POL-325: The American Congress

      The U.S. Congress is really two things in one. On the one hand, it is America's national legislature, a collective body making laws. On the other hand, it is a representative institution, with individuals from many districts and states bringing diverse viewpoints and interests to Washington. The story of Congress is how these distinct and often opposed aspects are (if possible) reconciled.

      The course also includes (a) the creation and early history of Congress, and (b) analysis of how Congress makes policy.  Each student completes a paper of 10-15 pages' length, analyzing the policy process as it applied to a particular measure from the last session of Congress.

      The American Congress is offered every two years.  It fulfills the "advanced American politics" requirement for the Political Science major. It also may be used for a major in American Studies, and for secondary school teaching endorsement in American government. It is a Writing Emphasis course.

Congress Links

The Senate and House have their own web sites

The Library of Congress's Congress page, good for searching for information on bills

Metavid: searchable C-SPAN archive at University of California-Santa Cruz
Vital Statistics on Congress: more data, from Brookings & AEI, charting changes in Congress over recent decades

CQ Weekly: Coe's Stewart Memorial Library subscribes to this service, which can be accessed from any computer on campus.  It has the text of the current issue, as well as an excellent search engine for issues back to 1983.  If you're not at Coe right now, too bad!  Get your library to subscribe to CQ.

Newspapers with searchable archives:  Washington Post and New York Times.  You need to register but it's free. Times is slightly easier to use. In both cases you have to pay for archived articles, unless you would happen to have microfilm editions of the newspapers on campus.  Coe has the Times but not the Post.

LexisNexis Academic: Searching for current news articles (Coe subscription)

Another good site: ProQuest Congressional Publications, including information on past and current bills, links to current Washington Post and Roll Call articles, and even congressional tweets (Coe subscription)

Comprehensive budgetary information from the Congressional Budget Office


Over a hundred years of congressional voting data assembled by Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal (Univ. of Georgia)

So you can use these data: a Stata tutorial (Princeton Univ.)

David Karol, "Defining Dissidence Down," Monkey Cage, 9 May 2012
Keith T. Poole, "Changing Minds? Not in Congress!" Voteview, 13 January 2003
Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal, "More on Asymmetric Polarization: Yes, the Republicans Did It!" Voteview, 10 June 2015
Sean Trende, "What Has Made Congress More Polarized?" RealClearPolitics, 11 May 2012

Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal group, also rates members  

Historical/biographical information on members past and present

                         REQUIRED TEXTS (FALL 2015)

Alan I. Abramowitz, The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy (Yale, 2010)
Morris Fiorina with Samuel J. Abrams, Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics (Oklahoma, 2009)
Sean M. Theriault, Party Polarization in Congress (Cambridge, 2008)


 Course introduction


Framing the Constitution--Selection and Representation I:Records of the Federal Convention, June 6, 7, 26
Framing the Constitution--Selection and Representation II: Records of the Federal Convention, June 29-July 2
Framing the Constitution--Congress in Government I: Records of the Federal Convention, June 8, 21
Framing the Constitution--Congress in Government II: Records of the Federal Convention, July 17, 19, 21
Opposing the Constitution: Brutus 4 & 16
Opposing the Constitution: Melancton Smith, speeches of 20-21 June 1788
Defending the Constitution:  Federalist 52, 54-56
Defending the Constitution II: Federalist 62-63 


Congressional polarization today: Abramowitz preface & ch 1
Engaged citizens: Abramowitz 2
The big sort: Abramowitz 3
Social groups: Abramowitz 4
Voting: Abramowitz 5
Legislative responsiveness: Abramowitz 7
Conventional wisdom is wrong: FA 3
Institutional imperatives: FA 4
The big sort: FA 5
Political adaptation: FA 6
Considering disconnect: FA 7


Intro to argument: Theriault 1
Congressional polarization through history: Theriault 2
Explanations for congressional polarization: Theriault 3
Hypothesis--redistricting: Theriault 4
Hypothesis--public polarization: Theriault 5
Hypothesis--activists' extremism: Theriault 6
Hypothesis--legislative responsiveness: Theriault 7
Hypothesis--institutional imperatives: Theriault 8
Polarization and the two houses: Theriault 9
Polarization and congressional procedure: Theriault 10

Next Course: The American Presidency

Last Course: Political Parties and Elections

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updated 9/17/15