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 series is for you.
You’ll examine the American political system, including its constitutional foundations and public policies. You’ll learn about U.S. institutions and U.S. political organizations while maintaining a perspective on the "big picture". What are the driving forces and persistent tendencies of American politics? Who governs America — how, when and why? Lectures highlight the main features of American politics and case studies will prompt you to think critically about what you have learned.
American politics has all the aspects of drama, but it has real meaning for people’s everyday lives. This introduction to the U.S. government will enable you to understand the origin of key narratives in U.S. political discourse and guide you through a complex system so that you can enable change in your communities.
Courses under this program: Course 1: American Government: Constitutional Foundations
Learn how early American politics informed the U.S. Constitution and why its promise of liberty and equality has yet to be fully realized.
Course 2: U.S. Political Institutions: Congress, Presidency, Courts, and Bureaucracy
Examine the inner workings of the three branches of the U.S. Federal Government
Course 3: Citizen Politics in America: Public Opinion, Elections, Interest Groups, and the Media
Learn about the forces in American politics that seek to influence the electorate and shift the political landscape.
Course 4: U.S. Public Policy: Social, Economic, and Foreign Policies
Learn about public policy in America and the dynamics of American politics.
“We the People” are the opening words of the U.S. Constitution, yet the original document did not give citizens much say in the election of their officials. Though some of those issues have been addressed, substantial barriers—gerrymandering, voter registration, and voter ID laws—still restrain the power of the vote. Why? How can a country, founded more than 200 years ago on the ideals of liberty, equality, and individualism, still struggle to empower all of its citizens equally?
This course explores the origins of U.S. political culture, how that culture informed the Constitution, and how that framework continues to influence the country’s politics and policies. We will examine the Constitution’s provisions for limited government, the division of power between the federal and state governments, and the forces that have made federalism a source of political conflict and change.
We will address how the Constitution not only established the structure of the U.S. government but guarantees personal freedoms and civil rights. These rights have been challenged and expanded in significant Supreme Court cases, which will help to illustrate how historically disadvantaged groups have struggled to realize the 14th Amendment's promise of equality.
How do the three branches of government operate? How is power shared among Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court? What role is played by federal agencies that have no direct constitutional authority oftheir own?
In this part of our series on American Government, we will examine the separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the role of voters, political parties, and the broader federal bureaucracy. We’ll explore how “the people” affect the behavior of members of Congress, what constitutes success in a president’s domestic and foreign policies, and how much power an unelected judiciary should have in a democratic system.
Public opinion has a powerful yet inexact influence on elected officials. Politicians risk their careers if they ignore it, yet its power is not easy to capture nor quantify. This course will look at how political parties, campaigns, social movements, special interests, and the news media all play a role in influencing public opinion.
We’ll examine the attributes of public opinion, how polling attempts to measure those attributes, and how they impact the decisions of policymakers. We’ll address the unique features of the two-party system in the U.S., how those parties realign themselves in response to shifting norms, and how their candidates are vetted behind the scenes before the start of a campaign.
Outside of the formal organization of party politics, groups representing various interests aim to affect a change through the political system. Special interest groups resemble political parties, but while parties try to influence elections, groups concentrate on gaining influence over policies. Meanwhile, social movements take place outside these established institutions, often in the form of protest demonstrations and rallies. All of these interests are filtered through the news media, which plays a critical role in shaping people’s images of politics.
This course will help you to understand how these forces shape American politics, from “invisible primaries” to election day and beyond.
Public policy puts laws into action. The executive branch directs the combined activities of the federal government to address a multitude of problems, from the environment to the economy. The policies of the United States affect social issues, economic growth, taxes, regulation, and foreign affairs. This course will take a broad view of public policy in America but will use specific examples, such as the 2008 economic downturn and climate change, to illustrate the wide-ranging effects of those policies.
We’ll address the intersection of religion and politics, and how issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage have played out in the political arena. We’ll discuss fiscal, monetary, welfare and income policy—what they are, what tools they involve, and what political divisions they create. We’ll examine partisan divisions over regulatory policy, and the basis for those divisions. Finally, we’ll trace the evolution of America’s position as a trading nation by examining trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
This course will also serve as an overview of American government, concentrating on overarching tendencies such as its fragmented power structure. The importance of these tendencies will be explained by showing how thoroughly each of them affects American politics.