POLS205-18S2 (C) Semester Two 2018

United States Politics

15 points
16 Jul 2018 - 18 Nov 2018


This course focuses on the politics and government of the United States. Topics include civil rights and civil liberties, institutions, Presidential-Congressional relations, the national security establishment (e.g. the military and Central Intelligence Agency), and the new (45th) Presidential Administration. We also consider key foreign policy issues such as the U.S.in the Asia-Pacific region, U.S.-China relations, U.S.-Israel relations, and the global significance of the U.S. economy.

This course introduces the core ideas and institutions of the United States political system.  It briefly covers the Constitutional period (1789 – 1809), in order to provide an essential foundation in core concepts such as federalism, separation of powers, capitalism, and the Bill of Rights.  We also focus on the modern era and the emergence of the United States as a global superpower, spanning the Kennedy Administration (1961-1963) through the Trump Administration (which we will monitor over the course of the semester).  Topics to be considered include: American foreign policy (particularly in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East), the war powers, civil rights and civil liberties, and the role of interest groups and money in the U.S. system.  The United States is moving through a difficult period, characterized by a resurgent populism, the weakening of political consensus, rising geopolitical threats, and by public institutions that are under significant stress.  Yet it is also the most powerful military and economic actor in the world system, one that is able to exert a consequential influence on world affairs.  This course provides students with a platform from which to understand and analyse U.S. politics and to evaluate the causes and consequences of its actions both domestically and on the global stage.

Some Initial Thoughts on a Superpower

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted every other option (apocryphal). – Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.  It has never yet melted. – D. H. Lawrence (author; 1885 – 1930)

The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. –Walt Whitman (poet; 1819 – 1892)

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. – James Baldwin (author; 1924 – 1987)

Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth!  -- Jean Baudrillard (theorist; 1929 – 2007)

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.  When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.  –Edward R. Murrow (journalist; 1908 – 1965)

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • attain a comprehensive foundation in the ideas, interests and institutions of the United States political system;
  • be able to conduct either a historical analysis of a key event/individual or a threat assessment of a contemporary issue facing the United States;
  • understand the evolution of U.S. politics since the 1960s and be able to explain both continuities and discontinuities;
  • understand the complicated relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government;
  • be able to evaluate the Trump Administration with reference to historical context, statutes, and political institutions;
  • be able to analyse and explain U.S. domestic and foreign policy from a critical and informed position;

  • and, be able to evaluate the United States as a global economic and military superpower.
    • University Graduate Attributes

      This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

      Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

      Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.


15 points in POLS at 100-level. Students not meeting the prerequisites but with at least a B average in 60 points in appropriate courses may be admitted by the approval of the Head of Department.

Timetable 2018

Students must attend one activity from each section.

Lecture A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Wednesday 12:00 - 14:00 F3 Lecture Theatre 16 Jul - 19 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct
Tutorial A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Thursday 14:00 - 15:00 E6 Lecture Theatre 30 Jul - 26 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct
02 Thursday 13:00 - 14:00 A4 Lecture Theatre 30 Jul - 26 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct
03 Thursday 11:00 - 12:00 Jack Erskine 241 16 Jul - 26 Aug
10 Sep - 21 Oct

Examination and Formal Tests

Test A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
02 Wednesday 12:00 - 14:00 F3 Lecture Theatre 20 Aug - 26 Aug

Course Coordinator

Amy Fletcher


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Tutorial/Attendance 10%
Final Exam 30% 2 hour exam - 2 essay questions
Midterm 22 Aug 2018 30% (In-class) 4 ids and 1 essay question
Major Essay 12 Oct 2018 30% 2500 words


Required Texts

Bodenhamer, David J; The U.S. Constitution :a very short introduction; Oxford University Press, 2018.

Valelly, Richard M; American politics :a very short introduction; Oxford University Press, 2013.

Additional required readings should be available by clicking on the appropriate link in the syllabus posted on Learn.  Over the semester, I may add a few (short) readings that are especially pertinent to current events.

Note:  you can also search the University Library catalogue, by journal title, to find the articles, if a link becomes outdated.

I will post lecture notes on our Learn site, and provide links to sources that may be useful for background information and/or your research.

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $746.00

International fee $3,038.00

* Fees include New Zealand GST and do not include any programme level discount or additional course related expenses.

For further information see Language, Social and Political Sciences.

All POLS205 Occurrences

  • POLS205-18S2 (C) Semester Two 2018