Note that a lot of content comes from relevant publications and the OpenStax book (Krutz, G., & Waskiewicz, S. (2021). American Government 3e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax.)

Logistics and Introduction

  • no recording
  • occasional attendance pools/quizzes
  • two midterms (02/20 and 03/29) and a cumulative final
  • data assignment

Approaches within American Politics:

  • the study of political behavior:
    • what does the public actually want?
    • how do interest group influence policy?
    • what influence who wins an election?
  • studying specific kinds of organizations - institutions
    • Why does congress do so little (or so much)?
    • What predicts how the Supreme Court will rule in a lawsuit?
    • What pushes state governments to adopt policies?
  • Yet there is a also a “separate” branch on race, ethnicity, and politics.
    • technically those considerations should be embedded into the first two approaches, yet from a developmental perspective this is not what happened

Approaches in this course:

  • methodological individualism: explain political phenomenon as a result of (aggregates of) individual decisions
  • individual rationality: explain political phenomena as product of people pursuing subjective interest
    • but of course in reality, what are their “subjective interest” is unknown. (e.g. poor voters voting for candidates could make them even poorer)
    • also accidents happen, hence it can be difficult to study only a single event, v.s. comparing across a category of events = inference by drawing parallels with other similar events!

Key questions we will ask:

  • often decisions are based on a few important actors. Who are they?
  • What do they want?

Theoretical Frameworks and Political traditions

Course sign-up and a prisoner’s dilemma: because students can choose to sign-up for “shopping” classes

  $S_2$ No Extra Classes $S_2$ Extra Classes
$S_1$ No Extra Classes Low Churn (2,2) $S_2$ exploits (4,1)
$S_1$ Extra Classes $S_1$ exploits (1,4) High Churn (3,3)

In this setup:

  • the numbers indicate rankings for each, e.g. for $S_2$: 1) $S_2$ exploit, 2) low churn, 3) high churn, 4) $S_1$ exploits.
  • Signing up for extra classes are always individually rational (at the expense of others)

But what if: social norm solution: signing up extra cause social isolation?

Model: a system of concepts that relates series of observable phenomenon to one another. “A way to navigate more efficiently through those concepts”. How is it useful in social science?

  • brief summary of existing knowledge/factors and allow for accumulation of additional knowledge easier (e.g. understand what questions/factors are relevant in order to understand novel scenarios)
  • can be tested
  • can be used to guide decisions we make

Politics as Collective Action

All political action is ultimately individual action. However, only when groups of individuals come together to take collective action can they make political decisions that lead to change


Recall that

  • Left-wing: Left-wing believes in that they believe society is best served with an expanded role for the government.
  • Conservative: People on the right believe that the best outcome for society is achieved when individual rights and civil liberties are paramount and the role of gov is minimized

  • Liberal: Left-wing, federalist. Prefer more regulation and services like free universal health care to be provided by the government to all citizens.

  • Conservative: Right-wing, anti-federalist, Prefer smaller government, less regulation, most services to be provided by the private sector in a free market, and a literal interpretation of the Constitution
    • conservatives desire security, predictability and authority more than liberals do, and liberals are more comfortable with novelty, nuance and complexity.
    • so conservatives opposes gay marriage, abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
  • Federalists wanted a stronger national government and the ratification of the Constitution to help properly manage the debt and tensions

Last but not least

Democrats Republics
In a democracy, the community of people are considered to hold power over how they are governed. Kings and tyrants are seen as threats to the innate rights of the people. As such, all eligible citizens get equal say in decisions. Republics are in opposition to rulership by a single person. All eligible citizens get equal say in decisions through elected representatives. Unalienable rights of individuals are protected by law to safeguard against a majority abusing the minority

Ideas/Insights from “Tragedy of Commons”

  • morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed (i.e. time and context dependent).
    • As a result, it is very difficult to make laws persistent. Hence the current epicyclic solution is, by law we delegate to bureaus
  • mutual coercion. the social arrangement that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion
    • on tax systems: Who enjoys taxes? We all grumble about them. But we accept compulsory taxes because we recognize that voluntary taxes would favor the conscienceless. We institute and support taxes and other coercive devices to escape the horror of the commons.
    • another example: band-robbing. We thereby infringe on the freedom of would-be robbers we neither deny nor regret.
    • “individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin (i.e. deplete themselves); once they see the ncessity of mutual coecion, they become free to pursue other goals” $\implies$ “Freedom is the recognition of necessity”
  • why is it so hard for reforms to happen? Automatic rejection of proposed is based on two unconscious assumptions a) that the status quo is perfect; b) that the choice we face is between reform and no action $\implies$ no action at all while we wait for the perfect proposal. But to be fair, we should see the status quo as an action, and then we can make better comparison.
  • “perhaps the simplest summary of this analysis of man’s population problems is this: the commons is justifiable only under conditions of low population density” $\gets$ we abandoned commons n food gathering, enclosing farms and restricting pastures; somewhat later we saw that the commons as a place for waste disposal would also have to be abandoned $\implies$ humans (in a large scale) can’t establish self-organization to make a commons work/sustainable

How People become political?

