” instead of Marxism to describe their criticisms of capitalism and the unfair distribution of wealth among and within nations. Conservatives use the term to try to get back to the pure market system advocated by Adam Smith.

Virtually all public policy choices have economic ramifications: whatever the issue, health care, environment, energy, or welfare, will be connected to the economy.

Everyone wants the government to induce economic prosperity. Earlier in the twentieth century, many governments followed “classic liberal” doctrines and generally kept their hands off the economy. With the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929, however, the hands-off policies tended to make things worse, and people demanded government intervention.

A book by economist John Maynard Keynes proposed to cure depressions by dampening the swings of the business cycle (tendency of economy to alternate between growth and recession over several years) to make recessions shorter and milder.

After World War II, government regulation of the economy was out; the free market was in. Then the 2008 financial meltdown hit and many economists quickly rediscovered Keynes.

  1. Government and the Economy

U.S economic problems since the 1960s:

The Vietnam War brought an inflation that took on a life of its own and lasted into the 1980s.


President Johnson was reluctant to ask for a tax increase to pay for Vietnam for two reasons: first, he had just gotten a tax cut, and second, he did not want to admit that he had gotten the country into a long and costly war. The lesson he learnt was that in war, you must increase taxes to mop up the increased government spending.


Starting in the late 1950s, the United States spent more abroad than it sold. With the war-induced prosperity of the 1960s, America sucked in imports without exporting enough to cover them. Large balance-of payments (the value of what a country exports compared with what it imports) deficits grew. The value of the dollar in relation to foreign currencies meant it was cheaper to buy foreign goods but harder to sell U.S. goods in foreign markets.


In an effort to correct this imbalance, in 1971 President Nixon cut the link between the dollar and gold, but the inflation of U.S. dollars worldwide made our stock of gold way too cheap. This floating exchange rate devalued the dollar by about one fifth.


Nixon froze wages and prices to knock out inflation. There was no corresponding freeze on profits so that businesses benefited unduly. When wage-price freezes are removed, pent-up demand pushes inflation higher than ever. Many economists think Nixon’s eighteen-month freeze just set the stage for greater inflation.


International oil deals were made with U.S. dollars. The dollar’s loss in value meant that the oil exporters were getting less and less for their black gold. The OPEC quadrupled the prices following the Mideast war. Oil prices plunge with even a small oversupply but soar with even a small shortage.


The manifold increase in petroleum prices produced inflation everywhere while simultaneously depressing the economy. During the 1970s, stagflation appeared to describe inflation with stagnant economic growth. Previously, economists had seen a connection between economic growth and inflation; as one went up, so did the other. In the 1970s, this connection was broken. As a result, since 1973, average Americans, after inflation, have had little or no income growth.


Carter attempted to stimulate the economy, but this made inflation worse. The Fed finally stemmed inflation by boosting interest rates to record levels. This brought slower economic growth and curbed inflation but also brought the greatest rate of unemployment since the Depression.


Again, trying to stimulate the economy, Reagan turned to an approach called “supply-side economics,” which focuses on investment and production rather than on consumer demand. The idea was that lowering tax rates stimulates economic growth and ultimately generates more tax revenue. As a result, that American taxpayers’ purchasing power had stayed the same, but they found themselves in ever-higher tax brackets.


Reagan and Bush 43 had presented Congress with budgets that featured both tax cuts and major increases in defence spending to force Congress to cut domestic and welfare spending drastically. But Congress cut little, and the U.S. federal budget reached record deficits (spending more in a given year than you take in).

Much of the U.S. budget deficit was covered by foreign investment, but this could go on only as long as foreigners trusted the dollar. In 2011, Obama ran a $1.3 trillion annual budget deficit and by 2015, the deficit fell to around a third of a trillion, and the dollar strengthened again.


The United States for several decades has consumed more than it produced and imported much more than it exported. U.S. imports now top exports. The foreign-trade deficit makes the United States the world’s greatest debtor nation. This leads to the buying up of American assets by foreigners.

Some economists argue that the U.S. trade deficit is irrelevant because the U.S. economy is sufficiently strong and foreign creditors know they will be repaid. With increasing urgency, however, others caution that too many hangs on confidence in the dollar; if it collapses, the world would have no standard “reserve” currency to do business with, leading to global recession.


Republican gains on Capitol Hill bring determined efforts to trim government spending and end the chronic budget deficits, which every year are added to the national debt.


Deficit, debt, and taxation problems came together at the start of 2013 in what was popularly called a “fiscal cliff.”

We never went over the fiscal cliff, but the compromise to avoid it satisfied few and “kicked the can down the road” for likely repeats every few years.


Since the 1970s, Americans’ incomes have grown less equal and the middle class smaller. Offshoring cuts the number and pay of American blue-collar manufacturing jobs. Top executives and money managers are compensated extravagantly, while growth of inequality fuels political anger.


Financial markets tend to produce bubbles (market that has gone too high) fast growth in investments that let people ignore risk until the bubbles pop. Some economists blame alternating manias and panics.

Keynes urged government intervention to dampen both.

The big underlying problem with all: Government policy promoting homeownership encouraged banks and investors to lend recklessly and to believe there was little risk, and this encouraged high levels of debt. With easy credit, everyone was encouraged to use their credit cards and home equity to borrow more and more. This brought the home-mortgage crisis.

Giant institutions literally end up not knowing their own worth, so their shares tumbled, and several went bankrupt or were taken over.

  1. What is Poverty?

Poverty has been defined by the U.s Labour Department with a formula developed in 1963 that became standard, although many argue it is out of date: scientists found that families spent about one-third of their incomes on food, so a “poverty line” is three times a minimal food budget for nonfarm families of four.

African American and Hispanic rates are much higher, and more than one-fifth of America’s children are below the poverty line.

Liberals complain that the poverty line is set much too low while Conservatives point out that poverty figures do not include noncash benefits transferred to the poor by government programs (ex. food stamps). Taking such benefits into account raises some poor families above the poverty line.

Some blame the increase of poverty and homelessness on offshoring, while left people with low-paid service jobs or unemployment.

  1. Welfare versus Entitlements

The federal budget is divided into two general categories: discretionary, which can be raised or lowered from year to year and mandatory, which cannot be easily modified.

Mandatory spending in turn is divided into interest payments on the national debt and entitlements (U.S. federal expenditure mandated by law, such as Social Security and Medicare); together they are around half of the federal budget. Interest payments are totally untouchable. There is not much wiggle room in the U.S. federal budget.

Entitlements are extremely difficult to cut because people are used to them and expect them as a right. There is no annual cap on entitlement spending; it grows as more people are entitled, what is called “uncontrollable” spending. The only way to change entitlement expenditures is to change the law.

Only a small fraction of federal payments is traditional “welfare” spending.

Some people argue that if we eliminated “welfare” spending we could cut taxes, but “welfare” makes up such a small share of the budget that government spending would be affected very little, and cuts would inflict hardship on society’s most vulnerable members. Entitlements are where real savings could be found, but politicians pretend otherwise because they fear the wrath of the middle class who want their entitlement benefits just as much or more than they want their tax cuts.

  1. The Cost of Welfare


Begun as a modest trial program under Kennedy in 1961, the Food Stamp program was implemented nationwide under Johnson in 1964. One-third of families headed by women receive food stamps.

Reagan, citing an apocryphal story of a young man who used food stamps to buy vodka, tightened eligibility requirements in an effort to eliminate fraud and misuse, but fraud and waste have not been major factors.

All food stamps are now debit cards, which fights the fraud problem.


In 1996, President Clinton signed a major welfare reform. This ended the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children because it was accused of promoting fatherless children and welfare dependency. Because many recipients were non-white, the issue became connected with the struggle for racial equality.

Since then, many states developed workfare (Programs limiting the duration of welfare payments and requiring recipients to work or get job training).

Workfare, which has been tried for years, does not always work and initially costs more than traditional welfare programs because it must provide both welfare and training for a while. Some recipients who took jobs were still quite poor because for every dollar they earned, they lost most of it in ancillary benefits.

The EITC, a Republican idea, helps low-paid workers cut their income taxes and even gives some additional cash. Some analysts call EITC the best welfare program because it encourages people to work their way out of poverty.

The 1996 reform came when the U.S. economy was excellent, and most people bumped off welfare found jobs. The real test of welfare reform is how it holds up during recession. With some 9 percent unemployed in 2010 and 2011, more needed help. How long they should be helped sharply divided Republicans and Democrats.


The Democrats’ healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act, was barely passed. It does not go nearly as far as most European and Canadian medical insurance and lacks a “public” option: it operates mostly through private insurers. Critics, not all of them Republicans, worry that the plan is too long, too complex, and too expensive. Some charge that the Affordable Care Act does not sufficiently control the ballooning costs of health care.

Both Medicare and Medicaid grew so rapidly that benefits had to be limited and eligibility requirements tightened. As millions of baby boomers started to reach sixty-five in the 2010s, Medicare costs began to climb.

At least two factors induce exponential growth in medical assistance: More people become eligible and medical costs soar. Medicare is especially expensive, for all get it upon reaching age sixty-five, even rich people.

Plus, hospitals and doctors, once they are assured of payment, have no incentive to economize, hospitals and doctors were monitored on costs and on how long they kept patients hospitalized. Hospices were made allowable under Medicare. People were being shoved out of their private insurance plans for either having pre-existing conditions.

  1. How Big Should Government Be?

The bulk of federal spending goes not to welfare for the poor but to entitlements for the middle class; it is impossible to repeal or seriously cut most middle-class programs.

Politicians are wary about limiting Social Security or Medicare expenditures, but it can cost them votes.

The American welfare state is small compared with that of other advanced industrialized countries American political culture says to keep government small and to suspect and criticize the expansion of government power. But we also recognize that we need government intervention in the economy, education, energy planning and environmental protection. We have trouble making up our minds about how much government we want.

The general reluctance to expand government’s role, however, may redound to America’s long-term advantage. Government programs tend to expand, bureaucracy is inherently inefficient. Government programs become so sprawling and complex that officials do not even know what is in operation or how to control it.

it is probably wise to act with caution in expanding government programs.

  1. System Breakdown

Political scientists rarely used to pay attention to political violence and revolution because they generally believed that political systems were stable.

The rash of political violence in the 1960s changed that perspective and led to the argument that political systems do decay and break down over time.

This decay is often marked by riots, civil wars, terrorism, coups, and authoritarian governments.

Breakdowns begin when legitimacy erodes.

Legitimacy is the feeling by citizens that government should be obeyed. States with high legitimacy need few police, while states with low legitimacy are often subject to political violence.

A good example of this is Northern Ireland, where legitimacy in the system of government eroded to the point that the British had to send in military troops.

Generally, legitimacy erodes as government shows that it is ineffective in solving the myriad of problems.

  1. Violence as a Symptom

Political violence does not necessarily mean that a revolution is near, and in fact, often government takes steps to avoid a revolution once political violence manifest.

While violence is deplorable, it can illustrate deep problems within society; as such, it can serve a purpose by getting the government’s attention.

  1. Types of Violence


Primordial violence grows out of conflicts between basic communities.

There are multiple examples, including conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda

Primordial violence is not limited to the developing world and has occurred in states like Northern Ireland and Quebec.


Separatist aims at independence for the groups in question.

It can sometimes be an outgrowth of a primordial conflict, like Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka and how Bengali independence from Pakistan led to the creation of Bangladesh.


Revolutionary violence aims at overthrowing or replacing existing regimes.

It is important to remember that revolutions seek to completely get rid of existing elites.

The struggles against repressive governments during the Arab Spring is a good example.

Ex. 1: The economic roots of the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring is usually seen as a backlash against repressive political regimes. Economist Hernando de Soto says the causes were fundamentally economic: when the prevailing powers expropriated the livelihoods of entrepreneurs who lacked any legal standing, their dramatic protests sparked a revolution.

In 201 Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after being expropriated of his fruit cart, triggering 200 million businessmen in Tunisia to do the same. The value of the fruit he lost was about 200 dollars, but what he lost was more invisible than tangible: he lost his property rights, he became bankrupt because he bought his supplies on credit, he lost his right to create collateral to form a company and issue shares.

Ex. 2: The origin of the Iranian Revolution

The Iranian revolution was unusual for the surprise it created throughout the world: It lacked many of the customary causes of revolution (defeat at war, a financial crisis, peasant rebellion, or disgruntled military), occurred in a nation that was experiencing relative prosperity, produced profound change at great speed, was massively popular, resulted in the exile of many Iranians, and replaced a pro- Western authoritarian monarchy with an anti-Western authoritarian theocracy.

Revolutionary violence also includes the category of counterrevolutionary movements, which are conservative attempts to crush revolutionary change, such as the Soviet attempts to crush liberalizing movements in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.


