Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


17.20 Introduction to American Politics or receiving a 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement Program®United States Government and Politics exam.

Course Description

The United States Congress is the most open of the national branches of government and therefore the most closely studied. The purpose of this course is to find ways to deal with the vast array of information we have about Congress. The two basic questions we will be asking are (1) what does Congress do and why, and (2) what are the various ways of studying congressional behavior?

To accomplish these goals, this subject is organized around two major learning modules: Lectures / discussion and paper / problems. The lecture / discussion part will expose you to the basic social facts about Congress: What it takes to get elected, how Congress works internally, and how the relationships between Congress and the rest of the federal government are organized. The paper will focus on the 2016 congressional election and its aftermath. It will allow you to analyze the outcomes of this important national election in light of the research on elections and internal politics you will learn about. The problems will help you internalize spatial models as applied to legislatures. There will also be a take-home exercise that will allow you to explore how gerrymandering affects election outcomes.

This subject introduces students to Congress, primarily undergraduates, but graduate students who have never studied Congress are welcome, too. It is more empirical than theoretical, although theory encroaches here and there.


Class attendance and discussion (including roundtable contributions) 20%
Problem sets 20%
Midterm exam 15%
Redistricting exercise 15%
Paper 15%
Final exam 15%