  • The gradual process of developing values and beliefs, of people becoming who they are as adults, is socialization, and the slow development of who a person becomes as a political being is political socialization. This process shapes your current political belief, and is influenced by countless factors including partly your genetics but also the environment (e.g. your hometown, school, etc.).

    Your social and physical environments do not determine your political personality, but they can have an important influence.

  • The family is usually considered the most important influence on both a person’s overall socialization and their political socialization.

    • but this could also be a complicated factor. How these changing family structures and living conditions impact political socialization?
      • e.g. As of 2016, a higher percentage (52 percent) of 18-to-29-year-olds in the United States were living with their parents than at any time since 1900. Among wealthy countries, the percentage of 15-to-29 year-olds living with their parents varied from about 80 percent in Italy to 30 percent in Canada.
    • but also broader family environment could affect your political view: In China, caring for one’s parents is a sacred duty; in Norway, it is more often seen as an obligation of the government.
  • Another important factor is your peers, especially when you grow older/more mature, people tend to spend more time with your peers than parents

    • To the extent that young people, and indeed all individuals, can choose their social networks rather than being placed in them by virtue of their location, it is more likely that peer networks will reinforce existing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors rather than change them.
    • One complicating factor is that now, your peers/social network can be virtual, hence “a young person’s peers can be almost anywhere in the world”. In this case, political scientists are still trying to decipher what this means for political socialization.
  • Other interesting factors include:

    • Ethnicity: people from dominant ethnic group may assume that politics and government should favor their interests, as they are the majority. Ethnic minorities, in contrast, may be socialized to feel the sting of discrimination and to view the government as no friend.
    • Religion: atheists are more likely to believe that governmental policy should not be based on religious principles.
  • As people are socialized, they become part of larger groupings of individuals with common characteristics. The next sections discuss these larger groupings.

How people express their political identity

  • The shared political attitudes, values, goals, and practices common to members of a political group, such as a country, a party, or any other political organization or grouping, is the group’s political culture.
  • A country’s political culture frames how individuals in that society see themselves, as well as their relation to gov.
    • e.g. researchers asked Americans and Europeans, “What’s more important in our society, that everyone can be free to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state or that the state plays an active role in society so as to guarantee that nobody is in need?” Almost six in 10 Americans surveyed responded that individual freedom was more important, while nearly eight in 10 Lithuanians, whose country was a part of the collectivist Soviet Union for nearly 50 years, responded that the state’s active role was more important.
    • therefore, people from United States *tend* to prioritize personal freedom and individual responsibility over more community-centered values. Of course, not all Americans favor individual freedom over state intervention = no stereotyping!
  • Those within a society who, by virtue of their wealth, status, position, and power, have the greatest influence over the country’s political agenda, its policy decisions, and its decision-making cadre are the society’s political elite.
    • The degree of influence and domination of elite culture varies from country to country.
      • At the extreme, in North Korea, the ruling class, led by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, controls every aspect of political life.
      • At the other side would be New Zealand. But even the relatively egalitarian New Zealand, however, those with money, status, and power tend to set the agenda, influence policy decisions, and dominate the decision-making process.
  • The broadest culture within a country is its mass culture (e.g. what movies you like to watch). The lines between elite and mass cultures are not always distinct.
    • Prior to the rise of newspapers, radio, and television, mass culture (including political culture) did not exist. All culture was local.
  • However, as media options proliferate, mass culture diminishes and minority cultures flourish. Mass culture, including mass political culture, is weakening.
    • e.g. About 60 percent of the adult population in America watched the presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. In 2020, even during a highly contentious presidential campaign between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, fewer than 30 percent of adults watched the debates

Collective Dilemma

Key question: thinking through a collective action framework: How do people organize themselves and behave?

