American Political Culture in the Twenty First Century

Term: Spring 2011

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 5123

 For almost a decade, pundits, politicos, and journalists alike have
claimed that the United States was in the midst of a culture war, a war for the “soul of America.” The election results from November 2000 seemed to confirm these cries about a divided America, with the red/blue map of the United States serving as the iconic image of this division. From narratives about warring parties stealing votes to questions about the legitimacy of the Electoral College in relation to the popular vote, many pronounced the end of centrism in America. A story about political polarization gripped the nation. Have things changed in 2010? Since 2008, the Presidency is in the hands of someone who articulates a belief in change and claims to want to govern from the center. But there is constant partisan fighting, the constant threat of policy gridlock, and among the American electorate there seems to be great disdain for both parties.

Is America actually polarized and deeply divided? How do we measure
polarization and centrism? What are the social and policy implications
of polarization? Is policy-making deadlocked, or can real political progress be made? How did all of this play into the 2010 elections? What are we to make of the frequent calls for change and for healing America’s divisions?

This course will look at polarization, centrism, and American
political culture from a variety of vantage points - mass socio-political behavior, political elites, Congress and the associated policy-making communities, social movements, and the press. We will adopt an explicit interdisciplinary approach. Among the authors included will be Louis Hartz, Robert Putnam, Morris Fiorina, Alan Abramowitz, Alan Wolfe, Thomas Edsall, Nolan McCarty, Andrew Gelman, and Michael Schudson.

This course is taught by visiting instructor Samuel Abrams

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