Political Parties and Interest Groups (PLSC 321)

Spring, 2010



Professor: Robert Alexander

Office Hours: MTRF (9 - 10); W (3 - 4) and by appointment

Phone: 772-2093 (office) or 634-0784 (home)

Email: r-alexander@onu.edu

Course Time: 10:00 10:50 MWRF (Hill 200)


Required Texts: Robert Alexander. 2006. The Classics of Interest Group Behavior. Thomson Wadsworth.


Allan Cigler and Burdette Loomis. 2007. Interest Group Politics.7th edition. Congressional Quarterly Press.


Morris Fiorina. 2006. Culture War?: The Myth of a Polarized America. 2nd edition. Pearson Longman.


An extensive number of readings will be assigned in addition to the books listed above. I will assign these readings as appropriate throughout the term. Students will be responsible for obtaining any articles I assign in class.


Course Overview:

This is an intensive course examining two important agents of political mobilization in the United States. Political parties and interest groups both shape and express the will of citizens in our society. There is a vast literature examining these facets of American government. Students will be exposed to some classic analyses as well as some contemporary examinations of political behavior. As such, there will be a good deal of required reading for students. Some of the reading is heavily theoretical and/or quantitative. Therefore, this course is for the serious student of politics. Students are expected to read all assigned material and contribute thoughtful analysis throughout the term. Students should find this course to be challenging (in the density and volume of reading), thought provoking (due to the variety of concepts we will examine), and ultimately rewarding. If you are a student who does not like tread, participate, think, work hard, or be challenged, this is not the course for you (consider yourself forewarned).


Subject Matter:

We will examine the historical development of political parties, the functions of contemporary political parties, how political parties shape American politics, and the relative power of political parties in the United States. In addition, we will examine the formation of interest groups, theoretical explanations about how interest groups attempt to exert power, and empirical analyses regarding the influence of interest groups. The power of interest groups revolves around how they affect public policy. Therefore, we will devote time to understanding how interest groups attempt to alter public policy toward their desired ends.


Course Attendance and Participation:

As members of a university community, it is expected that students will attend class, be on time, and contribute to class discourse. Excessive absences will adversely affect your grade. Failure to be engaged in class discourse will also have a negative impact on your grade. My experience illustrates that those who attend class and are engaged generally do well, and in turn learn a great deal! Fifty (50) points are allotted fro class participation.


Written paper:

Students will submit a 6 8 page paper analyzing an issue related to organized interest or political parties in the United States. Any of the topics we examine this term are fair game. Students are expected to systematically research, analyze, and evaluate their subject matter. Original research is encouraged! I will discuss this assignment further in class. Your paper is worth 100 points.


Class Presentation & Article Assignment:

Each student will present an article and distribute summaries of their article to the class. Those presenting will serve as facilitators of class discussion. I will assign each student an article to summarize and analyze. This assignment is worth 50 points.



There will be a midterm and a final in this class. Each exam will be 100 points and thus weighted equally. Because there are only two exams, it is imperative that students do their best on each. I will discuss the format of the exams prior to their distribution and will be available for questions prior to their distribution.



There may be several unannounced quizzes during the term. These quizzes will be over basic information covered in class or in the readings. They will be given to reward students that come to class regularly and who are prepared for discussion. All quizzes will be calculated as part of your grade for the term.


Course Requirements:


A) Written Paper 100 points

B) Article assignment 50 points

C) Participation 50 points

D) Examinations 100 points each 200 points total

400 points


The grade scale is as follows:

A = 92 - 100

B = 83 91

C = 70 82

D = 60 69

F = 59 and below


Absolutely no make-up exams will be given unless students have been given permission in advance by me! This is taken very seriously!


Course Schedule:

Attached is a preliminary course schedule as to how we will proceed this term. All dates are subject to change with the advance notice of the instructor. I will give specific reading assignments in class. The schedule is provided for students to keep up with the readings and come to class prepared to discuss, analyze and ask questions about the material. As such, I expect students will read the assigned material before the class it is scheduled for. This is the only way we can have meaningful discourse related to the readings. Remember, this is a fluid process and we may alter the readings as necessary. I will ALWAYS keep you informed as to what is expected of you.


Important Dates:


Midterm: Thursday, April 1st

Paper Due: Friday, May 7th

Final Exam: Tuesday, May18th 8:00 10:00


Reading Schedule


Note: We may move through some readings faster than others and we may devote greater attention to particular readings. You must do the readings in order for lectures to make sense. The material we are studying this term is not self-evident. Many of your readings are graduate-level readings! Each student will be assigned a reading and well be responsible for leading discussion concerning it in class. Remember, additional readings may be added to this list throughout the term. You will be responsible for all assigned readings.


Weeks 1-4


Introducing Political Parties in American Politics; Parties as Organization; Parties in the Electorate; Parties and the Electoral Process; The Red-Blue Divide


Weeks 4-5


Group Formation and Pluralism


Weeks 6-10


Group Maintenance, Group Influence, Lobbying (Direct and Outside)


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