Coups are usually aimed against revolution, corruption, and chaos and are almost always conducted by the military.

Occasionally they are indirectly supported by key sectors of society.

Coups usually involve little violence, at least initially, but can turn violent if the military senses opposition.

Once a country has a coup, it is highly likely that it will have another one.


Finally, there is a catchall category called issue violence.

Political violence that falls into this category is generally less violent than other forms of political violence.

Examples of this might include the globalization and austerity protests that have recently occurred.

Change as a Cause of Violence

Political violence can be sparked by the changes a country experiences as it goes through modernization.

As modernization occurs, the transition away from the world of traditional stability leaves people worried, confused, and ripe for violent actions.

Economic change is often the most unsettling, and economic improvement can be just as unsettling as economic decline for people during this transition period.

Certain groups feel passed by and become bitter. It is not poverty but relative deprivation (Ted Gurr).

This means that violence and revolutions tend to occur when things are getting better, not worse in societies.

Other societal changes can spur unrest as well, such as shifts from subsistence to commodity farming, population growth, outdated political systems, and rising education levels that expose citizens to new ideas such as freedom and democracy.

Population growth is related to civil unrest. Political system may be out of date. Rising education levels expose people to ideas such as freedom and democracy.

  1. Terrorism

Terrorism is a strategy to weaken a hated authority and it is not a new phenomenon, contrary to the perception of many Americans.

Terrorist groups target governments that are hated and that they believe are usually corrupt and repressive.

Muslim terrorists hate the United States because it supports these types of governments and consequently deploy terrorist tactics against the U.S. to effect political change.

Terrorists are not insane but are rational in their selection of tactics to achieve their goals, which include recruiting new members, panicking the populations, and gaining publicity. In the end, remember that terrorist groups always have a reason for their actions.

Terrorism is a group activity. Individual acts of violence, even if they are political in nature, do not qualify as a terrorist activity.

John Hinkley, who shot Reagan, was not a terrorist because he acted by himself.

Currently the Middle East is a breeding ground for terrorists. There are material reasons for why terrorism is attractive in that region.

High birth rates lead to large numbers of unemployed youths susceptible to the message of terror groups.

Islamic terrorism can ultimately only be solved by modernization.

There is some cause for concern because it really is only a matter of time before a terrorist group can develop a nuclear incendiary device.

Another type of terrorism is state-sponsored terrorism, which occurs when states support the actions of terror groups around the world. The state itself can also be an agent of terrorism.

Does terrorism work?

Rarely, and if it does it usually is in conjunction with other strategies to effect political change.

Currently, U.S. agencies are not well-positioned to fight terrorism, and terrorism is tricky to fight because it falls between war and crime.

The good news is that Islamic terrorism is declining due to backlash from terrorist activities.

  1. Revolutions

Revolutions are quick, dramatic system changes that throw out the existing elites.

Small or moderate changes that leave the system intact are not revolutions.

Revolutions do not have to be bloody. Many of the revolutions that saw the end of communist systems of governance in Eastern Europe were peaceful, such as the velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia and South Africa.

Revolutions do not just occur, they require organizations through which to focus frustrations.

Absent these, there would just be apathy and indifference.

  1. Intellectuals and Revolution

This is why intellectuals are important for revolutions because they provide the organization for revolutions.

Certain factors predispose intellectuals to develop “revolutionary faith” (Billington): a belief that the current system can be replaced with something better.

While common folks want improvement in material conditions, it is the convictions of intellectuals that cement revolutions together.

  1. The Stages of Revolution

First the old regime decays as administration breaks down, taxes increase, and citizens no longer believe in government.

The first stage of revolution occurs as committees, conspiracies, networks, and cells form, committed to overthrowing the old regime.

A catalyst event occurs, for example, the storming of the Bastille.

The initial takeover is usually easy because government has essentially put itself out of business, which is what causes the revolution to occur in the first place.

These are people who are connected with the old regime, but who oppose it, take over and initiate moderate, non-radical reforms.

These reforms are not enough for extremists, who challenge the moderates’ rule.

The extremists drive the revolution to a high point where everything old is thrown out and the revolution goes mad; “The revolution devours its children”.

DEF: A Thermidor is the summer month od French revolutionary calendar that marked the end of the revolutionary extremism

This cooling off period is welcomed, similar to a convalescence after a fever.

Often a dictator who resembles the original tyrants of the old regime takes over to restore order, something most people welcome.

  1. After the Revolution

In general, revolutions end badly: they often exchange one form of tyranny for another.

Ex. the Tsars were replaced by despotic Stalin, Castro threw out Batista only to further reduce freedom in Cuba, and there are similar fears in the Middle East following the Arab Spring.

What about other revolutions that have occurred around the world?

American Revolution

Some scholars argue it was not really a revolution because it did not remake society and that in effect it was an example of separatist violence, a war of independence and not a revolution.

Hannah Arendt disagreed, arguing that the U.S. Revolution was a revolution and may be the only complete revolution in history because the old system of tyranny was replaced by new system of democracy.

This was possible because the American revolutionaries did not have to wrestle with big social questions like the French. America was prosperous with a fairly equal distribution of wealth and as such avoided many of the excesses associated with revolutions.

The French Revolution is very controversial.

Most people agree about the ideas that guided the revolution but acknowledge that the revolution went wrong, which led to bloodshed and tyranny.

The larger question is, was this avoidable? Most scholars now argue that the bloodshed was inevitable.

Russian Revolution raises the question: Had Lenin lived, would communism have looked different? Did Stalin pervert Lenin’s revolutionary vision?

Most scholars now believe that Lenin was just as ruthless and bloodthirsty as Stalin and that Lenin was wrong from the start.

Cambodia was the worst and most deadly revolution in history as the Khmer Rouge killed 1.7 million Cambodians.

Vietnamese revolution went astray as after the war, the communist government turned Vietnam into one of the world’s poorest countries.

However, in 1995 the United States and Vietnam re-established diplomatic ties and the Vietnamese economy engaged successfully with the world market and has now become relatively prosperous.

The Cuban revolution has been a nagging thorn for American administrations.

Castro continued to proclaim his regime revolutionary even though most citizens are over the shortages and restrictions. Under Raul Castro reform seems possible.

Currently there are few revolutionary movements around the world.

At the beginning, movements are idealistic and believe they can bring about a just society once the oppressors are gone.

After seizing power, the revolutionary regime discovers governing is harder than they thought, and people are quickly frustrated as their situation in life does not change in any meaningful way. Consequently, they want to throw the regime out.

In response, the regime becomes draconian and violent and attempts to lock itself into power while country falls further and further behind.

Eventually a new generation comes to power and admits that changes have to occur.

Given that revolutions end badly, will we not see another major wave of revolutions?

Not necessarily, as there is still plenty of injustice in the world and rage is the fuel of revolutions.

Given that revolutions end badly, will we not see another major wave of revolutions?

Currently the greatest source of rage is governmental corruption.

The way to prevent revolutions is through reforms that address injustice and corruption, but this is never easy to do.

  1. What is International Relations?

DEF: international relations is the interactions among states

In international relations there is no world sovereign power over the nations to get them to obey laws and preserve peace.

Sovereignty means that foreign powers have no business intruding into your country’s affairs and where established national sovereignty brings internal peace and law.

In international relations taking the law into your own hands by the threat or use of force is quite normal. Often there is no other recourse: no universally recognized authority exists to resolve disputes.

  1. Power and National Interest

Since it lacks sovereignty, international relations depend a lot on power: a country’s more general ability to get its way.

Some elements of power such as a country’s geography, natural resources, population, and economy are tangible or calculable. Some of the most important factors, however such as a country’s military capability, the quality of its political system, and its determination can only be estimated until it is involved in a war, where countries pursue their general interest. The war then shows which side had more power.

Foreign policy is inherently an elite game, and elites usually define the national interest.

The diplomat’s work is in finding and developing complementary interests so that two or more countries can work together.

In a democracy, the masses may influence foreign policy but only long after the basic decisions have been made in secrecy. Foreign-policy decisions, even in democracies, are made by perhaps a dozen people.

  1. The Importance of Economics

Economic is maybe the most influential factor in international relations.

Historically, countries tend to control, regulate, or own their industries. Perhaps the most free-market economy is that of the United States. The Europeans construct welfare states whose taxes work against starting new enterprises. In East Asia, the state guides key industries, aimed at rapid growth.

And a few countries simply prohibit certain foreign imports. Many domestic interest groups have sufficient clout to block foreign goods.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) aims at freer trade by cutting tariffs and other barriers: tariffs are at an all-time low, and most goods flow over the globe, but now nontariff barriers increasingly block trade, many of them concerning nonindustrial products. The few countries that do not play, such as Cuba and North Korea, live in isolation and poverty.

If the WTO system were to break down and the world returned to protected markets, we could see another depression.

Some argue that globalization (free flow of commerce across borders, making the world one big market) is the big trend.

Predictions that economic interdependency would prevent war, widely believed before World War I, have proved false. Now some say globalization is reversing: “de-globalization.” Prosperity does not necessarily bring peace. Indeed, newly affluent countries often demand respect, resources, and sometimes territory, creating resentments.

Also, the prosperity offered by globalization does not reach everyone equally.

  1. Why War?

The theories on the causes of war can be divided into two general camps:

  1. Micro Theories

DEF: theories focused on individuals and small groups and rooted in biology and psychology

These theories explain war as the result of genetic human aggressiveness that makes people fight.

Most anthropologists reject such biological determinism, arguing that humans exhibit a wide variety of behaviour that can be explained only by culture, that is learned behaviour.

Why aren’t all nations constantly at war? Under what circumstances do humans become aggressive?

The answer: when they think they are being attacked.

  1. Macro Theories

DEF: theories focused on nations’ ambitions, geography and history

When they can, states expand. Only countervailing power may stop the drive to expand. One country, fearing the growing power of a neighbour, will strengthen its defences or form alliances to offset the neighbour’s power.

Does the pursuit of power lead to war or peace? Again, there are two broad theories.


DEF: System in which major nations form and reform alliances to protect themselves.

The oldest and most commonly held theory is that peace results when several states use national power and alliances to balance one another. Would-be expansionists are blocked. When the balances broke down, there was war.


Calculations of power are problematic, so it is impossible to know when power balances. Often periods of peace occurred when power was out of balance, when states were ranked hierarchically in terms of power. Then nations knew where they stood on a ladder of relative power. In transitional times, when the power hierarchy is blurred, countries are tempted to go to war. A big war with a definitive outcome brings peace because then relative power is clearly displayed.

  1. Misperception

some thinkers focus on “perception” as the key to war: it is what leaders perceive that makes them decide for war or peace. They often misperceive, seeing hostility and threats from another country, which sees itself as merely defensive.

In misperception or image theory, the psychological and real worlds bounce against each other in the minds of political leaders. They think they are acting defensively, but their picture of the situation may be distorted. Leaders often use ideology and mass media to work citizens into anger and then march to war. Once convinced they are being attacked, otherwise rational people will commit atrocities.

  1. Keeping Peace

Approaches at keeping peace:

The real culprit, many claims, is sovereignty itself. States should give up some of their sovereignty (the ability to go to war) to an international entity that would prevent war much as an individual country keeps the peace within its borders.


DEF: An agreement among all nations to automatically counter an aggressor

The League of Nations tried collective security. Members of the League pledged to join in economic and military action against any aggressor. Aggressors would back down. It was a great idea on paper, but in practice when invasions happened, the League merely studied the situation. Other powers saw no point in entering a distant conflict where they had no interests. The League had no mechanism to make the other countries respond.


DEF: Theory that cooperation in specialized areas will encourage overall cooperation among nations

Another idea is the one to have countries work together first in specialized or “functional” areas, so they see that they accomplish more by cooperation than by conflict. Increasingly able to trust each other, gradually they will work up to a stable peace. In practice they remain hostile: the specialized organization becomes a scene of conflict.

The functionalist approach has brought some help in world problems but has not touched the biggest problem, war.


DEF: with third-party we mean a nation not involved in a dispute helping to settle it.

One way to settle a dispute is to have a third party not involved in the conflict mediate between the contending parties to try to find a middle ground. Third parties can help calm a tense situation and find compromise solutions, but the contenders have to want to find a solution. If not, third-party help is futile.


The oldest approach to preserving peace is through diplomatic contact, with envoys sent from one state to another. A good diplomat knows the interests of the countries involved and suggests compromises that leave both parties at least partly satisfied. This is crucial: There must be willingness to compromise. This can be hard because countries often define their vital, non-negotiable interests grandly and are unwilling to settle for less.

If successful, diplomats draw up treaties, which must be ratified and observed. If one country feels a treaty harms it, there is nothing to stop it from opting out. Countries enter into and observe treaties because it suits them.