Examples of Collective Actions:

  • Speaker of the House Election in 2023

  • Columbia/Barnard course enrollment

Making Group Decisions and Collective Dilemma:

  • If all people agreed on everything, there would be no collective dilemmas. But because individuals do have differing needs, preferences, and goals, they have to overcome challenges to make a decision. Whenever two or more individuals need to make a plan or resolve a conflict and those involved do not agree on the solution, there is a collective dilemma.
    • e.g. For 18 days in 2013 and then again for 35 days in 2018–2019, the US government shut down because Congress and the president could not agree on ways to fund federal operations.
  • causes of collective dilemma include
    1. The first is when the participants disagree because they have irreconcilable preferences/differences.

      • e.g. reduce debt increase or aid to Ukraine
    2. (coordination problem) when participants generally agree on what they want to do but disagree over the details. Collective action will success only if you do get people doing it

      • protest march: a million people protested on the same day/time
      • political institutions make public decision can be seen as a solution to this problem
    3. when individual motivations are contrary to the groups’ mutual interests = collective action problem. E.g. individuals, acting rationally in pursuit of their self-interest, have incentives to make decisions that are harmful to the interests of others

      • note that the first two can be seen as some kind of coordination costs. This problem, like with prisoner’s dilemmas, is that individuals have strong incentives to do things that are not socially beneficial.

      • this problem can be broadly categorized into:

        1. tragedy of the commons: depletion of a resource available to all (e.g. threats to environment/health);relevant to a resource that can be exhausted

          • e.g. fresh water
          • if everyone has access to a commons, then there is an incentive for them to take more than needed $\implies$ can sell this scarce resource $\implies$ benefit today without consideration of future consequences (depletion)
            • i.e. users ignores cost imposed on others, focus on own short-term benefits
          • too rapid inclusion of others: new users do not share a similar understanding of how a resource work $\implies$ members of the initial community may feel threatened and hence start to join race to exploit the resource
        2. free riding: not participating in a group activity nonetheless benefit from the public activity; also really hard to exclude people from using it, and not exhausted by use

          • e.g. Columbia protest for increasing of pay, where many people can benefit without joining the protest

          • in small groups, this might be fine through mutual peer pressure and you care about others feelings. In larger political world, the problem of free riding is much harder to spot and manage
          • e.g. to help climate change, the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, the agreement of 197 countries to limit global warming. However, in reality only a few really implemented those changes. As a result, change is difficult to achieve, given its tendency to favor the status quo. (to suggest that climate change politics are only a matter of free riding would be an oversimplification.)
        3. prisoner’s dilemma: individuals act strategically in ways that ultimately harm themselves, demonstrates why it can be challenging to get allies to work together.

          • consider two people being caught by the police, and is asked separately to point out if the others committed crime:


            This is the prisoner’s dilemma: individuals, acting strategically in their own self-interest (want to accuse others), have incentives that lead them to take actions that result in unnecessarily negative outcomes for both parties.

          • an example in real life is: Two opposing political candidates may each prefer to run only positive campaign ads, but each fears the other will “go negative” to gain an advantage. Both candidates consequently run negative ads, which tarnish the reputations of each.

          • one key feature of prisoner’s dilemma is that the optimal policy for one person $\neq$ the optimal policy for the entire group

        The tragedy of the commons and the prospect of free riding are especially relevant for slow-growing crises like climate change.

Note that in practice, a bunch of these problems could come up combinatorially.

Potential Solutions to Collective Dilemma

Solutions to those collective dilemma include include:

  1. rules for making a decision when there is irreconcilable preference, e.g. majority vote.

    • majority voting: more than 50% agreed
    • plurality voting: proposal with most votes
    • super-majority: requires sometimes 60%, 67%, or even 75% to agree. Otherwise status-quo = no change
      • e.g. supermajority is found in most US courtrooms = decide if to jail a person
      • e.g. constitutional changes subject to supermajority votes and laws changeable by a simple majority.
        • A constitution typically outlines the government’s general powers and duties, while laws fill in the specifics regarding these matters.
      • One sensible rationale is that the greater the consequences of a decision, the greater the need for a supermajority to guard against making rash or incorrect decisions.
    • Whenever a supermajority rule exists, the status quo is more difficult to change.
  2. delegate decision making to a person, or do everything by group decision when there is disagreement over details

    • Delegating power to a single person reduces transaction costs but increases conformity costs. Group decision-making is likely to reduce conformity costs but to increase transaction costs.
    • transactional costs: how much time and effort to make a decision/implement the solution
      • e.g. decide amongst 300 people to agree on where to eat = high transactional cost
      • e.g. If you are deeply committed to maintain the status quo, then you just need to raise the transaction costs high enough so that no changes can be enacted.
    • conformity costs are the “price” those who do not get what they want must
      • e.g. in primary/secondary school, high conformity cost as everyone needs to study the same curriculum. In college, lower as you can choose your major/minor, but higher transactional costs as it takes additional registration effort

    Political Institutions as solutions to those Problems of Collective Behavior!

