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Harvard University

American Government

Harvard University via edX

This course may be unavailable.


American politics has all the aspects of drama, but it has real meaning for people’s everyday lives.

What are the foundations of the U.S. political system? How do leading institutions such as the presidency and Congress operate? Where do public opinion, political parties, groups, and the media fit in? What explains America’s economic, social, and foreign policies?

If exploring these questions interests you, then this is the course for you. This course is an introduction to the U.S. government that draws on political science and cases—such as the Iraq invasion and health care reform—to explain how the U.S. government system works.

No previous study of American politics needed. Join us on a journey into the heart of the U.S. governing system. This course is ideal for:

  • College and advanced placement high school students looking for an introduction to American government.
  • U.S.-based political science and government teachers looking for a way to augment their own courses.
  • Global teachers and educators looking to explain the American political system to their students and citizens.
  • Citizens in the U.S. and abroad who want to understand the workings of the U.S. political system.

HarvardX requires individuals who enroll in its courses on edX to abide by the terms of the edX honor code. HarvardX will take appropriate corrective action in response to violations of the edX honor code, which may include dismissal from the HarvardX course; revocation of any certificates received for the HarvardX course; or other remedies as circumstances warrant. No refunds will be issued in the case of corrective action for such violations. Enrollees who are taking HarvardX courses as part of another program will also be governed by the academic policies of those programs.

HarvardX pursues the science of learning. By registering as an online learner in an HX course, you will also participate in research about learning. Read our research statement to learn more.

Harvard University and HarvardX are committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational and work environment in which no member of the community is excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination or harassment in our program. All members of the HarvardX community are expected to abide by Harvard policies on nondiscrimination, including sexual harassment, and the edX Terms of Service. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact [email protected] and/or report your experience through the edX contact form.


I. Foundations

  1. Political culture
  2. Limited government
  3. Representative government
  4. Federalism
  5. Civil liberties
  6. Civil rights

II. Institutions

  1. Congress & constituency
  2. Congress & party
  3. Presidents & domestic policy
  4. Presidents & foreign policy
  5. Federal bureaucracy
  6. Judiciary & Supreme Court

III. Mass Politics

  1. Public opinion
  2. Political parties
  3. Campaigns & elections
  4. Political movements
  5. Interest groups
  6. News media

IV. Public Policy

  1. Social policy
  2. Fiscal & monetary policy
  3. Welfare & income policy
  4. Regulatory policy
  5. Foreign policy
  6. Dynamics of American politics

Taught by

Thomas E. Patterson


4.5 rating, based on 4 Class Central reviews

Start your review of American Government

  • This course is fantastic! I only watched the videos, because I wasn't available for any deeper involvement, but I think I'm likely to come back for full participation later, and I also consider buying the book attached with the course. The overview…
  • Dawn D Shaw
    I unfortunately didn't have the time to give this course the attention it deserved due to the course load I am currently taking but I intend on retaking this course in the future.
  • Brennan Mccloney
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    Sivananda Ramnath

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