Peacekeeping is the use of third-party military forces to support a ceasefire or truce to end fighting, ex. the blue berets of the UN.

Such forces cannot “enforce peace” by stopping a conflict third party that is still in progress. The only way to do that would be to take sides in the war, and that would be the opposite of peacekeeping.

This kind of actions work only if a peace agreement has been reached beforehand.

  1. Beyond Sovereignty?

The end of the Cold War and of a violent century brought into question the basic point of international politics, sovereignty. Increasingly, the world community is acting in ways that infringe on the internal workings of sovereign states. Most of the world understood that in some cases sovereignty must be infringed upon.

Starting with the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in 1945–1946, international law increasingly discounts sovereignty as a cover for mass murder. International law is slowly eating into sovereignty.

A new doctrine, the “responsibility to protect” (R2P), is growing and could someday override sovereignty. The world seems to be changing, willing to move beyond sovereignty and toward some kind of order. The trouble is no one knows what kind of order.

Few wanted the United States to play world cop, but most understood that if there was to be leadership, only America could provide it. A new class of “world-order” issues has emerged, such as climate change, that no country can handle on its own.

  1. The United Nations

The United Nations comes quickly to mind, but it still has problems: as permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China have the power to veto anything they dislike.

The UN has sent many peacekeepers to observe truces, as in the Middle East and Balkans, but these few and lightly armed forces from small countries were in no position to enforce peace. Without enforcement powers and fragmented into blocs, the UN remained largely a “talking shop.”

  1. The NATO

NATO was arguably the best defensive alliance ever devised, mostly because it is limited in scope, it does not apply everywhere.

There is no organization that can seriously calm and stabilize world trouble spots. Either way, the United States will have to take a leading role if anything is to be done effectively.

  1. U.S Foreign Policy: Involved or Isolated?

The Cold War created a bipolar system (System of two large, hostile blocs, each led by a superpower). Today, many describe the current system as multipolar (system divided among several power centres)

Americans, some say, are natural-born isolationists. With Pearl Harbour in 1941, however, isolationism was rejected in favour of massive involvement in world affairs, first in winning World War II and then the Cold War.

  1. Cycles of U.S Foreign Policy

U.S. foreign policy tends to swing between interventionism and isolationism. Many scholars think a middle ground cannot be found they see a pendulum swing between overinvolvement and under-involvement.

Perkins divided American foreign relations in cycles of “relatively pacific feeling,” followed by “rising bellicosity and war,” followed by “post-war nationalism,” and then back to “relatively pacific feeling.

Some argue that since the 2003 Iraq War we have practiced unilateralism (doing things our way against the wishes of allies), losing allies and rejecting treaties that most countries want. If we practice unilateralism long enough, however, we may alienate our allies and isolate ourselves. Exercising too much U.S. power could actually lose us the power to influence others.

World War II and the Cold War brought massive U.S. overseas intervention. For two decades after Vietnam, we used few U.S. forces abroad and with caution. 9/11 changed that, but as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars became the two longest wars in U.S. history, Americans shied away from further military involvement. The U.S. public, Congress, and Obama administration were divided and hesitant over further intervention in the Middle East.

  1. The United States in a Dangerous World

Foreign policy is one of the most difficult areas of governance because we have to consider not only our own abilities and preferences but also those of dozens of other states. We can make two opposite errors, both related to the problem of misperception. First, we can underestimate the dangers we face or overestimate the importance of a region.

U.S. foreign policy faces a twin problem:

  • a messy outside world that often defies our influence and

  • an American people and government little interested in or equipped for putting this world in order.

Military power is sometimes necessary but should be used sparingly, as the aftermath of wars is often a power vacuum. Politicians, however, often like to sound decisive and bold in advocating military solutions.

The biggest long-term problem now is a rapidly rising China Some International Relation theorists argue that rising powers must collide with other powers, usually resulting in war. The trick to avoid this seems to be to make an agreement in advance over who has what.

Currently Beijing defines its national interest as economic growth and is reluctant to do anything that disrupts it: this explains why China claims Taiwan, why it is cautious about letting its currency rise, and why it lines up energy and raw materials deals around the globe.

1. What is an ideology?

DEF: belief system that society can be improved by following certain doctrines commitments to change political systems

Ideologies are often based on political and economic theories but simplified and popularized to sell to mass audiences, build political movements and win elections.

Ideologies never precisely work the way their advocated intended and they often collapse in the face of reality.

2. Liberalism

2.1 Classic Liberalism

DEF: ideology founded by Adam Smith to keep government of the economy, which later became U.S conservatism. Society should be as free as possible from government interference.

In 1776 Adam Smith published “the wealth of nations” and founded classic laissez-faire economics: he argued that the true wealth of nations is not the amount of gold a country owns but the amount of goods and services their people produce. Doing so, he was refuting mercantilism, according to which a nation’s treasury determined its wealth.

Smith’s main point is that government interference retards growth: monopolies make the economy stagnate while by getting the government out of the economy you promote prosperity. He also said that the absence of economy will not lead to anarchy because the market will regulate itself since the individuals pursuing their self-interest micro adjusts the economy without the need of government.

Government should also be absent from religion, press and free speech.

In the late 19th century liberalism slip into modern liberalism and conservativism

2.2 Modern liberalism

DEF: ideology favouring government intervention to correct economic and social problems

By the late 19th century, it became clear that the market was not completely self-regulating (the invisible hand), and competition was imperfect and tended to promote monopolies.

Thomas Hill Green rethought liberalism: he said that that its goal was a free society but there were cases in which economic development takes away that freedom. In these cases, it is the government responsibility to step in, since this would be a case of government protecting people and not restricting them: the government must step in to guarantee the freedom to live at an adequate level. This implies heavier taxed on the rich.

Ex: American liberalism of Obama, Roosevelt, and Wilson.

3. Conservativism

DEF: ideology of keeping systems largely unchanged

Edmund Burke agreed with Smith that a free market was the best economic system buy he disagreed to the way liberal ideas were applied in France by revolutionists, he said that their liberalism had turned into radicalism under Rousseau’s influence.

According to Burke liberals place too much confidence in human reason since people are only partly rational, they also have irrational features, and to contain these societies has evolved institutions and traditions. To exclude these from people’s lives would mean to allow chaos and tyranny to take over.

Burke concluded that not all institution that currently exist can be bad, the best ones should be preserved, and the bad ones should be changed gradually to allow people to adjust.

Burke’s contributions:

  1. He helped to highlight the irrational nature of human behaviour.

  2. He thought that institutions are like living things that grow and adapt over time.

  3. He highlighted how revolutions end badly because of how societies cannot be immediately modified according to human wishes.

3.1 Modern Conservativism

Liberals who stayed loyal to Smith’s original doctrine are today called conservatives.

Milton Friedman helped spreading Smith’s ideas in the US, arguing that the free market was the best option and that government intervention only causes confusion.

Ex: Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US (he thought that government was not the solution it was the problem)

Modern conservativism worships markets even more than Adam Smith: he admitted that markets are not completely self-regulating, while modern conservationists believe that markets are honest and self-correcting, or at least more than government regulation. This belief is called “market fundamentalism”.

Ex: this can be seen in the privatization American health care system

Modern Conservativism is also focused on tradition and especially religion.

Ex: American conservatives believe in prayer in public schools, outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage, and support private and church-related schools.

Modern Conservativism also oppose special rights for women and minority groups since everyone should have the same rights.

“The Road to Serfdom” is a book written by economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek, in which the author warns of the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning. He further argues that the abandonment of individualism and classical liberalism inevitably leads to a loss of freedom, the creation of an oppressive society, the tyranny of a dictator, and the serfdom of the individual. 

According to him liberty is a “policy which deliberately adopts competition, markets and prices as its ordering principles”, hence markets guarantee individual liberty, while the interference of the state in markets disrupted the operation of liberty and started society on the road to serfdom

4. Socialism

In the 19th century liberalism dominated but critics saw a growing divergence between rich and poor and that few reforms would not be enough, they wished to overthrow the capitalist system.

Karl Marx in his “Capital” offered an analysis on why capitalism would be overthrown by the proletariat, and then socialism would have followed, a just productive society without class distinction. Later, in a stage where industrial production would be extremely high the society would turn into communism, the perfect society, with no private property or government, which is an instrument of class domination.

Marx never specified what socialism would look like, so various socialist thinkers developed their own version.

Ex. this ranged from welfarism of social-democratic parties, to anarcho-syndicalism, to Lenin’s, Stalin’s, Trotsky’s, Mao’s, and Tito’s versions.

4.1 Social Democracy

DEF: Social democracy is a political, social, and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal-democratic polity and capitalist economy, as well as a policy regime involving a commitment to representative and participatory democracy, measures for income redistribution and regulation of the economy in the general interest and welfare state provisions, not state ownership of industry.

Eduard Bernstein in “Evolutionary Socialism”, pointed out the gains that the working class was receiving and argued that Marx had been wrong about the collapse of capitalism and revolution from the proletariat. He supported the idea that reforms that won concrete benefits for the working class could also lead to socialism (doing so he can be considered a revisionist: someone that changes an ideology or view of history)

Social democrats abandoned state ownership of industry and started to use welfare measures to improve living conditions (to the point that social democracies have become welfare states – welfarism)

Weaknesses of social democracies:

  1. They are awfully expensive since to pay for welfare measures taxes rise (ex. Denmark and Sweden)

  2. The rise in taxes takes away the liberty to make lifestyle choices.

Ex: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the US

Social democracy thus aims to create the conditions for capitalism to lead to greater democratic, egalitarian and solidaristic outcomes; and is often associated with the set of socioeconomic policies that became prominent in Northern and Western Europe, particularly the Nordic model in the Nordic countries, during the second half of the 20th century.

4.2 Communism

DEF: Marxist theory merged with Leninist organization into a totalitarian party

DEF: amassing of colonial empires, mostly by European powers; pejorative in Marxist terms

Russian intellectual did not appreciate tzarism and saw Marxism to overthrow the system even if Marxism was meant to be applied in advanced capitalist countries and not Russia, where capitalism was just beginning, but Lenin made the theory fit the country.

He took Hobson’s theory of economic imperialism that stated that capitalism survived longer than what Marx thought because of imperialism. Lenin added that imperialism was growing unevenly, there were countries that were highly developed and other were just starting. This is where revolution had the most potential, and from revolutions in less developed countries more powerful ones would follow. Given that developed countries were depended on colonies, once cut off developed countries and their capitalism would fall. (ex: according to Lenin World War I was the example of the collision of imperialist interests)

Lenin basically made Marxist theories shift to a global scale.

Lenin’s focus lay in organization: the Russian socialist party had to be small, secretive, and organized under central command.

In 1903 the Social Democratic Party split in Bolshevik (Lenin’s faction) and Menshevik, which later became the Communist party.

1917 the Bolshevik took control and founded the Communist International (or Cominterm), the new international movement under Moscow’s control for all true socialists.

All socialist parties split into Social Democratic and Communist parties. In 1991 the Soviet System collapsed.

DEF: extreme form of communism, featuring guerrilla warfare and periodic upheavals.

In the 1930s, Mao Zedong said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had to be based on poor peasants and guerrilla warfare to break with Stalin’s leadership; the party seized power in China in 1949.

Mao started a series of reforms among which feature overnight industrialization (Great Leap Forward), the destruction of bureaucratic authority (the Proletarian Cultural Revolution) and border fighting with the Soviet Union.

After Mao’s death China’s leader moved away from this kind of extremism that did not benefit the economy

Some groups stayed Maoist – ex: Cambodia Khmer Rouge, India’s Naxalites

DEF: moderate, decentralized, partially market form of communism, can be considered a middle way between capitalism and socialism

Under Tito Yugoslavia reformed their system, basing it on decentralization, debureaucratization, worker self-management and the effort to try and find a middle ground between a market and a controlled economy.

After Tito’s death in 1980 Yugoslavia came apart and by the next decade many new nation states were born.

5. Nationalism

DEF: a people’s heightened sense of cultural, historical, and territorial identity, unity and greatness often born out of occupation and repression by foreigners.

Nationalism arises when a population perceives an enemy to despise, since being ruled by others is the worst thing for a nation (ex. Britain, France and the Netherlands on Indians, Algerians, and Indonesians)

The first instance of nationalism came in the Renaissance when monarchs proclaimed their absolute power and the greatness of their kingdom. Nationalism was born with the French revolution, based on the French people destined to free the rest of Europe. With Napoleon’s conquests all over Europe, the conquered grew to hate the conquerors and became nationalistic as they struggled to tolerate French troops in their countries (the sentiment of resentment is essential in nationalism). In the 20th century nationalism spread from Europe to developing countries too.

