POLS205-20S2 (C) Semester Two 2020

United States Politics

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 13 July 2020
End Date: Sunday, 8 November 2020
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Friday, 24 July 2020
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Friday, 25 September 2020


This course focuses on the institutions and government of the United States. Topics include civil rights and civil liberties, the Courts, Presidential-Congressional relations, the national security establishment (e.g. the military and Central Intelligence Agency), the Trump Administration, and the 2020 Presidential election. We also consider key foreign policy issues such as the U.S.in the Asia-Pacific region, U.S.-China relations, U.S.-North Korea relations, and the global significance of the U.S. economy. Particular attention will be given to the dynamics of the 2020 Presidential election.

This course focuses on the core ideas and institutions of the United States political system, with specific reference to the contemporary period.  It integrates insights from the Constitutional era (1789 – 1809) throughout the semester, in order to examine how ideas such as such as federalism, separation of powers, capitalism, freedom, and equality have shaped the American experience.  We begin the course with the emergence of the United States as a global superpower following World War II and span major events from 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), the war powers, civil rights and civil liberties, the role of interest groups and money in the U.S. electoral system, and the causes and effects of extreme partisanship between “blue” and “red” states and between progressives, liberals, establishment Republicans, and “Trump Republicans.”

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 American 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)

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;
  • 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.


Any 15 points at 100 level from POLS, or
any 60 points at 100 level from the Schedule V of the BA, or
the Schedule V of the BCom.

Timetable 2020

Students must attend one activity from each section.

Lecture A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Tuesday 12:00 - 14:00 Rehua 103 Project Workshop 13 Jul - 23 Aug
7 Sep - 18 Oct
Tutorial A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Thursday 09:00 - 10:00 Ernest Rutherford 260 20 Jul - 23 Aug
7 Sep - 18 Oct
02 Thursday 11:00 - 12:00 Karl Popper 612 20 Jul - 23 Aug
7 Sep - 18 Oct
03 Thursday 09:00 - 10:00 Zoom 20 Jul - 23 Aug
7 Sep - 18 Oct

Course Coordinator

For further information see Language, Social and Political Sciences Head of Department


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

Textbooks / Resources

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 $777.00

International fee $3,375.00

* 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

  • POLS205-20S2 (C) Semester Two 2020
  • POLS205-20S2 (D) Semester Two 2020 (Distance)