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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato


Page address: Syllabi/PS423SYL.html

Political Science 423/523
Political Parties
Spring 2006
MWF 10:00-10:50
MH 101

Instructor: Dr. Fred Slocum
Office: 204A Morris Hall
Phone: 389-6935
Web site:
Office Hours: M, W, F 1:00-3:00; T, Th 9:30-11:00, or by appointment


This course examines political parties, primarily in American politics.  Topics include political parties in the electorate, in government, and as organizations, and how parties and partisan politics influence a broad range of political outcomes and processes, including election campaigns, presidential appointments, the lawmaking process in Congress, and bureaucratic decision-making.  We also will examine closely the development of the American political party system, historically and today.  We'll seek to explain why the American party system has been traditionally a two-party system, while many other democracies are multiparty systems, and how parties develop and shift their policy preferences in response to the distribution of political opinions in the electorate.  To introduce a comparative element to the course, students will be asked to report on and share what they are learning about parties in another democratic political system of their choice.

We will encounter a number of controversial ideas this semester.  Political scientists, politicians and political observers argue vociferously over these ideas.  I hope you will, too.  I expect and encourage frequent participation from members of the class.  You should come to class every day prepared to offer opinions, observations and questions, and to use recent events to shed light on concepts learned in this class.  Graduate students, especially, are expected to be active participants in class.  I am a DFL party activist, and in class, will be sharing my experiences from the 2002 and 2004 precinct caucuses, DFL state conventions and other activities - including photos I have taken at a number of these events.  We also hope to host Jim and/or Judy Hepworth, both longtime DFL party activists in the Mankato area, as guest speaker(s).  Although I have strong views, I hope that students of all political persuasions will feel equally free to express their opinions during class discussions; indeed, I encourage students to engage in a lively and respectful exchange of ideas.  Most importantly: students' grades (on participation, papers, exams or anything else!) WILL NOT be influenced by their agreement or disagreement with me on partisanship or political matters!

Course Objectives:

To the extent they do well in this course, students will gain knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • What political parties are, and how they differ from interest groups
  • The three-part conception of political parties: the party in the electorate, the party in government, and the party organization
  • Why the American party system is mostly a two-party system
  • The pyramidal structure of state and local party organizations
  • The services and activities of state, local and national party organizations
  • Precinct caucuses and party conventions (with 'show and tell' from the instructor)
  • The special nature of the political party machine: the epitome of a strong party organization
  • Incentives for party activism, and characteristics of activists
  • The party-systems theory of American politics
  • The historical development of the American party system, including the major partisan eras
  • What party identification is and how it develops
  • Influences on voter turnout, and why it has declined in recent years
  • Processes for nominating party candidates: caucuses and primaries, and types of primaries
  • What happens at party conventions, and how delegates are selected
  • The U.S. campaign financing system; the impact of the new finance laws restricting 'soft money'
  • The party-based organization of Congress and state legislatures
  • The party-leadership function of the executive
  • The influence of party on judicial selection and decisions
  • The future of party politics in the United States

Built into these topics are numerous opportunities for discussion and reflection.  For example, would the United States benefit from a third major party?  Are additional reforms in the campaign-finance laws warranted?  Should we legally require citizens to vote (as is done in some other nations)?  Furthermore, the course includes two written assignments, and graduate students have a third paper assignment, an annotated bibliography (see below).

Assignments and Grading:

There will be a midterm exam (March 10) and a non-cumulative final exam (May 9).  Both will consist of essays and identification items.  About a week before each exam, I will distribute a study guide in class to help you prepare.

There are two papers required for undergraduates (three for graduate students).  First, students will be asked to write a report on the party system in another democratic political system of your choice.  Second, students will be asked to read and write a review of a book-length scholarly work on political parties, either in the United States or elsewhere.  For each of these papers, students will make an oral presentation to the class, and somewhat longer papers will be asked of graduate students.  Further details on each of these assignments will be handed out separately.  For graduate students, there is an annotated bibliography of appropriate scholarly articles in professional journals, totaling 250 pages or more (no oral presentation).  The bibliography guidelines will be handed out separately.

Class participation does count in the course grade, and graduate students are expected to take a more active leadership role in class discussions.  Put differently: graduate students will be held to higher standards in terms of quantity and quality of class participation.

The grading procedure is below.  Note the different weights for graduate versus undergraduate students.

Undergraduate students:

  • First paper (on another nation's party system): 20%
  • Second paper (book review): 20%
  • Midterm exam: 25%
  • Attendance and participation: 10%p
  • Final exam: 25%

Graduate students:

  • First paper: 15%
  • Second paper: 15%
  • Midterm exam: 20%
  • Attendance and participation: 10%
  • Bibliography: 20%
  • Final exam: 20%

Students whose point totals place them very near (within 0.1 point of) the cut point for the next higher letter grade will be evaluated on an individual basis for promotion to the higher grade.  In this evaluation, I will consider factors such as attendance, participation, attitude and improvement over the term.

Students with Disabilities:

I would like to hear (early in the semester is much preferred) from students with a documented learning or other disability that might require some modification of seating, testing, or other class arrangements.  I will make every effort to accommodate students with these needs.  If you have any questions, please see me or contact Julie Snow in the Disability Services Office (132 Memorial Library, 389-1819).