Nationalism can lead to wars and economic isolation but at the same time, economic growth needs foreign investment and world trade.

In the 19th century intellectuals started to think of nation as the ultimate human value

Ex: most of all in Germany and Italy with

Mazzini said that one achieved true freedom by subordinating oneself to the nation.

Regional nationalism aims at breaking up existing nations into what its supporters argue are true nations, and it is based on the same hatred of being ruled by others.

Ex: Quebecois in Canada, Basques in Spain, Tibetans in China, Scots in Britain.

5.1 Fascism

DEF: extreme form of nationalism with elements of racism, socialism, and militarism

In Italy and Germany nationalism grew into fascism. One of the main elements of fascism is members in uniform: they crave military structure and discipline.

Italy was overwhelmed by discontent after World War I, and Mussolini grouped people who wanted to end democracy and political parties to impose a central authority, since they hated disorder a wanted strong leadership. In 1924 Italy became a one-party state with Mussolini as Duce; the system was characterized by a façade of perfection, but fascism was a mess.

Hitler in Germany copied aspects of Italian Fascism and added racism to it. Like Italy, Germany was frustrated for World War I outcome and the Versailles Treaty. Hitler declared the superiority of Germans as a distinct and superior race, bearers of civilization. They were being subjugated by Jews, communism, capitalism, and roman Catholicism.

Hitler was named chancellor and with the National Socialist German Workers Party he began to conquer the Slavic lands of Europe as Lebensraum (living space).

Other examples of political movement that can be confused with fascism:

  1. Francisco Franco in Spain: he cannot be considered fascist since he tried to minimize mass political involvement, he was a traditional authoritarian.

  2. Getulio Vargas in Brazil: he only borrowed some fascist rhetoric.

  3. Ku Klux Klan in the US: they strongly oppose the power of the national government.

6. Ideology in our day

6.2 The collapse of Communism

By the 1980s the communist ideology had elapsed. West Europeans embraced Eurocommunism, where they renounced dictatorship and state ownership of industry. Capitalism had been thriving in the US, Europe, and Asia.

In the late 1980s Gorbachev approached a season of reforms to revitalize the Soviet society, which only caused more discontent:

  1. Glasnost – media openness

  2. Perestroika – economic restructuring

  3. Demokratizatzia – democratization

In 1989 non-communist parties took over, favouring the birth of new movement and parties. In 1991 the URSS ceased to exist.

6.3 Neoconservatism

DEF: US ideology emerged in the 1970s of former liberals turning to conservative causes and methods

Neocons said that the Democratic Party had moved too far left with unrealistic ideas on domestic reforms a pacifist foreign policy. They had reacted against the Great Society programs introduced by Johnson in the mid-1960s that aimed to wipe out poverty and discrimination. Neocons spoke negatively of the consequences of liberal programs and they are also against Affirmative Action, which according to them gave minorities preferential treatment in hiring.

6.4 Libertarianism

DEF: US ideology emerged in the 1960s in favour of shrinking all government power in favour of individual freedom

Libertarians wished to return to Adam Smith, with no government interference in anything: they oppose subsidies, bureaucracies, taxes, intervention overseas, and a big government itself.

They have been criticized for their worship of unregulated markets, which lead to the 2008 crisis.

6.5 Feminism

DEF: ideology that was revitalized in the 60s and 70s of psychological, political, and economic equality for women

Feminists denounced women’s position in society and said that the root of the problem is psychological since men and women are forced into gender roles, which lead to gender differences which are learned and taught by a patriarchal society.

Politically the movement did not archive all its goals: The Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified since antifeminists argued that it would take away women’s privileges and protection under the law.

6.6 Environmentalism

DEF: ideology to save an endangered nature through regulation and lifestyle changes that emerged in industrialized countries.

Economic development was not a good revenue to endanger natural resources and the disasters that followed proved it: Chernobyl, Love Canal, and Three Mile Island.

Consumption patterns and lifestyle choices need to change to conserve the earth’s resources, and to help political partied were formed: the Citizen Party, the Greens etc, which were the most successful in Germany and Sweden.

7. Is ideology finished?

In the 60s Daniel Bell said that ideologies were almost over thanks to the failure of tyrannis and the rise of the welfare state.

In 1989 Fukuyama argued that the ideological debate ended with the victory of capitalistic democracy, and also that history itself could end in the sense that free humans would live in free humans and the idea of ideology would come to an end in the sense of the struggle of great ideas.

Today’s new ideologies:

  1. Islamism

  2. Authoritarian capitalism in China

DEF: a nation is a population with a certain sense of itself, a cohesiveness, a shared history, culture and often a common language

DEF: a state is the government structures of a nation

There are 194 states in the world.

The nature of the party system is heavily influenced by the electoral rules a state chooses to have in place.

Another way to distinguish between states is by how they choose to structure and manage their economies.

  1. Institutionalized Power

Political institutions are important to the study of political science because they reflect how power has been institutionalized within the working structure of government.

DEF: political institutions are authority that has been solidified in the state. They are the working structures of governments.

A good way to study institutions is by looking for which office has the most power, constitutions can help answer the question but not always.

Another way to approach the question is by asking whether the state is a monarchy or a republic, even though today most countries are republics.

DEF: a monarchy is hereditary rule by one person.

DEF: a republic is a political system without a monarch.

There are some constitutional monarchies that are symbolic and do not actually rule the countries they represent.

Ex. Britain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, and Holland

Traditional monarchies can still be found in the Arab world.

Ex. Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia.

  1. Effective, Weak and Failed States

One way to think about states is to ask the question of whether the state functions at all.

Generally, analysts see three categories of states:

  1. Effective states: states that can control their territory, have their laws obeyed, and experience minimal corruption.

Ex. the United States, Japan, and most European countries

  1. Weak states: states where government has been penetrated by crime.

This limits the dispensation of justice in the state because it is often bought and sold. In weak states democracy is often preached but very seldom practiced.

Ex. Mexico, Nigeria, most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

  1. Failed states: states that effectively have no national government.

The actual territory of the state may be at risk either from internal or external forces. Law and order essentially are non-existent in most parts of the country.

Ex. Somalia, Libya, and Afghanistan

Why nations fail” – by Acemoglu and Robinson.

The book analyses the factors that are responsible for the political and economic success or failure of states, based on two theories:

  1. Drivers of democracy:
    This theory emphasises the role of the threat of revolutions and social unrest in leading to democratization and the willingness of the elites to limit redistribution in causing switches to nondemocratic regimes.

According to the authors, the rich decide on the taxation rate and the level of redistribution and then the poor decide whether revolution is the optimal choice. Because of the potential loss of economic benefits by revolution, the rich have an incentive to propose a taxation rate that does not provoke revolution, while at the same time not costing the rich too many benefits.

Hence, democratization is the situation in which the rich increase monetary redistribution and franchise to the poor to avoid revolution.

  1. How democracy affects economic performance

With this second theory the authors try to explain why inclusive institutions give rise to economic growth.

They say that economic institutions determine the distribution of resources for the future, hence institutions today determine economic growth and institutions in the future.

They also try to show how different institutions result in different levels of economic growth: extractive regimes lead to poor economic growth, while inclusive ones determine positive economic growth.

Their main thesis is that economic prosperity depends on the inclusiveness of economic and political institutions: “inclusive” institutions let many people participate in the decision-making process, while “extractive” institutions only let the elite to rule and exploit others.

  1. Unitary or Federal Systems

A basic institutional choice is the territorial structure of the nation:

  • Unitary System: centralization of power in a nation’s capital with little autonomy for subdivisions. The first order civil divisions are administered by national authorities with only small local inputs.

Ex. Departments in France, Provinces in the Netherlands, Counties in Sweden, Prefectures in Japan

  • Federalism: balancing of power between a nation’s capital and autonomous subdivisions. In federalist systems first-order civil divisions have considerable political lives of their own and cannot be legally erased or altered by the central power

Ex. U.S. states, German Länder

3.1 Unitary System

Unitary states are states where the component units are subordinate to the national government.

During the 1970s there was an increase in the centre-periphery tensions in unitary states. Different states handled these tensions differently.

DEF: centre-periphery tensions is the resentment of outlying areas at rule by nation’s capital

Labour government in 1997 gave home-rule powers to Scotland, Wales, and North Ireland in the devolution process.

Some say this makes Britain quasi-federal, but it is still officially unitary.

France had been very unitary since Louis XI’s absolutism in the fifteenth century, being run from Paris, and continue to be this way during the French Revolution, Napoleon, and republics.

Genuine decentralization began in 1981 with Mitterrand in which Paris-appointed prefects lost some powers.

Presence of regional resentment.

Centralizers’ attempts to override diversity between Basques, Catalans, and Castilians. Following the French model, seventeen regional autonomías were instituted with control over local matters.

Unitary systems are just a choice of how to distribute power in government and as such they come with pros and cons.

  1. Cons of unitary systems:
    Absurd degrees of over-centralization of authority and a lack of local control leads to people ignoring politics as well as political alienation.

  2. Pros of unitary systems:
    Clear lines of authority, the ability of the national government to direct the economy, uniform taxation levels, and high education standards.

  3. Federal Systems

Federal systems divide power between the national government and the component units. Component units have a great deal of autonomy from national government.

The national government does retain exclusive control in areas of foreign affairs, defence, and currency.

Federalism is a choice that is dictated by many things, including concerns about national defence, culture, economics, and national unity.


  1. Pros of federal systems:
    • They help keep government close to citizens, which helps prevent apathy.
    • The component units provide laboratories for policy experimentation
  2. Cons of federal systems:
    • The component units often lack the resources with which to deal with specific problems.

- Corruption and incompetence among officials

- A duplication of services by the national government and the component units

How federalism is structured varies across states.

Ex-Soviet Russian federalism was federal on paper but not in practice.

While the post-Soviet order also adopted federalism, there are an awful lot of regional nationalistic tensions that existed.

Ex-Yugoslavian federalism was an example of hyper-federalism and its collapse following the death of Tito illustrates how federalism was a poor institutional choice.

Canadian federalism illustrates the centrifugal pressures that can occur within the federal state.

  1. Electoral Systems

DEF: An electoral system is the set of rules that determines how elections and referendums are conducted and how their results are determined

States can be identified by their choice of an electoral system.

Electoral systems help determine the number of parties, how to form a stable government, the degree of citizen interest in politics etc.

Two general types with many variations:
4.1 Single-Member District

DEF: electoral system that elects one person per district by winning a plurality of votes (ex. USA and Britain)

Single-member districts are the simplest of electoral systems and they are often referred to as first-past-the-post systems.

In this kind of system third parties exist but they are not competitive.


  • They make politics more centrist.
  • They provide clear majorities by magnifying electoral gains.


  • The majority that is created is artificial and does not accurately reflect the desires of the voting public.
  • Gerrymandering makes districts safe and uncompetitive by drawing district lines to protect one political party.
  • Politics are centrist and safe, but also uncompetitive.

US voting system

The first step towards the Presidential Election are the Primary Elections where the candidates for the presidential elections are selected. The winners of the Democrat and Republican Primary Elections will be the presidential candidates, and they will have to pick a running mate to be their Vice-President nominee.

Both parties will organize conventions in which they will present the candidates.

The elections are usually decided in swing states, where the population often changes their political alligeance.

Each state is worth a number of Electoral College votes based on population, the candidate with the most votes wins.

DEF: The process of dividing up and redrawing districts to give your political party an advantage

The custom began in the 19th century in Massachusetts when the governor passed a bill allowing redistricting, which ended up favouring the governor’s party, the Democratic-Republican party that no longer exists. His aim was to win as many state Senate seats as possible.

There are two principal tactics are used in gerrymandering:

  1. cracking: diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts.

  2. packing: concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts.

    1. Proportional Representation

DEF: elect representatives by party’s precent of vote

Proportional representation (PR) systems are more complicated than single-member-district systems.

Voters select party lists and parties win seats roughly equivalent to their percentage of the national vote (d’Hondt mathematical formula).

Thresholds are used to determine the minimum percentage of votes a party needs to win to gain seats.


  • Parliaments that are much more likely to reflect and represent the views and opinions of the public.
  • Small parties can compete and do win.


  • The creation of a multiparty system where no single party has a clear governing majority.
  • Greater degrees of instability.

British voting system

UK system is the closest to the “ideal” majoritarian system, with a plurality electoral system and one elected house of Parliament, The House of Commons, and an upper chamber, The House of Lords plus generally two significant parties.

Every voter votes for one person, their local member of Parliament (which is their representative in the House of Commons).

When the counting of the votes is over, the party that wins the majority of the 650 seats gets to be the Government, with that party’s leader as the Prime Minister.

It can happen hat no party gets the majority, in which case we have a hung parliament. When this happens, tew parties that have a majority combined can form a coalition.