    Institutions: a social structure, rule or pattern than can influence collective behavior. For example, the supreme court, or the university registrar (determines rule of how you can join the class if you are on the waitlist)

  3. the most difficult amongst all

    1. resolving tragedy of commons

      • for small groups: Each of the three main types of collective action problems is easier to solve, at least in principle, when the problems arise within small groups of people (such as families or tribal units) in which the members know each other well

        • provide suitable rewards and enforce appropriate punishments are the keys to avoiding or mitigating collective action problems.
      • for large groups: collective action problems involving large numbers of people cannot rely on personal relationships

        • central institution (the government) the authority to protect the commons through force. Alternatively, privatize them. But there are also problems
        • however, gov may use the resource for the benefits of the elites
        • The more politically powerful the group previous exploiting the commons, the more difficult it is for elected officials to protect the resource through privatization. Even if no pressure, it is difficult to set the right price “if the government sets the prices (of fishing permits) too low, the resource will be depleted, and if it sets the prices too high, the community will be deprived of a valuable resource.”
      • for communities: member roughly know each other

        • previous solutions are somewhat pessimistic of human’s ability to device long-term, sustainable institutions. In practice, there are a lot of instances when human self-organizations are effective

          • groups of people who can identify one another (e.g. via media) are more likely to draw on trust and reciprocity.
          • e.g. those with reciprocity gain a positive reputation, and others become willing to cooperate = evolved norms
          • lower the perceived cost: users understand the dynamics of the commons, and hence value its sustainability
        • Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom proposed a relatively effective solution without sovereign or privatization.

          1. First, the community must engage in collective decision-making so that all relevant interests can participate.
          2. Second, the rules the community makes must be clear so that members know what is allowed and what is not.

          If these conditions are in place, the decisions the community makes are likely to be wise and enforceable

    2. resolving free rider: disincentivize free riders

      1. e.g. keep groups small, or give punishments to those who don’t. However, this requires additional monitoring cost
      2. e.g. social solidarity: pay taxes because that is what good, patriotic citizens do.
    3. resolving prisoners’ dilemma: make them cooperate

      • A participant is least likely to defect when they know that the other participant will punish them if they do. (e.g. if they each know they will be punished if they defect, then they are more likely to remain silent.)
      • Once one of the parties defects in a prisoner’s dilemma setting, it is not easy to get the participants to cooperate later.
        • As in the persistent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, cases where any two groups are locked in intractable disagreements exemplify how tit-for-tat retaliation dominates any possibility of mutual agreement.
        • Avoiding this outcome requires a third party that can enforce cooperation or punish those who defect to induce future cooperation.

Example: How does policing help solve collective action problem by intervention?

Consider for a normal individual to intervene and prevent a bad action $A$ to happen:

  Positive Negative
Intervene prevent action (A), gain pride (P) takes effort (E), may be harmed (H), may face retaliation (R)
No Intervention   Action occurs

Therefore, a rational person will intervene if

\[\text{intervene if: }\quad P - E - \pi_1 R - \pi_2 H - (1-\pi_3)A > -A\]

where $\pi_1$ is prob of retaliation happens, $\pi_2$ is when that person is harmed, etc.

But if we have coordination, what could change? (e.g. a group of people intervening at the same time)

  • probabilities would change (e.g. less likely to be retaliated). $\pi_1,\pi_2 \downarrow$, $\pi_3 \uparrow$
  • benefit/costs would change (e.g. less effort needed $E$)

Written laws can provide this “improvement”, as it can help people coordinate enforcement.

  • but of course, don’t forget conformity cost such as make some people particularly prone to punishments

What’s different for designated specialist (e.g. having a police department)? They can still be modeled as individuals we had before, but

  Positive Negative
Intervene prevent action (A), gain pride (P) takes effort (E), may be harmed (H), may face retaliation (R)
No Intervention   Action occurs, Discipline (D)
  • probabilities change (e.g. $\pi_3$ increases as they are trained)
  • you get an extra cost of enforcers, hence more likely the action being prevented to happen!
\[\text{intervene if: }\quad P - E - \pi_1 R - \pi_2 H - (1-\pi_3)A > -A\textcolor{red}{-D}\]

like providing public goods, a good solution is to “force” the production, i.e.

