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Chapter 1. The Study of American Government. Two Key Questions. Who governs? Those who govern will affect us. To what ends? How will government affect our lives?. What is Political Power?.

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The Study of American Government


Two key questions
Two Key Questions

  • Who governs? Those who govern will affect us.

  • To what ends? How will government affect our lives?


What is political power
What is Political Power?

  • Power: the ability of one person to get another person to act in accordance with the first person’s intention.

  • Authority: the right to use power.

  • Legitimacy: Political authority conferred by law or by a state or national constitution.


What is democracy
What is Democracy?

  • Democracy: the rule of many

  • Direct or participatory democracy: a government in which most citizens participate directly.

  • Representative democracy: A government in which leaders make a decisions by winning a competitive struggle for the popular vote


The framers view
The Framers’ View

  • Government would mediate, nor mirror, popular views

  • People were viewed as lacking knowledge and susceptible to manipulation

  • Framers’ goal: to minimize the abuse of power by a tyrannical majority or by officeholders


Is democracy best
Is Democracy Best?

  • For Representative government to work, there must, be an opportunity for genuine leadership competition.

  • Two questions must be answered if we are to assume that representative democracy is the best answer:

    • First, do people today have more time, information, energy, interest, and expertise, or more ability to gather together for collective decision-making, than they did when the Constitution was adopted?

    • Second, how is political power distributed?


How is political power distributed
How is Political Power Distributed

  • Four schools of thought about political elites and how power has actually been distributed in America’s representative democracy:

    • Marxist: Those who own the means of production, controlling the economic system, will control the government

    • Power Elite: A few top leaders, drawn from the major sectors of the United States polity, will make all important decisions


How is political power distributed1
How is Political Power Distributed

  • Bureaucratic: Appointed civil servants control the government, without consulting the public.

  • Pluralist: Competition among affected interests shapes public policy decision-making


Theories of democratic government
Theories of Democratic Government

  • Traditional democratic theory

  • Pluralist theory

  • Elitist theory

  • Bureaucratic theory


Is democracy driven by self interest
Is Democracy Driven by Self-Interest?

  • Most Americans prefer the pluralist view of how power is distributed.

    • It reassures us that democracy is more than a name.

  • A policy may be good or bad independent of the motives of the person who decided it, just as a product sold on the market may be useful or useless regardless of the profit-seeking or wage-seeking motives of those who produced it.


Is democracy driven by self interest1
Is Democracy Driven by Self-Interest?

  • The belief that people will usually act on the basis of their self-interest, narrowly defined, is a theory to be tested, not an assumption to be made.

  • Another reason to resist interpreting American democracy as if it were always and everywhere driven by narrowly self-interested individuals and groups is that many of the most important political happenings in U.S. History.


What explains political change
What Explains Political Change?

  • The great shifts in the character of our government – its size, scope, institutional arrangements, and the direction of its policies – have reflected complex and sometimes sudden changes in elite or mass beliefs about what government is supposed to do.


What explains political change1
What Explains Political Change?

  • In the 1920s it was widely assumed that federal government would play a small role in our lives.


What explains political change2
What Explains Political Change?

  • From the 1930s through the 1970s it was generally believed that the federal government would try to solve whatever social or economic problem that existed


What explains political change3
What Explains Political Change?

  • From 1981 to 1988 Ronald Reagan sought to reverse that assumption and to cut back the taxes Washington levied, the money it spent, and the regulations it imposed.



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