French voting system

The voting process was introduced in the 1960s and is parted in two stages:

  • the first round is open two any candidate who can get 500 signatures of support from elected officials.
  • the second round is a runoff between the two leading candidates is held two weeks after the first ballot.

Usually the elections are contests between the centre-left and centre right candidates. In 2017 given to the volatile political mood, the race was contended by four candidates: Marine Le Pen from Front National, Emmanuel Macron an independent with a new party (En Marche!), Francois Fillon from Les Republicains and Benoit Hamon from the Socialist Party.

French voters then have to vote for the election of the National Assembly, the lower House of the French Parliament. Voters from France’s 577 constituencies will have to pick their representative, known as Deputé. It is another two round process in which the two candidates with the most votes and any other with at least 12.5% of the votes go to a run-off first-past-the-post vote.

When the elections are over, the president has to appoint a Prime Minister to form a government.

German voting system

To join the Parliament a party must receive at least 5% of the popular vote and currently there are four parties to watch: the CDU, the Social Democrats, the Radical Left Party an the Environmentalist. Plus there are two parties that could overcome the 5% threshold: the Free Democrats and the AFD.

Parties usually form coalitions, which right now is formed by the CDU and the Social Democrats, but neither are happy of the situation. Hence the position to watch is for third place, contended by The Greens and the Free Democrats, which could become the CDU next coalition partner, and make the CDU pull to the left or the right. If neither of these do well, Merkel will have to decide between forming an unprecedented three-way coalition or continuing the coalition with the SPD

Proportional systems in the American system and why it is unlikely to happen

Elections for Congress in the U.S are based a plurality winner system. There is a very strong incentive to vote for one of the two major parties because people do not want to waste their vote by supporting a third party with no chance of winning. With only two parties inevitabily, millions of people are not going to be represented.

Party list system and Alternative vote system would be alternative methods in which American citizen would have more options to choose from, which would increase political participation and decrease people that do not feel represented.

The connection between a location and the legislator would weaken, but gerrymandering would not be a problem anymore, you’d break the priviledged position of the two parties in the political system and wider ranges of political opinions would be represented.

  1. States and the Economy

Another way to classify governments is how they handle the economy:

  1. Laissez-faire systems:
    DEF: French for “let it be”, economic system of minimal government interference and supervision.

In a laissez-faire system the government adopts a hands-off approach to the economy. This means that there are limited attempts to redistribute wealth in society and that the government owns very little industry.

In general, the belief that guides a laissez-faire system is that economic prosperity increases as government regulation decreases and markets are free to work.

  1. Welfare states:

DEF: economic system of major government redistribution of income to poorer citizen.

Welfare systems emphasize the redistribution of wealth in society and allow government a wide range of options in ensuring greater levels of social equality among citizens.

In a welfare state system, the government will not own industry generally but will rely on high levels of taxes to fund social programs to help redistribute wealth in society.

  1. Statist systems:

DEF: economic system of state ownership of major industries to enhance power and prestige of the state (precapitalist system).

In statists systems the government is the number one capitalist and runs most of the industry.

The purpose is to set the economy in service to the state and its goals.

In doing so, the state cares little about inequality among citizens and provides few welfare benefits to its citizens.

  1. Socialism:

DEF: economic system of government ownership of industry, allegedly for good of whole society, opposite to capitalism.

Socialist states have a high degree of state ownership of the major industries in the country. This could include utilities, railroads, mines etc.

Socialist states emphasize social equality and as such they promote high levels of social welfare which effectively redistributes wealth in society.

There are many ways that states have tried to manage their economies and as such there is a high degree of variation across states. Still there is a great deal of disagreement about which role for the state in the economy is the best.

  1. FRANCE used the state as an agent of modernization and turned peasants into “Frenchmen”.

France did modernize, but was it the best way?

  1. UNITED STATES and BRITAIN modernized without heavy state intervention.

  2. JAPAN is another example of state-led modernization.

The Japanese government assigned various branches of industry to samurai clans during the Meiji Restoration and told them to copy the West. After the war, the state again took the lead in in modernizing the state.

  1. Constitutions

DEF: constitutions are written documents with all the basic rules outlining the structure of a political system.

Constitutions are important documents because the specify the rules of government.

Almost all countries in the world have constitutions, as they serve to create and define power.

Constitutions are different from statutes: statutes are general laws passed by legislatures, while constitutions specify the basic structure and framework of government.

Constitutions also almost always have some specification of individual rights for citizens.

Political scientists study the written documents as well as what is practiced. Many states might have constitutions that say one thing, but political behaviour can be very different.

The U.S. Constitution differs from other states in that it is fairly brief and considerably less detailed than others.

  1. The Highest Law of the Land

Constitutions are the highest law in the land and no other laws can contravene them.

As such, constitutions are very difficult to change and usually require more than a simple majority.

  1. the General Nature of Constitutional Law

Because a constitution cannot cover every problem, courts have to interpret the meaning of the constitution.

Judicial review is a power that is relatively new and began with the American courts. It gives power to rule on the constitutionality of legislation.

DEF: judicial review is the ability of courts to decide is laws are constitutionals and it is not present in all countries.

Courts are never consistent and how they read the constitution depends on how activist they are (not necessary a liberal practice)

DEF: judicial activism is willingness of a judge to override legislatures by declaring statutes unconstitutional.

The opposite philosophy is Judicial restraint.

DEF: judges’ unwillingness to overturn statutes passed by legislatures.

  1. Constitutions and Constitutional Government

Constitutions are deeply affected by how they are interpreted by various people in society.

Political culture a lot in the interpretation of constitutions, and some states with the same constitutions could interpret them differently.

DEF: political culture is the psychology of the nation regarding politics.

Ex. Swedes are obedient, Italians not so much and even though they have similar constitutional orders, those written rules function differently.

Constitutionalism refers to the degree to which power is limited in society.

Constitutionalism has its roots in the Magna Carta, which limited the rights of the monarch in relation to the nobility.

In a constitutionally governed nation, laws and institutions limit the ability of the state to trample the rights of citizens, but this varies, as evidenced by the U.S. actions against Japanese Americans during WWII.

Totalitarian and authoritarian states never have constitutionalism (even if they have a constitution) because there are no limits on the power of government.

  1. The Purpose of a Constitution

Constitutions serve three general purposes:


They indicate the values, ideals and goals of those who draft the document.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution is an eloquent and precise statement of the values and ideals that matter in the U.S. creed, justice, domestic tranquillity, common defence, general welfare etc.


Constitutions also define who has power, how much power they have, the uses of that power and the limits on that power.


Constitutions give a government legitimacy which is both practical and symbolic. Most constitutions were written after regime changes and seek to justify the new order’s right to rule.

Constituent assemblies are formed after a change of regime to write a new constitution.

  1. Can Constitutions Ensure Rights?

    1. Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

The Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking, the famine induced by Mao, the terrors of Stalin, all contributed to a desire to see some sort of articulation of basic rights for everyone that governments could not arbitrarily take away.

This culminated in the adoption of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration includes political economic and cultural rights.

The Declaration is an important statement, but it is hard to enforce and few states have tried to do so.

  1. Minority Groups and Civil Liberties

No state is truly homogenous, most have citizen from several backgrounds.

As such, there are always conflicts that arise in states where the majority seeks to infringe on the basic rights of a minority.

The Declaration says that minorities have a right to preserve their cultures, but there is often pressure by the majority to make the minority conform (ex. speak their language).

It is unclear whether the Declaration should be enforced in these cases. This is illustrated by the U.S. debate on multiculturalism.

  1. The Adaptability of the U.S Constitution

Constitutions are not static documents: they can change and evolve over time.

The U.S. Constitution does not mention political parties, but they have evolved in the U.S. political system.

Because constitutions cannot foresee every problem that might arise, they must be flexible to adapt over time. The changing nature of Constitutions is illustrated by the Right to Bear Arms and freedom of expression.

  1. the Right to Bear Arms

2008 Heller case ruling by the Supreme Court stated the right to bear arms was an individual right.

The Framers of the Constitution saw the right to bear arms as a militia right to prevent the concentration of power. The Supreme Court modified the language of the Constitutional provision.

The Heller case raised a bunch of new questions surrounding the right to bear arms.

Are there any restrictions on gun ownership?

Can states and cities still impose reasonable restrictions?

  1. Freedom of Expression in the Unites States

Free speech is critical in democratic societies.

In the U.S it is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech”. Freedom of speech is an American problem, as many states regularly have all sorts of restrictions on speech.

Hate speech is just one example of this, as illustrated by the British Columbia case.

The Supreme Court has said that Congress can limit speech when there is a clear and present danger (this has been modified some by later Courts).

Nonetheless, First Amendment controversies are never-ending.

The Pentagon Papers case is a good example of government trying to engage in prior restraint or restricting speech before the fact.

  1. Free Speech and Sedition

Even though the Constitution protects free expression, the 20th century has seen numerous attempts to limit speech.

Sedition, criticizing the government with the intent of fostering discontent and rebellion, is one of these tricky areas of speech.

DEF: incitement to public disorder or to overthrow the state

Congress has indeed limited speech in response to what has been perceived as real and meaningful threats to U.S. national security.

  1. The Espionage Act produced the “clear and present danger” doctrine by the Supreme Court.

  2. The 1940 Smith Act made it illegal to advocate the violent overthrow of the government, distribute literature suggesting such actions, or belong to organizations, regardless of how poorly organized, that advocated such actions. Such actions were primarily directed at the Communist Party of the United States.

  3. The McCarthy Red Scare saw a host of the most stringent and draconian anti-speech legislation passed by Congress.

These acts also violated other aspects of the Constitution, including the Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination.

  1. Rights for Terrorists?

The War on Terror has further complicated the U.S. discussion surrounding rights and liberties as applied to terror suspects. The Bush administration created a new category called unlawful combatants.

This was a limbo state between criminal and political prisoner that gave people in this category the rights of neither.

The Court ruled that the category had violated habeas corpus rights of those imprisoned, but it did not release the prisoners. What it did is pushing the administration to identify if someone is a criminal suspect or a prisoner of war. In the former, they get a trial, in the latter, they get treated under the Geneva Conventions.

DEF: “habeas corpus” – detainee may protest innocence before a judge.

Context is extremely important when thinking about rights because once rights are taken away, they are hard to get back.

National security threats will often lead to a reduction of rights in society.

  1. Representative democracy

DEF: a democracy is a political system of mass participation, competitive elections, and human and civil rights

There are many ways to understand the meaning of democracy: generally speaking, it means rule by the people.

Many think that democracy equals freedom, but they are not the same thing. Many illiberal democracies exist that regularly run roughshod over freedoms at the request of the people.

DEF: illiberal democracies are regimes that are elected but lack democratic qualities such as civil rights and limits on government

A new form of authoritarian rule has emerged in China and Russia, according to professor Ignatieff, combining single party oligarchy with State capitalism, and public tyranny with private market freedom.

Fareed Zakaria wrote an essay “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy”: thesis was that democracies around the world were surrendering to illiberal reforms, and that the strands holding the traditions of democracy and liberalism together were rapidly eroding. According to him popular participation and liberties became intertwined in what we call liberal democracy, but the two elements in some countries are coming apart, with democracy persisting but absence of liberties. What defines a democracy is a democratic attitude that is coming apart even in the U.S.

Zakaria’s piece made an important distinction between democracy and liberalism, constructs that are often conflated. Democracy is a process for choosing leaders; it is about popular participation. To say that a state is democratic is to say little about how it is actually governed.

Liberalism, by contrast, is about the norms and practices that shape political life. A properly liberal state is one in which individual rights are paramount. It protects the individual not only against the abuses of a tyrant but also against the abuses of democratic majorities.

One form of democracy is direct democracy, where the citizens vote on every issue (ancient Greece)

Many have equated direct democracy with a type of mob rule that is extremely dangerous.

Most modern states use a representative form of democracy because countries have populations in the millions and decision making would be unwieldy. Citizens influence major decisions by choosing among contenders for office.

DEF: a democracy in which the people do not rule directly but through elected and accountable representatives.

In a democracy the citizens do not directly set policy; rather, they articulate preferences that government uses as a guideline for developing policy.

  1. Popular accountability of government

Popular accountability requires that policy makers must obtain the support of a majority or a plurality of votes cast, in addition to being accountable directly to citizens (no one has the right to occupy a position of political power)

This means power must change hands and that changeover must be peaceful and legitimate.

  1. Political Competition

Voters must have a choice, either of candidates or parties to indicate democratic stability: one party or one candidate elections are fake. (hence, elections by themselves do not equal democracy)

  1. Alternation in Power

Power must alternate to control corruption: no party or individual should get a lock on executive power.