Institutions as solutions to collective action problem. A single institution can solve/raise multiple “problems”:

  • e.g. (-) police enforcers can preserve group inequality, e.g. more south American drinking alcohol $\implies$ being policed more often $\implies$ treats unequal treatments to south American $\implies$ being checked on/cautioned more than other ethnic groups
  • e.g. (+) written laws can coordinate enforcement AND protect property

But this beg several questions/understandings:

  • when and why do institutions change?
  • When are they resistant to change?
  • How are institutions chosen?

Institutional Change

Political Institutions can be modeled as increasing returns processes. As a result:

  1. a wide range of outcomes can result from same initial conditions
  2. small actions at the right time can gave large implications for institutional form
  3. when an event occur matter! (esp. early changes matters)
  4. once begun, change is difficult (hard to reverse, i.e. path dependence)

What is increasing returns and path dependence? From “Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics” by Paul Pierson

  • the concept of Path Dependence can be used in various ways. Here, the author means

    1. specific patterns of timing and sequence matter;
    2. large consequences may result from relatively “small” or contingent events; (also see increasing returns)
    3. particular courses of action, once introduced, can be virtually impossible to reverse; (also see increasing returns)

    those are different from other prominent modes of argument and explaination in political science $\implies$ attribute “large” outcomes to “large” causes

  • Increasing returns, or self-reinforcing process, refers to the case that “preceding steps in a particular direction induce further movement in the same direction”. As a result, the relative benefits of the current activity (or the cost of switching) compared with other possible options increase over time.

    • e.g. the Polya urn process in which each time you pick a ball, you need to add a ball of the same color into the urn $\implies$ small/random picks in the beginning gives a large effect to the final equilibrium configuration of balls.
    • therefore, sequence is crucial (path dependent), and earlier events matter much more than later ones
  • insights from increasing returns in economics

    • the most prominent example is perhaps on technology: a particular technology may achieve a decisive advantage over competitors, although it is not necessarily the most efficient alternative in the long run. This is because when it is subject to increasing returns (higher pay-off when more user uses it), being the fastest out of the gate becomes critical. Then, once positive feedback effects kick in, competitors are excluded and people are locked in this technology (e.g. “QWERTY” keyboard)

      However, not all technologies work like this. Arthur (1994) listed the four criteria

      1. large set-up/fixed costs: so that a) it becomes smaller for the company when production increases b) individual users have incentive to stick with a single option
      2. learning effects: the more you use it, the more knowledge gained in this system, and this loop continues/spur further innovations (e.g. plugin system)
      3. coordination effects: benefits an individual receives from a particular activity increase as others adopt the same option.
      4. adaptive expectations: users are willing to adapt their behaviors towards their future expectation of a product (even if it is bad)
    • examples that worked like this include

      • initial centers of economic activity may act like a magnet and influence the locational decisions and investments of other economic actor (e.g. silicon valley)
      • (North 1990a, 95) new institutions often entail high fixed or start-up costs, and they involve considerable learning effects, coordination effects, and adaptive expectations. Established institutions generate powerful inducements that reinforce their own stability and further development.
      • Additionally, institutional arrangements induce complementary organizational forms, which in turn may generate new complementary institution
  • how/why is political science related to this idea of increasing returns?

    • collective nature of politics in economics, I make individual decisions (e.g. switch firms) and the outcome is aggregated by the market. In politics, your decision depend to a considerable degree on your confidence that a large number of other people will do the same $\implies$ positive feedback frequently due to adaptive expectations
      • recall that in politics, creating conditions favorable to collective action is a principal issue in political life
    • institutional density of politics. Institutions and policies may encourage individuals and organizations to invest in specialized skills, deepen relationships with other individuals and organizations, and develop particular political and social identities. These activities increase attractiveness of existing institutional arrangements relative to hypothetical alternatives
    • political authority and power asymmetries. relatively small disparities in political resources (e.g. power) among contending groups may widen dramatically over time as positive feedback sets in. For example, a group with slightly more power could change rules of the game designed to enhance their power
    • complexity and opacity of politics. in economics, there is often a clear metric (e.g. market price) on how good you/your company is performing. Politics is a far, far murkier environment.
      • researchers argue that actors who operate in a social context of high complexity and opacity are heavily biased in the way they filter information into existing “mental maps” $\implies$ confirming information is incorporated/dis-confirming is filtered out $\implies$increasing returns
      • harder to “reverse course” in politics than in economics $\implies$ path dependent
        • unlike competition in economics that would allow a sub-optimal firm eventually be replaced, political institutions rarely confront a dense environment of competing institutions that will instantly capitalize on inefficient performance
        • short-time horizon of political actors. many actors are interested in short-term consequences because the decision of voters are take in the short turn $\implies$ pay little attention to long term consequences
        • power asymmetry. political actors may create rule that make preexisting arrangement hard to reverse (e.g. to protect themselves); and there is often high barriers of reform (e.g. unanimity requirement in EU)

