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Per the course catalog: “An examination of the central role of parties in the American democratic system, including its elections, political coalitions, and permeability to interest groups and public opinion.”

Per my vision: This course addresses topics at the very core of the practice of American democratic politics: the behavior of voters and non-voters, the creation and maintenance of political parties, and the conduct of competitive elections for public office. These are not separate topics, for parties are essential in every democracy (but not in non-democracies) to running elections and governing the polity. Parties are currently regarded with great suspicion by most middle-class Americans, yet we have found no alternative to them.

First up is why political parties are essential parts of a democracy. We answer that with theory from political science filtered through the uniquely American tradition of having just two national political parties with a realistic chance for each to elect a President and control the national Congress. It is unusual among democracies to do this, as we shall see. We take a comparative look at party systems (contrasting American to foreign systems) and a historical one (evaluating past American party practices). We distinguish parties from interest groups, political factions, and political coalitions. We look at parties as organizations, which run elections, including the complicated American national primary system. We look at the strange current system of financing parties and candidates. We look directly at national and state elections, with intensive review of recent national results. We study voters and nonvoters, together with the business of polling by which we learn about it. We look at parties-in-government, as the central organizing entity of the national legislature and most state assemblies. Finally, we look closely at the Tea Party and its potential impact on the American political scene.