A system in which there is no alternation are necessarily corrupt and cannot be considered democratic.

  1. Uncertain Electoral Outcomes

Election outcomes must be uncertain: a certain percent of the electorate must be up for grabs to keep politicians worried about their position, which makes them attentive to the nation.

  1. Popular Representation

Popular representation means that those in office must work to protect the voters’ interests, since they have been elected as their representatives.

Representatives must act as trustees: carrying out the wishes of constituents but act in the best interest of the whole.

  1. Majority Decision

In the modern concept of democracy, the majority decides but with respect for minority rights.

Most of what is now public policy became law because of conflict between majority and minorities. If minority views are silenced, the will of the majority would become a “tyranny”.

  1. Right to Dissent and Disobedience

Citizens must have the right to engage in acts of protest the policies of the majority in addition to engaging in acts of civil disobedience (ex. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi)

DEF: civil disobedience is the nonviolent breaking of an unjust aw to serve a higher law

In the previous examples, without civil disobedience, minority claims would go unheard, and there would have reformed nothing.

  1. Political Equality

Political equality requires that every adult can participate in politics and that everyone’s vote counts the same.

In many democratic states there is a large concern about the influence of wealth in political participation.

  1. Popular Consultation

Popular consultation requires that leaders find out what their constituents want to govern effectively. To do this they have to monitor public opinions polls continuously.

  1. Free Press

A free press and critical is essential to a representative democracy.

It provides one of the best ways to measure democracy, since dictatorships do not tolerate free press.

The American media is often criticized due in part to its automatically taking an adversarial stance against government, and in doing so, they weaken the nation. Even though this could be true, in a democracy there is no way to determine what “too far is”.

  1. Democracy in Practice: Elitism or Pluralism?

There will always be a struggle over power in society and political power can never be evenly distributed.

For political scientists, the core question then is how much elites in society are accountable to the public and their interests. There are two general theories that follow:

  1. Elite theories of politics

These theories maintain that there is little accountability on the parts of elites to the public.

key elite theorists:

  • Gaetano Mosca: Italian political scientist who argued that government always ends up in the hands of a few.

  • Robert Michels: German sociologist who argued that any organization, no matter how democratic its intent, ends up run by a small elite (Iron Law of Oligarchy)

Elite theorists are radicals, not conservatives.

  1. Pluralist theories of politics

These theories maintain that elites are ultimately held accountable to the public through interest groups.

Key pluralist theorist:

  • Robert Dahl: American political scientist who argued that in any large society decisions are made by small groups, but those groups are ultimately accountable; like small pyramids capped by an elite. (“Polyarchy Model”)

Money gives elites access to political power and those who wield it. This is enhanced by the connections held by the wealthy. A great deal of influence from elites comes in the form of campaign contributions, which make sure no important part of the industry is harmed.

Politics is essentially a single pyramid with the elites sitting at the top of it.

Politics functions through interest groups that compete for access to government and bargain with each other.

This is what Dahl called polyarchy and Lijphart called consociational democracy.

Interest groups collide with each other like billiard balls in their attempts to influence policy and it is through their efforts that citizens are heard, because any citizen can form a group to try and influence politics.

  1. Totalitarianism

DEF: totalitarian systems are political systems in which the state attempts total control of its citizens and elites are completely unaccountable. Emphasis is placed on brainwashing and worship of the State.

Today, there are very few totalitarian systems left.

It is a relatively modern phenomenon and it started with Lenin’s seizure of power in Russia.

Today North Korea is the last place on earth to showcase the kind of totalitarian fervour on display at the huge rally in Pyongyang.

  1. What is Totalitarianism?

Totalitarian states pursue a special goal, and all resources are directed at its achievement; the obsession spawns an ideology that explains everything in terms of its goal. The gal can never be achieved because the only reason to justify totalitarian state it the goal itself, and the failure of attainment is often attributed to classes of people.

Totalitarians push an official theory of history and presents the world in black and white images.

Everyone must believe in the ideology that asserts the state is working toward the perfect society.

There can be only one party and that party is usually built around a cult of personality of the totalitarian leader. The membership to the party is an honour.

The system is based on organized terror, both psychological and physical, as a means for eliminating resistance to the regime. The police have no judicial restraints, and often acts against a whole social class (ex. Jews, socialists etc)

The media is strictly censored, this allows them to control and shape the state’s message in addition to promoting the official ideology. Only good news is spread to share the image of a working society under wise leaders, spread by new means of communication.

Government has a complete monopoly on weapons to eliminate armed resistance.

The economy is heavily controlled and put in service to the state to make sure the party can allocate resources to whatever cause they wish.

  1. Image and Reality of Total Control

Despite outside perceptions, totalitarian states never have complete and total control over society.

The perfect model of totalitarianism never match reality, it is always an attempt to impose total control, not the achievement of it.

  1. Right-Wing Totalitarianism

Right-wing totalitarianism differs from communist totalitarianism in that it does not seek revolution but rather wants to block it by strengthening the existing order.

It developed in industrialized nations plagued by economic depression, social upheaval and political confusion, an in general in situations in which democracy was weak.

It glorifies the state, and the state permeates all aspects of social life as well as political and economic.

It seeks to eliminate any within the state who are foreign or are deemed inferior (basis for the Holocaust)

  1. Authoritarianism

Authoritarian states differ from totalitarian states in that they do not seek to control all aspects of society.

DEF: nondemocratic government but not necessarily totalitarian

A small group runs the regime and minimizes popular input. There are heavy limits on individual freedoms in exchange for order in society and control.

Dissent is stifled and resistance is generally exterminated through brute force and imprisonment.

Some authoritarian states will have trappings of democracy, but they are only for show and really have no meaning (ex. elections with only one party)

According to Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the main difference between authoritarian states and totalitarian states is that an authoritarian state can reform, but once it slips into totalitarianism there is no way for the system to reform itself.

  1. Authoritarianism and the Developing Nations

One trend that manifested after decolonization is that despite democratic impulses many of the states became authoritarian instead of democratic.

why did this happen?

Political scientists posit some of the following arguments.

  • The colonial systems imposed upon these states never encouraged the traditions and habits of democracy necessary to help sustain a democratic transition.

  • Democracy is a western tradition that did not fit well with the political culture of many of the former colonial states.

  • The post-colonial leadership was heavily influenced by socialist ideologies that led to a commitment to a strong and centralized state.

  • The leaders claimed that they knew what the people wanted more than the people themselves and rigged elections to make sure that the people got it.

  1. The Democratization of Authoritarian Regimes

Since the 1970s many countries have seen waves of new democracies emerge, while abandoning authoritarian or totalitarian regimes

These were the product of two types of states.

  • Authoritarian states with strong economies

  • Communist regimes with weak economies

Economics plays a critical role in the democratic transition:
As economies improve, so do the prospects for democracy. Economic growth creates a middle class with a stake in the political system. Rising education levels make the people less susceptible to demagogues and extremist ideas. People are more aware of their interests and express them.

This transition does not work with petrostates, as oil wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few and ends up retarding democracy.

UCLA Professor Ross, says that around three dozen developing countries around the world have a lot of oil wealth, and these tend to be the countries that are the least democratic because the few people in power are the ones that benefit from the oil wealth to keep themselves in a position of power.

These countries also fund themselves on oil revenues and not through citizens taxes, which allows them to not be held accountable and are not demanded to pay more attention to citizens needs (taxation leads to representation)

But economics can also have a negative effect:
Poor economic conditions can lead to a push for liberal reforms, but Communist countries do not tolerate change well, and the system collapses as a result.

It is not clear whether democracy will take root in any of the states that have experienced recent transition.

Political scientists hope they do because the more democracies there are, the more peaceful the world seems to be, as suggested by the democratic peace thesis.

  1. What is Political Culture?

Political culture is about deep beliefs and values toward the political system.

System of empirical beliefs, expressive symbols, and values that defines the situation in which political action takes place.

The political culture of a nation is determined by its history, economy, religion etc.

  1. Political Culture and Public Opinion

Political culture differs from public opinion:

  • Political culture is concerned with deep values and beliefs, and these form the underpinnings of legitimacy for the state itself.
  • Public opinion is concerned with immediate views of leaders and public policies. It seeks responses to current questions.

There is some overlap between the two, especially with respect to the social science methods used to study them. Surveys are a particularly important tool.

The original assumption about political culture was that it never changed and was permanent, while public opinion changed quickly.

However, there are factors that can cause changes in political culture within a country: periods of indecision, instability, and chaos within the state result in the weakening of the state, while periods of stable and efficient government solidify legitimacy.

Public opinion that is held for a long time can turn into political culture.

  1. Participation in America

Almond and Verba argued that America was the model of civic culture. Many questioned how this could be true considering low voter turnout rates and low numbers of people participating in politics.

They offer a “sleeping dogs” theory of democratic political culture: they say that citizens are like sleeping dogs and will be roused to anger by governmental misdoing and then will vote to throw bad politicians out. Hence, leaders usually work to keep the public passive and quiet.

This helps explain low turnout rates punctuated by spikes in turnout.

As such, democratic politics is about a psychological connection between leaders and voters that tends to restrain officials: leaders need to believe that if they make voters mad, they will lose their jobs. As such, democratic political culture does not require high levels of turnout.

It is the potential and not the actual participation that makes a democratic culture.

  1. The decay of Political Culture

Political culture in advanced democracies growing more cynical and voter turnout is declining with the steepest drop in Japan. The United States has also experienced a decay in political culture following the Iraq war and the 2010 bank bailouts.

The decay of American political culture is related to the development of the polarizing culture wars in the United States between liberals and conservatives which has seen politicians exploit the growing gap between liberals and conservatives in the United States.

Some political scientists fear that if the gap continues to grow, political stability is at risk.

Robert Putnam in his work Bowling Alone noted that there has been a marked decline in the willingness to form associations in the United States. Others argue that associational life is still vibrant in the United States, most of all among college students.

This raises the question of whether the growth of distrust is bad for democracy.

Putnam clearly thinks so, but others argue that growth of distrust in government is natural and not necessarily bad.

Politicians promise more and more but cannot deliver which leads to distrust. Higher education levels are making citizens more aware of this gap between promises and actions and they are much more willing to criticize the corrupt, giving the leaders a “threat”. Consequently, the decline in political culture is really the growth of critical citizens.

  1. Elite and Mass Subcultures

Contrary to popular conception, political culture is not monolithic or uniform. There is a lot of internal variation within political cultures.

DEF: subcultures are minority cultures within the mainstream culture.

Generally, there is variation between the mass or mainstream cultures and elite cultures as well as variation among minority subcultures.

When it comes to mass versus elites, we know that elites tend to be much more interested in and likely to participate in politics.

This tendency increases with elite education and leads to increased levels of political competence and efficacy. The poor are far less likely to participate, in part because they lack confidence, skills, and feel powerless.

This leads to an irony of democratic politics:
Democracy allows everyone to participate equally, yet only a few people choose to participate.

Government policy responds to those interests, so democratic government is not government by the people: rather, it is government by the people who choose to have their voices heard.

Ex. Calvinism

Calvinists believe in predestination and one of the signs that they had been saved by God was that they were actively contributing to their community through their work. In “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” Weber argued that the Calvinists need to reassure themselves through their industry was an important factor in the growth of capitalism in Northern Europe: they built business that generated wealth but at the same time lived thrifty lives since they reinvested any surplus and doing so, fueled capitalism.

Hence, for Weber capitalism, at least the initial phase, came from a theological source.

  1. Minority Subcultures

Minority subcultures can form in politics when a group has strong enough differences from the mainstream culture.

African Americans form a minority subculture in the United States. Not all subcultures have to be ethnic, though.

Across the world, there are minority subcultures that engage in various forms of political resistance because they dislike being ruled by the dominant culture.

  • The struggles in Quebec and the Basque region of Spain are good examples.

When these subcultures become too distinct, they can threaten the existence of the state itself.

The question is, to what extent should states go to integrate minority subcultures?

In France, the national government worked to turn peasants into Frenchmen and build a national political culture through the centralization of the school system.

In the United States, most cultural integration was done voluntarily, with help from the educational system to create a mainstream culture in which all the different subcultures could find a space.

There is still a great deal of discussion regarding this topic, as witnessed by the ongoing struggle in the United States over the idea of multiculturalism.

Ex. Political subculture for the Barcelona Futbol Club and Catalanist Independence

This Catalanist tradition underlies the club’s motto, Més que un club, “more than a club”. In fact, Barça has become such a powerful nationalist symbol that many Catalans support it as a kind of emotional surrogate for the state they do not have. That helps explain the outsized passion the club mobilises. But lately, the club has helped give prominence to the referendum, both at home and worldwide. In 2012, fans in the Camp Nou have chanted, “Let us vote”, and some have sung songs or waved banners for independence.

