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Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy Edwards/Wattenberg/Lineberry Updated Summer 2014 Introducing Government in America Chapter 1
Introduction • Politics and government matter! • How has the government impacted your life? • Multiple levels: federal, state and local
A quote from President Obama (when he first ran for public office in 1993) • “Politics does matter. It can make the difference in terms of a benefit check. It can make the difference in terms of school funding. Citizens can’t just remove themselves from that process. They actually have to engage themselves and not just leave it to the professionals.”
Apathy • Americans are apathetic about politics and government. • American youth are not likely to be informed about government and politics and rarely participate in politics. • 2008 Presidential election was the exception, but it’s too early to declare the death of apathy for the young • Lack of interest leads to lack of information. SO WHAT?
However…… • “Young people are some of the most active members of their communities and are devoting increasing time to direct service work and volunteerism.” Sitaram and Warren Invisible Citizens:Youth Politics After September 11th
Why is political knowledge important? • Fosters civic virtues like political tolerance • People who understand policy issues incorporate this into voting behavior (policy voting) • Promotes active political participation
Young people don’t vote. So what? • Participation = benefits • It’s estimated that by 2020, Social Security and spending for the elderly will make up 51% of the domestic budget. Spending for children will be only 11% • Older people vote, thus they receive attention and funds from the government
What causes the apathy among youth? • No policy has truly impacted them (draft, etc. for earlier generations) • Watching the news is not their only option • Fewer shared experiences • Young people today have never known a time when most citizens paid attention to major political events. • Changes in technology present both opportunities and challenges
Government • Definition: Government is the institutions and people through which public policies are made for society. • Congress, the President, the courts and the federal administrative agencies (“the bureaucracy”)
Government • This definition leads to two basic questions: • How should we govern? • Who holds power? Who influences policy? • What should government do? • Does the government do what we want it to? • What should the “scope” of government be?
What do governments do? • Maintain national defense • Provide public goods and services • Vocab: public good – (also known as collective goods) cannot be denied to anyone, must be shared by everyone • Preserve order • Socialize the young • Collect Taxes
Politics • Definition: • Politics is the process by which we select our governmental leaders and what policies they produce—politics produces authoritative decisions about public issues.
Laswell’s definition of politics • Who gets what, when and how? • Let’s break down this definition • Who? • What? • When? • How?
Political Participation • Definition: All the activities used by citizens to influence the selection of political leaders or the policies they pursue. • Most common? • Other examples? • Single-issue groups: Groups that have a narrow interest, on which their members tend to take an uncompromising stance
The process by which policy comes into being and evolves over time. Figure 1.4 Figure 1.3
People are the start and end of the policymaking system • Interests • Problems • Concerns
Linkage Institutions • Definition: Linkage institutions are the political channels through which people’s concerns become political issues on the policy agenda. They link the people to the government. They are NOT the government itself. • Political Parties • Elections • News & Entertainment Media • Interest Groups
Policy Agenda • Definition: The policy agenda are issues that attract the serious attention of public officials. • Political issues arise when people disagree about a problem and how to fix it. • Some issues will be considered, and others will not. • A government’s policy agenda changes regularly.
Policymaking Institutions • Definition: Policymaking institutions are the branches of government charged with taking action on political issues. • Executive (President) – carries out the law • Bureaucracies (Federal and State) • Legislative (Congress – House & Senate) – make laws • Judicial (Federal and State) – interpret laws
Policies Impact People • Public Policy: a choice that government makes in response to a political issue
Policies Impact People • Impacts of Policies: • Does it solve the problem? • Does it create more problems? • Depending on the answer, policy impacts carry the political system back to its point of origin: the concerns of people.
Democracy • Definition: Democracy is a system of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to the public’s preferences.
Components of Traditional Democratic Theory: Robert Dahl • Equality in voting – one person, one vote • Effective participation – we have to have adequate and equal opportunities to express our preferences • Enlightened understanding – free press & speech • Citizen control of the agenda – we have the collective right to control the government’s agenda. It should not be controlled by any ONE group. • Inclusion – government must include, and extend rights to all those subject to its laws; citizenship must be open to everyone
Characteristics of democratic societies • Majority rule • Minority rights • representation
Types of democracies • Direct democracy – exists only on a small scale (example: New England town meetings) • Indirect democracy – otherwise known as representative democracy. We choose people to represent our needs and concerns and they create policy for society.
Theories of U.S. Democracy • Pluralist Theory • A theory of government and politics emphasizing that politics is mainly a competition among groups, each one pressing for its own preferred policies • Groups will work together • Public interest will prevail through bargaining and compromise • This competition is seen as a positive thing
Theories of U.S. Democracy • Elite and Class Theory • A theory of government and politics contending that societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal niceties of governmental organization • Not all groups equal • Policies benefit those with money and power • Belief that elites rule societies in many arenas: government, business, military, etc.
Theories of U.S. Democracy • Hyperpluralism • A theory of government and politics contending that groups are so strong that government is weakened. • Groups control policy and prevent government from acting • Difficulty in coordinating policy implementation • Confusing and contradictory policies result from politicians trying to placate every group – result is often “policy gridlock”
Challenges to Democracy • Increased Complexity of Issues– it has become difficult to know all we need to regarding government benefits, price supports, etc. • Limited Participation in Government – we don’t take our role in our democracy seriously enough • Escalating Campaign Costs – influence of PACs and money over democracy • Diverse Political Interests – too many interests, no real majority, nothing really gets accomplished (policy gridlock)
American Political Culture and Democracy • Political Culture: An overall set of values widely shared within a society. • American culture is diverse and comprised of: • Liberty • Egalitarianism – belief that we are all equal • Individualism • Laissez-faire – “hands off”, belief in free markets and limited govenment • Populism – supporting the rights of average citizens in their struggle against privileged elites, “put the people first”
A Culture War? • There is concern among some scholars that there is sharp polarization into liberal vs conservative political cultures in America • President Obama talked about there NOT being red and blue states, just the UNITED States. Is he right? • David Horsey LA Times Red v Blue States Part 1 • David Horsey Cartoon Part 2
How Active is American Government? • It spends about $3.7 trillion annually • It employs nearly 2.8 million civilians and 1.4 million members of the military • It owns one-third of the land • It occupies 3.2 billion square feet of office space • It owns and operates 400,000 nonmilitary vehicles
The Scope of Government in America • What are the differences between the parties when it comes to the role of government in the United States? • Are the goals of the nation reached best through government action or through means OTHER than government action?
Summary • Young people are apathetic about government and politics, even though they affect everyone. • Democratic government, which is how the United States is governed, consists of those institutions that make policy for the benefit of the people. • What government should do to benefit the people is a topic central to questions of American government.