“Research Idea”: how can tech such as VR change the density problem

Research Design

An overview:

  • In legal practice, law determines what facts are relevant, but you have to decide what (e.g. numbers) to demonstrate

  • in advocacy sector, people care the effect of a proposed policy
  • in consulting, what changes would affect certain variables in a system

In a quantitative study, you may want to:

  1. come up with a model for a key concept (e.g. poverty)
  2. develop variables to measure the key concept
  3. develop hypotheses how variables should relate, and other competing models
  4. collect data
  5. test (statistically) whether the relationship holds in your data

Keep in mind when you are measuring quantities

  • e.g. annual reports released by institutions might be understating; survey results depend on who you asked

  • e.g. how to measure democratic participation? e.g. voter turn outs, protest participation, watching presidential debates. All of them measure slightly different things, and you need to be clear if your method is justified.
  • certain data could be biased. e.g. posters showing low support for a president could be due to only people dislike him is in the pool

How do you fix the above problems? Consider a candidate claiming election is going to be fraudulent

  • gather data on many elections where one candidate claims it will be fraudulent, compare them
  • gather data on many elections where one candidate claims it will be fraudulent and some without, compare them

Statements about causation make claims about what happens with and without some factor, so must define both kinds of cases

More Examples: a report of studying 173 mass violence happened in US in the past few years

  • found in those 173 mass violences in common = at some point had suffered from mental illness $\implies$ does not mean mental illness will cause those violences!
  • also does not teach us about how these acts can be prevented

Institutions in US

How successful/unsuccessful institutions can be at solving the collective action problem?

Origin of Separation of Power: the US separation of power can be traced back to colonial governments by the British. Why did British monarch create strong legislature (alongside the local governments) in it $N$ American colonies?

  • purpose of colonies was resource extraction; but governors have the incentive to pocket more than efficient for the crown
  • then, this is used as a way for the crown to control/constrain those local elites

so it is lodged in the economic reason of those colonial power

First of all, several key terms

  • confederation = each state is loosely related, like its separate countries = high degree of freedom/autonomy

  • unitary = power is concentrated in the hands of the central government, while provinces and regions do not enjoy large autonomy
    • has nothing to do with democracy/monarchy
  • federal = federal government as sovereign entity, but also given lower level units (states) to have their own laws

    A flow chart depicts the three general systems of government: the unitary system, the federation, and the confederation. The unitary system flowchart starts with the National Government, which flows down to the States. Below the chart, it says, “Authority is concentrated in the central government. Examples: United Kingdom, Japan, Sweden.” The Federation flow chart starts with the People on top. The flow branches down and splits between two boxes; the states, and the National Government. Below this chart, it says, “Authority is divided between central and state governments and is derived from the people. Examples: Canada, India, United States under the Constitution”. The Confederation flow chart starts with the States on top, with an arrow flowing down to the National Government. Under this chart, it says “Authority is concentrated in states. Example: United States under the Articles of Confederation”.

  • unicameral legislature has only one chamber, or body, that makes decisions.

  • bicameral legislature has two chambers, often with different procedures and powers, that ultimately must work together to make policy and exercise other legislative powers and responsibilities.

The US Constitution Basics

The US Constitution The Constitution of the United States established America’s national government and fundamental laws, and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens.

  • Its 7 sections (or Articles) detail the core components of how the framers wanted the government to run the country. For example, no the duties of the three main parts of government: the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch

  • The Bill of Rights were first 10 amendments guaranteeing basic individual protections, such as freedom of speech and religion, that became part of the Constitution in 1791. To date, there are 27 constitutional amendments.

Some short historical facts about it:

  • Under America’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation, the national government was weak and states operated like independent countries.

  • At the 1787 convention, delegates devised a plan for a stronger federal government with three branches—executive, legislative and judicial—along with a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch would have too much power. This is the US Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, signed on September 17, 1787.

