PoliSci 420B: Overview

Topics in American Political Behavior

Politial Science 420b
Winter Quarter, 2010-11

Shanto Iyengar (siyengar@stanford.edu)
Paul Sniderman (paulms@stanford.edu)

Encina West 400
Wednesdays, 1-3 pm


This class surveys the principal topics and lines of research in the study of individual political behavior. The class will commence with consideration of classical perspectives on voting and public opinion. But even at the starting point its concern is with current approaches and open questions -- both very much in the plural. Specific research areas singled out for review include campaigns, political communication, and race in American politics.


A course website, (http://polisci420b.stanford.edu), will be the primary mechanism for distributing all course materials and important class announcements. All enrolled students should confirm immediately that they are able to access and view the website. Students are expected to check the site regularly for any updates.


The class will be run as a seminar and students will be expected to discuss the weekly readings, constructively and critically. Each week, one to two students will be designated as discussion leaders, effectively setting the agenda for that week's seminar. We will rotate through the class such that everyone is a discussant at least once, but more likely twice. The weekly discussion leaders will be required to present a brief (~5 minutes) summary of the week's reading and to pose 3-4 questions to their classmates to initiate the discussion.

Response Papers

Discussion leaders will submit a 2-3 page response paper on the weekly readings in which they should discuss the strengths and shortcomings of the argument and evidence presented in the readings. A barely adequate paper would provide a summary of the readings; a superior paper would identify weaknesses, unresolved questions, and the substantive implications of any deficiencies. At the end of each paper, students should identify at least two questions for future research.

The discussion papers will be due by email at 12 NOON each Monday. The electronic documents must be saved in either MS Word or Adobe Acrobat format. Additionally, the file should be labeled using the following convention: "Surname_Week #."

Final Paper

The final paper provides an opportunity to draw connections among specific topics examined in the course, or investigate a particular topic in greater depth than a response paper allows, or both. The final paper, like the response papers, will be graded on the logic of the arguments, understanding of the material, creativity, and clarity of exposition. Details – e.g. length – will be announced.

Course Assessment

The final grade for the course will be calculated as follows:
30% - General Seminar Participation
30% - Assigned Topic Participation
40% - Final Paper


Please visit the Readings section of this site for the online readings and updated class schedule.