Do elections produce governments that reflect the public will? Do they favor competent leaders over incompetent ones? This class introduces students to recent research on these questions, focusing on presidential elections. It explores topics such as citizens’ ability to judge politicians, whether elected leaders represent their constituents’ interests, and the degree to which public officials exploit their power to aid their reelection bids. We critically examine evidence that voters judge candidates based on superficial traits, such as their faces, that they are duped into voting against their economic interests by wedge issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, and that they are shortsighted, usually remembering only recent successes and failures by their political leaders. Through reading and writing, students will learn to evaluate research about politics and to understand the statistical tools used to study American government.
Selected Topics in American Government: Presidential Elections and Democratic Accountability