Its content in summary (from

  1. Article 1: Legislative Branch: the U.S. Congress makes the laws for the United States. Congress has two parts, called “Houses,” the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  2. Article 2: Executive Branch: the President, Vice-President, Cabinet, and Departments under the Cabinet Secretaries carry out the laws made by Congress.
  3. Article 3: Judicial Branch: the Supreme Court decides court cases according to US Constitution. The courts under the Supreme Court decide criminal and civil court cases according to the correct federal, state, and local laws.
  4. Article 4: States’ powers: States have the power to make and carry out their own laws. State laws that are related to the people and problems of their area. States respect other states laws and work together with other states to fix regional problems.
  5. Article 5: Amendments: The Constitution can be changed. New amendments can be added to the US Constitution with the approval by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress (67, 281) and three-fourth vote by the states (38).
  6. Article 6: Federal powers: The Constitution and federal laws are higher than state and local laws. All laws must agree with the US Constitution.
  7. Article 7: Ratification: The Constitution was presented to George Washington and the men at the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, Representatives from twelve out of the thirteen original states signed the Constitution. From September 1787 to July 1788, the states meet, talked about, and finally voted to approve the Constitution

A few selected amendments which is important/interesting (IMO):

  • 2nd People have the right to have a weapon to protect themselves.
  • 4th The government cannot arrest a person or search their property unless there is “probable cause.”
  • 13th Slavery is illegal in the United States. (1865)
  • 14th Every person born in the USA is a citizen. An immigrant can become a naturalized citizen. (1868)
  • 20th The President is inaugurated in January. Congress begins to meet in January. (1933).
  • 21st Alcohol is legal. Each state can make laws about making, selling, and drinking alcohol. (1933).
  • 22nd The President cannot serve for more than two terms. (1951).

The textbook’s take on the Constitution:

  • should not be seen as a group of like-minded men aligned in their lofty thinking regarding rights and freedoms; you should not refrain from proposing changes just because you admire the longevity

  • was designed largely out of necessity following the failure of the first revolutionary government, and it featured a series of pragmatic compromises among its disparate stakeholders. It

Origin of the US Constitution

How did the Constitution come about?

The most significant contributions of Locke, a seventeenth-century English philosopher, were his ideas regarding the relationship between government and natural rights, which were believed to be God-given rights to life, liberty, and property.

A painting shows John Locke.

for example:

  • The English Bill of Rights, heavily influenced by Locke’s ideas, enumerated the rights of English citizens and explicitly guaranteed rights to life, liberty, and property.
  • Perhaps the most important of Locke’s ideas was regarding the origins and purpose of government.
    • Most Europeans of the time believed the institution of monarchy had been created by God, and kings and queens had been divinely appointed to rule. Locke, however, theorized that human beings, not God, had created government.
    • Locked believed in social contract: people sacrificed a small portion of their freedom and consented to be ruled in exchange for the government’s protection of their lives, liberty, and property.
  • The desire to limit the power of government is closely related to the belief that people should govern themselves $\iff$ the idea of representative government (people vote for choosing representatives)

A brief history, starting with Pre-revolutionary Period

  1. US colonists lived under the rule of the British government for more than a century
  2. In 1763, Seven Years War between Great Britain and France came to an end.
    • Even though US colonists fought alone side British, they were forbidden to purchase land or settle west of the Appalachian Mountains (belonged to the French).
    • To raise revenue for post-war, British also imposed of direct taxes: taxes imposed on individuals, yet North American colonists were not allowed to elect representatives to the British Parliament who made this law.
    • other similar regulations include Stamp Act (1765), which required that almost all paper goods, such as diplomas, land deeds, contracts, and newspapers, have revenue stamps placed on them; and Townshend Acts (1767), which imposed taxes on many everyday objects such as glass, tea, and paint.
  3. In 1768, US colonists decided to boycott British goods as a mean to show dissent. The British then sent a warship to the city in 1768.
  4. on the evening of March 5, 1770, an altercation erupted outside the customs house, and soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing five colonists and injuring six others. Boston Massacre
  5. more resistance in 1773, such as Boston’s Tea Party, to threw its cargo of tea, owned by the British East India Company, into the water to protest British policies.
  6. In 1774, British responded by passing a series of laws called the Coercive Acts, intended to punish Boston for leading resistance
    • virtually abolished town meetings in Massachusetts and otherwise interfered with the colony’s ability to govern itself.
    • This assault on Massachusetts and its economy enraged people throughout the colonies, and delegates from all the colonies except Georgia formed the First Continental Congress
  7. On July 2, 1776, Congress declared American independence from Britain and two days later signed the Declaration of Independence.
    • drafted by Thomas Jefferson, basically on the belief that “God, he wrote, had given everyone the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People had created governments to protect these rights and consented to be governed by them so long as government functioned as intended.”

Articles of Confederation: basically having

  • no executive or judicial branches
  • unicameral legislature with equal representation
  • limited central government powers, state responsible for implementing central laws
  1. aimed to create a new government strong enough to win the country’s independence but not so powerful that it would deprive people. Thus, a confederation was created—an entity in which independent, self-governing states form a union

  2. The final draft of the Articles of Confederation, which formed the basis of the new nation’s government, was accepted by Congress in November 1777. However, as you will soon see, this faced problem of establishing a (too) weak central government that was unable to fund itself, regulate trade, or enforce laws.