This is a good example of a political culture than connects society, identity and political expression.

  1. Political Socialization

Nobody is born with political values; rather, they are things citizens learn over time in the process of socialization (the learning of culture), either because they are thought or because they are assimilated by imitating others.

Hence, political socialization teaches political values and specific usages, and therefore political socialization is crucial to political stability.

  1. The Agents of Socialization

Political scientists have identified five main agents of socialization although there are most likely more.

Parents are the most influential and most children grow up adopting the same political values as their parents. Children accept parental values unconsciously and uncritically and may retain them for all their lives. (religion plays a role too)

Often other attempts at socialization will fail if they are at odds with the beliefs of the children’s parents.

Kids who felt like they had a voice in decisions at home growing up have a greater sense of political efficacy as adults.

THE SCHOOL: Values are also taught at schools where it is done deliberately.

History is a tool used to inculcate students with feelings of pride and patriotism. Education may be unsuccessful if their message is at odds with what family and religion teach.

The amount of education people have also affects political attitudes: the more education they have, the greater their sense of commitment to the community.

Peer groups, friends, and playmates also influence our political values. This influence strength is increasing as the traditional family structure declines.

The mass media is also gaining influence, but many fear that this influence is negative.

Robert Putnam argues that watching TV makes people passive and unlikely to participate in community and group activities.

Mass media may be unsuccessful if their message is at odds with what family and religion teach, but at the same time, it might also reinforce other forms of socialization.

The government itself is a form of socialization: its activities are intended to display the government to the public to build support and loyalty (ex. parades, flags, soldiers etc.)

  1. What Public Opinion Is and Is Not?

DEF: public opinion concerns people’s reaction to specific and immediate policies and problems

Political culture focuses on long-standing values, attitudes and ideas that people learn.

Public opinion refers to citizen’s reactions to current, specific issues and events, not private matters.

Unitary public opinion is rare, it involves small, conflicting groups and the undecided: it is an array of diverse attitudes that can change quickly.

Public opinions often show ignorance: some say that current politicians pay too much attention to public opinion, so it can be seen as a backup and detailing device for imputing mass views in politics, a way to fine-tune elections. (it can also be manipulated by interest groups)

Because of its volatility, public opinion should be one of the many factors that government use to determine public policy. In a democracy crossing public opinion can lead to losing the next election, while in undemocratic regimes it can lead to overthrowing of leaders. In the end, the lack of public support can end regimes.

  1. The Shape of Public Opinion

The factors that produce public-opinion views:
DEF: a broad layer of society, usually based on income and often labelled lower, middle and upper

Social class can be hard to measure. There are two main ways to do so:

  • the objective way, asking for annual income or quality of neighbourhood.

  • the subjective way, asking the respondents which class they think they belong to

the famous American social mobility is dying they lost the belief that coming generations would always be better off.

Educational levels also contribute to polarization: people with college degrees get paid better and can afford to give their children better education, locking in their class position.

In the U.S educated people are more liberal on noneconomic issue but more conservative on economic ones.

It is unclear whether a country’s south is more conservative or more liberal than its north.

Outlying regions usually Harbord resentment against the capital, creating what are called centre-periphery tensions.

In recent years, the U.S south conservativism has aligned with the Republican Party while the Northeast liberalism has moved towards the Democratic Party.

One of the biggest divisions in Catholic countries is between clericalists and anticlericalists.

DEF: anticlericalism is the movement in catholic countries to get the Church out of politics.

Conservative parties are usually pro-church while the parties of the left are hostile to its influence.

In the United States protestant tend to vote Republican, while Catholics vote Democratic. This tendency eroded when the Democratic Party endorsed pro-choice positions. Catholics and Protestants now have a common cause in fighting abortion.

There are two theories on how age affects political opinions:

  • the life cycle argues that people change as they age, young people are naturally radical and older people moderate or even conservative.

  • generation theory argues that great events of young adulthood permanently colour political views.

Even before the women’s movement, traditionally in catholic countries, women were more conservative and concerned with family, home and morality.

Women work outside the home and develop their own perspectives: in the United States, a gender gap appeared in the 1980s as women became more liberal and Democratic than men. The gap is much smaller once marital status and face are figured in.

Race ad ethnicity play a major role in the United States, where some ethnic groups form political subcultures.

Usually, WASPs and northern Europeans are conservative, while people of southern and easter European origin with Asians are more liberal.

There is often a gap between elite and mass opinion.

The mass public does not understand much about complicated issues but can react after decisions have been made.

Elites, educated and influential people, usually have more complex and sophisticated perspectives. The masses often misunderstand and resent decisions.

Mass public opinion can be poorly informed and angry, a poor basis for sound policy.

  1. Public-Opinion Polls

Surveys are designed to measure opinions so that we can say the results are reflective of a broader population. They are useful for policymakers and candidates.

do the opinions people express really reflect how they feel about issues? Most people pay little attention to politics most of the time, thus on most issues, only a small portion of the total public is attentive enough to news reports and editorials to hold a clear opinion.

Policymakers must balance what they learn from polls with their own knowledge about the issues.

  1. Polling Techniques


A pollster has to decide whose opinions they want the survey to represent. Usually they are interested likely voters (population of adults likely to vote in an upcoming election based on their voting history or intention). The people the poll results represent is the population.

Pollsters take a sample of the population and use the sample’s answers to the questions to infer the opinions of the whole population. As long as the sample is representative, inference is possible.

In every survey there is margin of error (range around sample’s results within which the population’s opinions likely fall), which goes down as the sample size gets larger.

The most basic way to create a representative sample is through a simple random sample, a subset of population chosen by random chance.

Whatever sampling method is used, they must all meet the standard that each member of the target population has an equal chance of being selected for the poll to be valid.


The next step is to get the respondents to answer the pollster’s questions.

The most common polling method in the United States is the telephone survey. Pollsters either use Random Digit Dialing (RDD), which randomly selects phone numbers in a targeted area code, or Registration Based Sampling (RBS), which uses samples of names from voter registration files.

Telephone surveys are more affordable than in-person interviews, but the growing reluctance of people to answer their phone or pollsters’ questions threatens the reliability.


The unbiased wording of questions to avoid conditioning responses is also important.

The pollster must also avoid tones of voice or sympathetic looks that might encourage one response over another and skew the results.

  1. How Reliable Are the Polls?

Public-opinion surveys are generally reliable. Candidates’ commissions use these polls to predict the election outcome and to understand the issues voters care about.

Public opinion is volatile, able to change quickly under the impact of events. Volatility can also result if pollsters ask questions that respondents know nothing about. New or complex issues are the most likely to result in non-attitudes. Another threat to the reliability of telephone surveys is increasing “no response” rates. With falling response rates, the survey is likely not random or representative.

Any survey that records only those who want to participate is invalid. Pollsters have to continually update their methods as technology and public habits change ex. growth of the use of cell phones.

  1. American Opinion

    1. Presidential Ratings

One of the oldest and most important items in U.S. public-opinion polls asks how the president is handling the job: typically, presidents start with high support and then decline. During their first few months to a year in office, they enjoy a honeymoon with the press and the public.

After some years, however, problems accumulate, the economy sours, or foreign policies fail. This brings an approval low point.

Sometimes, when presidents come under intense pressure or take a major action, they gain rally events, which are occurrences that temporarily boosts presidents’ support.

Some suspect that presidents, especially later in their terms of office, deliberately try to appear decisive in a dramatic way to boost their sagging popularity. Foreign policy provides for dramatic moves and the best television coverage. When a humiliating situation lasts a long time, however, presidential popularity sinks (a long war and economic recession are also bad for popularity, while a good economy is great for presidents)

  1. Liberals and Conservatives

Political scientists debate whether the divide between liberals and conservatives is just a flap among elites or whether the American public has lost its unimodal distribution and become bimodal on ideology.

Some scholars caution that we should focus on those who pay attention to politics, not the uninformed. The politically engaged have polarized, liberals and conservatives agree on less and less.

  1. Who Pays Attention?

Public opinion is fragmented; groups are interested in different questions. A time when some groups are satisfied may be a time when others are dissatisfied.

The attentive public (those citizens who follow politics, especially national and international affairs), although relatively few in number, has great political impact because those who pay attention have ideas and articulate them, demonstrating political competence. Sometimes they can rouse the general public.

This is why all regimes treat intellectuals with caution and sometimes with suspicion. In Washington, administration officials devote much time and energy to win over the attentive public to minimize criticism that might influence the general public and the next election.

Elites must decide questions because they are the only ones following them. The general public’s indifference and fragmentation mean that their views have little impact on decision making. Intensely held views of a few often override large numbers of indifferent people.

  1. Is Polling Fair?

Polls do not merely monitor public opinion; they also help make it. Critics charge that published or broadcast poll results can distort an election.

Such publicity, claim underdog candidates, devastates their campaigns by making supporters and contributors lose interest. Those who lead in the early polls get more contributions, more news coverage, and thus more supporters.

One current controversy is the effect of “exit polls,” in which voters are questioned just as they leave the balloting place. With the three-hour time difference between the East and West Coasts, exit polls enable television to predict winners in the East while westerners still have hours in which to cast a ballot.

Even if the early prediction of the presidential election is accurate, a falloff in voters could hurt state and local candidates who may have won if more people had voted.

  1. Should the United States be Governed by Polls?

United States should not be governed by polls.

First, public attention varies widely. On many issues, the general public has no knowledge or opinion, which lets the intensity of a minority dominate poll results.

The wording of the questions and the selection of the sample can seriously skew results.

Decisions made on the basis of a survey may turn sour when the consequences sink in. Top officials who “go with the polls” may be trapping themselves. Polls, if done well, are useful snapshots of public opinion at a given moment but are no substitute for careful analyses and prudent anticipation.

  1. Mass media and politics

The mass media are essential for politics because they allow the communication of political messages.

Politics as a result is dependent on media.

All political action is a form of political communication and it can occur on various levels.

There is face-to-face political communication.

Then there are the mass media, they are a one-way communication channel, which means they have a greater tendency to reinforce existing political values but not convert anyone.

Television may have eroded the role of opinion leaders in the United States, making them less important.

One long-term trend has been a declining interest among Americans in the news compared to previous generations.

Media appeal to different people at different levels, distinguished by age, income, and education levels.

The more educated, the more media people consume. Individuals with a college degree tend to read newspapers, while people with a high school degree tend to watch more television.

Young people love social media.

  1. Modern Mass Media

Newspapers used to be big but are experiencing a decline in circulation as they struggle to compete with new forms of media.

Newspapers now are primarily status-quo-supporting sine they are mostly owned by big corporations.

Political impact is declining, and the content is mostly advertisements.

Radio has experienced a decline like newspapers. Three companies now own half of the radio stations in America.

Radio used to be more important, especially between the two wars, with the hallmark being Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats.”

Ex. Fireside Chats

a series of 28 evening radio addresses given by U.S. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944. Roosevelt spoke with familiarity to millions of Americans. Roosevelt was a great communicator on radio, and the fireside chats kept him in high public regard throughout his presidency. Their introduction was later described as a “revolutionary experiment with a nascent media platform”.

Radio reinforces both liberal and conservative views.

The New York offices of Associated Press produces news for most of the radio and television news programs.

The AP is independent and free of government influence, but it is in financial trouble.

The quality of the news services is somewhat limited.

DEF: elite media mean highly influential newspapers and magazines read by elites and the attentive public

The elite media are read by a small fraction of the public but still carry the most clout and consist of papers such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times.

They have a great deal of influence on decision makers even though most Americans do not read them.

We call them elite because the people who read them are generally wealthier and better educated.

The elite press pursues investigative reporting and help to keep government accountable.

There are some small journals that are influential and cover a range of ideological perspectives such as the National Review and the American Prospect.

  1. Social Media

Social media is still relatively new, but its impact is growing, especially among young people who are turning to the Internet for online news, since it is free and can be read anytime.

The Internet can often catch stories that are overlooked by the mainstream media. This is due in part to the independence of online news sources.

Ex. It was the online news source Talking Points that exposed the Bush administration’s firing of U.S attorneys they deemed too liberal.

Social media, however, still require journalism.

One downside is that social media and the Internet do not always play by the rules of conventional journalism.

Many people refute the claim that the supply of online news sources makes for a citizenry that is more informed. Part of this is due to the partisan nature of online news and the self-selection of the readership.

Recently we have seen the effect that digital media can have on oppressive regimes and how it can work to undermine them.

Ex. The Twitter revolt in Iran and the uprisings of the Arab Spring

Ex. a dinner with Obama

A recent evolution of political advertisement was Obama’s electoral video for the 2012 elections, which was spread through social media and internet.

  1. The Gian: Television

Often, people referring to “the media” mean “television”, since it still had the greatest impact.

