JUNIOR SEMINAR: America’s Dysfunctional Politics: An Exploration and Assessment

Th 2p-4p
202 Barrows
Course Description

The term “dysfunctional politics” has become a commonplace in our public dialogue, one used almost instinctively to characterize any of a multitude of shortcomings in the workings of American democracy.  Yet behind this widespread dismay if not outright contempt for the contemporary state of American politics and governance lie glaring differences, often passionately held, over just what is wrong, who is responsible, and whether anything can and should be done to fix it.  The seminar is designed to clarify and assess these differences.We will probe the fit, historically and contemporaneously, between Madison’s constitutional design and the party system that while not mentioned in the Constitution quickly became a central and essential instrument for linking popular elections and representative government.   Topics meriting special attention will include the ideological polarization of the parties; strategic oppositional politics within the governing process; affective partisanship; the contributions of ordinary citizens, activists, and political elites; the demonization and denial of legitimacy of one party by the other; increasing legislative gridlock during periods of divided party government; the impact of hyperpartisanship on the courts and the executive branch; the nationalization of politics in a federalized system; the changing coalitional bases of the parties; partisan manipulation of electoral rules, the impact of money; the role of the media, old and new; and the substance and politics of political reform.

This seminar will feature not lectures and exams but presentations by and discussions among  students, guided by the instructor and based on a set of required readings, student blogs, and a research paper.  It will be comprehensive and challenging, drawing on scholarly research to shed light on issues of major public import.


The Junior Seminars are intense writing seminars which focus on the research area of the faculty member teaching the course. The seminars provide an opportunity for students to have direct intellectual interactions with faculty members while also giving the students an understanding for faculty research.


Junior seminars fulfill upper division requirements for the major.


Subfield:   American Politics


Instructor: Thomas Mann


Political Science Majors of Junior and Senior status (must be 3rd or 4th year students with at least 60 units completed) with a minimum overall UC GPA of 3.3.  Students must place themselves on the waitlist through TeleBEARS in Phase II. Priority may be given to students who have not yet taken a junior seminar.  Selection and notification will occur in mid-January 2016.