Policy on Attendance:

I will note attendance frequently, perhaps daily.  All students should plan to attend class regularly and contribute to class discussions.  Students are responsible for obtaining notes for any missed session.  Excused absences may be considered on a case-by-case basis in exceptional cases (such as for certain medical reasons), or for significant opportunities, such as attending a professional conference.  Whenever possible, please notify me in advance of an absence, giving a valid reason.

Policy on Make-Up Examinations and Incomplete Grades:

Examinations cannot be made up unless the student provides acceptable, documented reason for missing the exam.  Makeup exam requests have merit to the extent that (1) the circumstance is unavoidable, (2) the reason for missing the exam can be documented, and (3) the instructor is notified well in advance of the exam.  Makeup exams will not necessarily be identical to, and may be more difficult than, the exam given in class.  Early exams will not be given.

The MSU Undergraduate Bulletin outlines University policy on incomplete grades as follows.  "The grade of 'incomplete' is reserved for special cases and means that, because of extenuating circumstances, the student failed to meet a specific need and an important requirement of the course, but has in other respects done passing work for the semester.  The incomplete must be made up in the next semester in which the student has enrolled, unless other arrangements have been made between the student and instructor.  If the deficiency is not made up within the specified time, the grade automatically becomes an F or NC" (p. 31).  I will support and enforce this policy fully.

Policy on Late Assignments:

Barring extenuating circumstances (which I must be notified of and approve in advance), late papers will be downgraded one full letter grade (10 points) for each calendar day late (20 points over a weekend), and no papers will be accepted more than three days late, unless other arrangements are made with the instructor.  These must be for valid reasons, similar to, but more compelling than, those justifying a makeup exam.  Computer-related problems (i.e. printer malfunctions, hard drive or disk crashes) are not an acceptable reason for late papers or extensions.

Academic Dishonesty:

A number of activities may be construed as academic dishonesty (cheating).  These include, but are not limited to: copying material from another source (book, manuscript or another student) without proper acknowledgment, using crib sheets during an exam, talking during an exam, or looking at another student's exam.  Any cheating will result in an automatic F in the course and possible further disciplinary action.  In papers, if you either quote a source or paraphrase (express an idea drawn from another source in your own words), you must acknowledge your use of that source in an approved citation form (i.e. APA, MLA, Chicago citation style).  Come see me if you have any questions.


There are two required texts for this class, both available at the University Bookstore and the Maverick Bookstore.  We'll read virtually all of Hershey, but not all of Maisel.

  • Marjorie R. Hershey, Party Politics in America, 11th (Longman Classics in Political Science) edition.  New York: Longman Publishers, 2005.
  • L. Sandy Maisel (ed.), The Parties Respond: Changes in American Parties and Campaigns, 4th edition.  Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002.

There may be an occasional outside reading assignment, including one or more of the instructor's own articles.  Any of these will be announced and distributed in class.

Course Calendar and Assignments:

I will make reasonable efforts to follow the schedule of topics below.  However, as circumstances warrant, I may amend the schedule outlined in this syllabus.  I will announce any such amendments in class.  Abbreviations used below are: H (Hershey) and M (Maisel).

Part I. Defining Parties and Party Systems.

Week 1 - January 18-20: Introductions; the three components of political parties.  H, Ch. 1.

Week 2 - January 23-27: Why (mostly) a two-party system?  H, Ch. 2.

Part II. The Political Party Organization.

Week 3 - January 30-February 3: State and local party organizations.  H, Ch. 3; M, Ch. 2.  (DFL state convention 'show and tell' with photos)

Week 4 - February 6-10: Political machines; national party organizations.  H, Ch. 4; M, Ch. 3.  (Video: Daley: The Last Boss)

Week 5 - February 13-17: The organization builders: activism and activists.  H, Ch. 5. (Tentative guest speaker(s): Jim Hepworth and/or Judy Hepworth)

Part III. The Party in the Electorate.

Week 6 - February 20-24: Party identification; American party systems; the first and second party systems.  H, Ch. 6; M, Ch. 4.

Week 7 - February 27-March 3: The third through the sixth party systems.  Student presentations.  H, Ch. 7; possible handouts.

(Friday, March 3: First paper due)

Week 8 - March 6-8: Student presentations.  Voter turnout and factors affecting it.  H, Ch. 8; handout.

(Friday, March 10: Midterm exam)

(Monday, March 13 through Friday, March 17: Spring vacation - NO CLASS)

Part IV. The Party in the Electoral Process.

Week 9 - March 20-24: Caucuses and primaries; types of primaries; frontloading.  H, Ch. 9.

Week 10 - March 27-31: Presidential nominations, delegates and conventions.  H, Ch. 10.

Week 11 - April 3-7: Parties, election campaigns and money.  H, Chs. 11 and 12.

Part V. The Party in Government.

Week 12 - April 10-14: Parties in the legislature.  H, Ch. 13; M, Ch. 10.

Week 13 - April 17-21: Parties in the executive.  H, pp. 265-275; M, Ch. 12.

(Monday, April 24: Second paper (book review) due)

Week 14 - April 24-28: Student presentations.  Parties in the judiciary.  H, pp. 275-280.

Week 15 - May 1-5: Responsible party government; the future of U.S. party politics.  H, Chs. 15 and 16.

(Monday, May 1: Graduate students - annotated bibliography due)

(Tuesday, May 9, 10:15 AM: Final exam)