Election campaigns now revolve around acquisition of television time.

  1. Television News

Television news is still the biggest source of news for most Americans.

In general, television favours the visual image. It also comes close to simulating face-to-face communication, providing a sense of personality and credibility.

Because television needs to know in advance what is going to happen, it creates an imbalance in the news because many events become newsworthy simply because television is there to cover it.

This allows for scripted media events and photo opportunities that are not necessarily news to dominate.

Television has a very short time frame, with the average story lasting only one minute.

In essence then, TV news is not analytical in nature but rather serves as a headline service. If citizens want more detail, they need to look somewhere else.

  1. Television and Politics

Television has been influential on politics.

It has enhanced the power of incumbents through increased name recognition.

Because television is president centred, it has increased both presidential worship by citizens and the expectations of citizens on the office.

Ex. Kennedy vs Nixon and the role of TV

In 1960, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first televised presidential debates in American history. The Kennedy-Nixon debates not only had a major impact on the election’s outcome but ushered in a new era in which crafting a public image and taking advantage of media exposure became essential ingredients of a successful political campaign. They also heralded the central role television has continued to play in the democratic process.

Television can proclaim winners, losers, and who has momentum, and these can have a major effect on the level of support that is received by a candidate. When announcing momentum candidates gain a bandwagon effect.

The effect is extremely powerful in the early contests and can create a bandwagon effect, which leads to more exposure, which leads to more coverage and so on.

It also leads to a focus on candidate personalities, which are easy to represent in the media, as opposed to issues.

Television has also led to a decline in the influence of political parties on the nomination process.

Robert Putnam has argued that the rise of television has contributed to the increase in passivity and apathy among citizens.

There is a strong correlation between the rise of television and the decline in voter turnout in the United States.

Voters are saturated with politics so far in advance that they lose interest.

American television campaigns have also become more expensive: most presidential campaign spending goes towards televisions costs.

This increases the importance of interest groups and money in American elections.

The United States has truly little ownership and control of airwaves, which are regulated through the Radio Act of 1927, which states the airwaves should serve the public interest.

Since the invention of the telegraph, the communication industry is private and operates for profit (due in part to the First Amendment).

In European states the situation is quite different: telegraphy and telephones were soon taken over by the postal service.

  1. Are We Poorly Served?

In general, the media do not really serve the interests of U.S. citizens.

This is due in part to the highly selective nature of news coverage in the United States, a result of structural bias in the media.

In general, the media favour the presidency, which reinforces a belief that the president is the government.

Americans grow up with the notion that the White House does most of the work and has most of the power, while other parts of the government count less, so State government and the actions of the bureaucracy receive little coverage.

The media wait until bureaucracy screws up and then act shocked that something went wrong.

There are no real state media markets, which minimizes the coverage of state politics.

The media is generally reactive, waiting until a problem explodes before covering it.

In general, the media really do not provide any comprehensive pictures of events that are occurring around the world.

  1. What Can Be Done?

It is difficult because the mass media are ill equipped to provide meaning and context.

In addition, reporters are generalists, which reduces the opportunities for good analysis.

The biggest problem is citizens: how do you get people to pay attention?

Most are not interested in news and in-depth analysis.

  1. The Adversaries: Media and Government

A healthy democracy requires a media that serves as a critic of government.

This has been well-established in the United States since the founding: Jefferson said that “Newspapers without government is better than government without newspapers.”

The rise of the adversarial relationship between the media and government began in the 1960s, with the elite media becoming hostile to the executive branch. This is due in part to Watergate and the Vietnam War.

Does the press go too far in criticizing government?

Many argue that the press now believes it is always right and government is always wrong.

Republicans are concerned about liberal bias, while radicals worry about corporate bias, and media deference in the modern media.

The rise of internet has led to the willingness to investigate and uncover everything and let the public judge. Ex. Wikileaks

  1. The Ubiquity of Interest Groups

In general, interest groups are a collection of people trying to influence the government. Interest groups provide a critical link between citizens and government.

In general, an individual has little influence over policy outcomes and government.

When individuals form a group, they can have a great deal of influence.

Because everyone wants something from government, interest groups exist in all types of societies.

Even dictatorships have interest groups, although they may behave in ways that are very different from how they behave in open societies.

When we talk about interest groups, we generally mean any group that is trying to influence government.

This is an important point, because Americans frequently use the term “special interest” to refer to groups they do not like that are trying to influence government, but in practice we are all special interests.

  1. Interest Groups and Political Parties

Interest groups differ from political parties in several ways.

Interest groups seek to influence policy but do not seek to control government. This occur outside of the electoral process. They are not accountable to the public.

They have a stake in outcomes but do not seek to run candidates under a party label.

They do seek to influence elections by contributing money to campaigns, often to both sides in an effort to guarantee access.

Interest groups are rarely represented in the structure of government.

There are no limits on the number of interest groups (the right of association) and there are over 20,000 interest groups in Washington, DC.

Interest group membership tends to be very narrow.

Some states foster the development of interest groups in society.

  1. Who Belongs to Interest Groups?

Having interests is part of human nature and the great diversity of interests that exist in society lends itself naturally to group formation.

Pluralist theories of interest groups suggest that a host of interest groups compete with each other for access to government. As a consequence, no single group is able to dominate politics.

Policy outcomes are the result of this competition of interests.

Pluralism is good in theory, but in practice the playing field is not level among interest groups.

Wealthy people who tend to be better educated and have much higher levels of political competency are far more likely to organize to advocate for their interests.

The poor in society lack those organizing skills and are often cut out of the political process.

This can lead to outbursts of political violence, such as the storming of the Bastille prior to the French Revolution.

  1. Interest Groups and Government

For interest group activity to be beneficial, there must be a state worth influencing.

Weak states, where crime has interpenetrated politics, have groups that try to influence government, but that influence group activity is not necessarily beneficial.

As government grows, interest groups proliferate.

The funding of programs creates constituencies that want to see the programs continue.

Reagan tried to defund the Department of Education but was unsuccessful due to heavy interest group resistance.

Interest groups can on occasion participate in government.

When interest groups take over some of the functions of government, it is known as corporatism.

DEF: corporatism is the direct participation of interest groups in government

Ex. The Swedish Royal Commissions

  1. Government-Created Interest Groups

Not all interest groups are independent: some are created by the actions of government.

Government creates programs to serve the needs of citizens. Those programs develop interest constituencies that form groups to advocate for the program. The groups then lobby Congress.

Ex. Mac and Fannie Mae were U.S. farm subsidies used to get out of the Depression in the 1930s.

Ex. Political Engineering for the F-35 project.

  1. Bureaucrats as an Interest Group

Bureaucrats themselves can act as interest groups: they do this through their input in the making and implementation of laws.

Ex. Japan’s ministries are extremely powerful.

Bureaucracies can develop their own interests, especially with respect to seeing their agencies continue and their budgets expand.

Interest groups can be offshoots of government as a result.

Effective Interest Groups #

Factors which make interest groups effective

A country’s political culture affects the likelihood of the development of interest groups: interest groups flourish in open societies with little state control over group formation.

Ex. Americans and Britons are more likely to join associations than Italians or French.

There have been some worries about the decline of associational life in the United States.

In societies that have a tradition of people joining groups, citizens tend to have higher levels of political efficacy (the feeling that what one does can make a difference)

Money is probably the single most important factor in determining the success of an interest group (especially important during elections).

The importance of money in elections has led to worries that politics is basically becoming the best government that money can buy.

Some countries have tried various reforms, including limiting campaign spending, subsidizing political parties, and public funding of elections.

The United States has been very resistant to public financing of campaigns: this is primarily due to the speech issues that arise with respect to the First Amendment to the Constitution.

An accompanying problem is the cost of elections in the United States.

Consequently, political leaders in the United States have been unable to agree on a formula for controlling money in politics.

A relatively new development has been the rise of PACs (U.S interest groups set up specifically to contribute to election campaigns) and Super PACs.

These groups, because of tax laws, are able to donate soft money (campaign contributions to parties to skirt federal limits on contributions to candidates), money not regulated by the FEC, to groups not working directly with a candidate.

The 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act was a bipartisan attempt to regulate campaign spending in the United States.

It was challenged in the Courts and was found to be constitutional, but subsequent rulings by the Court had rendered the act essentially irrelevant by 2004.

Super PACs spend millions of dollars on independent ads that denounce opponents.

The larger question is whether or not money is out of control in politics: pluralists argue that in the end, the amount of money has no real effect on politics because the interest groups are in constant competition with each other and no single group is able to dominate politics.

The 1970s saw the rise of single-issue interest groups (interest associations devoted to one cause only) in U.S politics.

Issue intensity is extremely important with respect to interest groups as groups that care most intensely about an issue are more committed and gain the attention of politicians and decision makers.

Most single-issue groups are focused on moral issues, for example abortion, which makes compromise on politics very difficult.

The size of a group does matter when it comes to being effective in the interest group game, and large groups such as the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) have a lot of clout.

Size is not the only thing and group size can be countered by other resources, especially money and intensity.

The socioeconomic status of members is also important: disadvantaged groups are often some of the largest groups in American politics but lack the time, money, and organizational skills to form an interest group and as such often have the least influence.

All groups in the system want access to decision makers in order to influence policy outcomes.

Much of the money contributed to campaigns is not about results but rather about gaining access.

Structured access (long-term friendly connection of interest groups to officials), an idea advanced by LaPalombara, greatly improves their chances of success in achieving their goals.

Interest Group Strategies #

Strategies Interest Groups use:
Most of the time when we think about interest groups, we think about them trying to influence legislators to pass (or not pass) a law.

Approaching lawmakers is the traditional interest group strategy: many are convinced that lobbyists buy Congress and get whatever they want.

When a major interest is threatened by new laws or proposed changes in laws, they will spare no expense to work to prevent it from happening. They are usually successful in their efforts.

Money buys access to lawmakers, increasing the effectiveness of well-funded groups to advocate for their interests.

Sometimes it is in a group’s interest to approach and lobby (interest group effort to sway legislation) the administration rather than Congress.

This occurs when groups do not necessarily want a new law but rather just a favourable interpretation of an existing law or regulation.

They use many of the same tactics that they would use on legislators in this process, like personal contacts, research and public relations.

The courts are not immune from the influence of interest groups, and some groups have relied heavily on the courts to achieve their goals.

Interest groups can file class-action lawsuits, which are legal actions on behalf of a group or class of citizens, to try to force the courts to take action to correct a wrongdoing.

Interest groups can also file amicus curiae briefs, which are also called friend of the court briefs. Amicus briefs allow the interest groups to submit to the court for consideration legal arguments on cases that affect their interests.

Ex. The NAACP used the courts to fight for changes to laws that promoted discrimination.

Sometimes groups do not go to decision makers but rather go public with their causes and arguments.

Some interest groups maintain a low profile by promoting their objectives without advertising themselves. Such groups may plant news stories that promote their cause and quietly work against the publication of stories detrimental to them.

Ex. the ads run by BP after the Deepwater Horizon explosion / the tobacco industry.

Some groups do not have the resources to fund a media campaign, but they can still take their cases to the public.

Public demonstrations are one way they can do this.

The nonviolent protests led by Gandhi and MLK Jr. are both examples of how public demonstrations can raise the awareness of the general citizenry to an issue and increase the chances that decision makers will change policies.

When groups lose faith in the system, peaceful demonstrations can move to violent protests. This strategy can work in occasions where there is a psychological build-up and a general sense of injustice.

Ex. the Great Society Legislation was passed during a period of urban riots in the United States.

Interest groups: an evaluation #

Interest group activity is at the core of democracy, but it is important to think about how well interest groups serve the public.

There are several ways in which an interest group might fail to serve the interests of the public.

  • There is bias in the system and some groups, especially small groups, do not have any input into the process.

  • Some people, the poor for example, cannot organize into groups because they lack the time, money, and political competency to do so. This means that their interests are not represented in the system and politicians can ignore those interests. (ex. Common Cause was founded as a citizens’ public interest group.)

  • Some groups may be led by a highly militant and radical leadership that has views that vary considerably with what members actually want. This can lead to a split between leadership and membership within the group.

Skewing Policy #

Interest groups can skew policy in their favour regardless of which party is in power.

This occurs because groups often donate money to both main political parties in the hopes of assuring access to decision makers regardless of who wins the election.

Even a political party that might favour the interest of the poor is going to be more likely to pass legislation favouring the wealthy due to that interest group’s influence.

Stalemating Political Power #

Interest groups can also contribute to a stalemating of political power because leaders may be beholden to so many groups that they will be reluctant to act on any controversial issue out of fear of alienating multiple powerful interest groups.

Government can get stuck, trapped between powerful interests’ ad unable to move on important issues.



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