PSCI 1101 Introduction to American Politics

Instructor Contact:

Adam Cayton


Course Overview:

This course is designed to introduce students to the main actors and institutions of U.S. national politics and the concepts that tie them together. We will approach this material as social scientists, so our goal is not only to understand how American politics works, but to explain why it operates the way it does. To accomplish this we will analyze American politics through the lens of collective action problems: interactions among groups of people with different goals to produce political outcomes. We will also explore how the solutions to past collective action problems influence the way politics is carried out in the U.S. today.


By the end of the semester you should be able to:

  1. Interpret various aspects of politics as collective action problems
  2. Define and discuss key concepts in American politics
  3. Use these concepts and collective action problems to explain real-world situations
  4. Explain, on a given day, what is happening in American politics

Because we will approach American politics from the perspective of social scientists, the class will emphasize critical thinking and answering questions that start with “why.” Our goal will be to seek systematic explanations for the behavior of the people involved in politics and the structure of American political institutions and to evaluate those explanations with evidence.

Required Text:

Main Text: Kernell, Samuel, Gary C. Jacobson, Thad Kousser, and Lynn Vavreck. 2013. The Logic of American Politics. 7th ed. Washington: CQ Press.

Supplemental Reader: Kernell, Samuel and Steven S. Smith. Principles and Practice of American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. 5th ed. Washington: CQ Press.


Exam 1 – 20%
Exam 2 – 20%
Exam 3 – 20%
Assignment 1 – 10%
Assignment 2 – 10%
Threaded Discussions – 20%

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Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado