Junior Seminar: Public Policy Challenges in U.S. Politics

Spring 2022
W 10am-12pm
Course Description

In many ways, American government is failing the American people. We spend the most on healthcare than any country in the world, but do not have the health outcomes to show for it. We incarcerate more people per capita than any other nation. Despite the clear dangers of climate change, government is not moving fast enough to decarbonize the economy. Returns from economic growth continue to accrue to those at the top of the wealth and income distribution.

This course critically examines the role of American government in perpetuating and addressing social and economic challenges. The first half of the course introduces a policy-focused approach to the study of American politics. This will include sessions covering how American political institutions affect our ability to enact and implement effective public policies, how interest groups gain and wield influence over public policy, why government bureaucracies so often fail to provide effective regulations and services, along with other topics. The second half of the course applies this the theoretical perspective to the study of four critically important policy areas: healthcare, climate change, housing, and criminal justice. We will develop a baseline understanding of the role government plays in these areas and explore the politics underpinning government decisions. Finally, we will explore pathways for policy reform, and discuss the political challenges that make reform difficult.  

A central focus of the course will be to develop students’ ability to both comprehend and produce social science research. Readings will draw mostly from leading political science journals and showcase a range of research methods. In addition to engaging with the conceptual material in these articles, we will spend time discussing and critiquing authors’ research designs. The goal is to prepare students to write a research proposal that they could then implement for their senior theses.



Instructor: Sam Trachtman


Course Restrictions:   Students who take PS 191 Sec 001 with Prof. Trachman cannot ALSO take PS 109B with Professor Anzia or David Broockman due to the substantial similarity in course content.