Unit 3: Elections and Interest Groups
Students should understand the mechanisms that allow citizens to organize and communicate their interests and concerns. Among these are political parties, elections, political action committees (PACs), interest groups, and the mass media. Students should examine the significance of the historical evolution of the U.S. party system, the functions and structures of political parties, and the effects they have on the political process. Examination of issues of party reform and of campaign strategies and financing in the electronic age provides students with important perspectives. A study of elections, election laws, and election systems on the national and state levels will help students understand the nature of both party and individual voting behavior. Treatment of the development and the role of PACs in elections and the ideological and demographic differences between the two major parties, as well as third parties, forms an important segment of this material. Students must also consider the political roles played by a variety of lobbying and interest groups. Important features of this section of the course include an explanation for why some interests are represented by organized groups while others are not, and the consequences of this difference in representation. Students study what interest groups do, how they do it, and how this affects both the political process and public policy. Why are certain segments of the population able to exert pressure on political institutions and actors in order to obtain favorable policies? The media are a major force in U.S. politics. Students are expected to understand the role of the media in the political system. In addition, the impact of the media on public opinion, voter perceptions, campaign strategies, electoral outcomes, agenda development, and the images of officials and candidates should be explored and understood by students. Understanding the often symbiotic and frequently conflictual relationship among candidates, elected officials, and the media is also important. Students should be aware of the goals and incentives of the media as an industry and how those goals influence the nature of news coverage. They should also understand the consequences of the increasing concentration of major media outlets in fewer hands, as well as the growing role of the Internet.