  3. However, this soon people realized that the Articles had created a central government too weak to function effectively.

    Weakness of the Articles of Confederation Why Was This a Problem? Collective Action Problem?
    The national government could not impose taxes on citizens. It could only request money from the states. Requests for money were usually not honored. As a result, the national government did not have money to pay for national defense or fulfill its other responsibilities. free-rider = central government provides some services, but in return you do not give anything back
    The national government could not regulate foreign trade or interstate commerce. The government could not prevent foreign countries from hurting American competitors by shipping inexpensive products to the United States. It could not prevent states from passing laws that interfered with domestic trade. coordination problem = absent of a single policy for people, hence people act on their own plans
    The national government could not raise an army. It had to request the states to send men. State governments could choose not to honor Congress’s request for troops. This would make it hard to defend the nation. free-rider, etc.
    Each state had only one vote in Congress regardless of its size. Populous states were less well represented.  
    The Articles could not be changed without a unanimous vote to do so. Problems with the Articles could not be easily fixed.  
    There was no national judicial system. Judiciaries are important enforcers of national government power.  

    Additional collective action problems unaddressed:

    • no central currency (coordination problem)
  4. In 1786, Shays’ Rebellion essentially acted as the trigger for people to find a solution and resolve problems related to commerce, members of Congress called for a revision of the Articles of Confederation.

    • Led by Daniel Shays, the heavily indebted farmers marched to a local courthouse demanding relief.
    • the incident panicked the governor of Massachusetts, who called upon the national government for assistance.
    • However, with no power to raise an army, the government had no troops at its disposal.

The development of the Constitutions

Can be seen as an approach to solve collective action problems evident under Articles of Confederation, with a central government being too weak.

An interesting side note when looking at the debate between those large and small states: Who has the most power in bargaining situation, where agreement is necessary for creation of collective good?

  • a state whose presence for this creation of collective good is very important, i.e. will hurt a lot if they decided to drop out
  • basically, it depends on the payoff if the agreement is made/fails
    • without which: small states more vulnerable to attacks
    • with which: large states benefit more (e.g. economically) from stability
  1. Because the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation proved impossible to overcome, the convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787 decided to create an entirely new government.

  2. There, a few major points of contention among fifty-five delegates as Philedelphia was

    • Small States vs. Large States: each state one vote (New Jersey Plan) or based on population size (Virginia Plan)?
      • Virginia Plan: preferred by large states and nationalists
        • bicameral legislature
        • representation based on population
        • national government could make any law necessary
      • New Jersey Plan:
        • unicameral legislature
        • equal representation of all states
        • limited national government authority, but power of do direct taxation
      • e.g. still relevant in debate today, whether representation should be proportional to citizen population or just population
    • Slavery and Freedom: Although some southerners shared similar sentiments, none of the southern states had abolished slavery and none wanted the Constitution to interfere with the institution.
    • Federal Supremacy v.s. State Supremacy: favored a strong national government (necessary for the survival and efficient functioning of the new nation) and those who favored limiting its powers and allowing states to govern
      • e.g. overturn of Roe v Wade today.
      • e.g. president passing executive orders = president making policy change independent of legislature
    • Individual Liberty v.s. Social Stability guarantee the rights of life, liberty, and property v.s. more important for the national government to maintain order, and this might require it to limit personal liberty at times.
  3. Finally in 1787 September—after compromising many times—they had worked out a new blueprint for the nation. A overview of US Constitutions have been provided before, and here are the solutions to those major points of contention:

    • The Great Compromise. Congress = Senate + House of Representatives = Bicameral. (Senate) Each state, regardless of size, would have two senators, making for equal representation as in the New Jersey Plan. (House of Representatives) Representation in the House would be based on population.

      • gives collective veto power to smaller states
    • Three-Fifths Compromise. slaveholding states were allowed to count all their free population, including free African Americans and 60 percent (three-fifths) of their enslaved population.

    • Separation of Power and Checks and Balances: the idea is to solve the challenge of increasing the authority of the national government while ensuring that it did not become too powerful

      • separation of powers dividing the national government into three separate branches and assigning different responsibilities to each
      • checks and balances by giving each of three branches of government the power to restrict the actions of the others, thus requiring them to work together.


    • The Federal System: power is divided between the federal (or national) government and the state governments.

      • Great or explicit powers, called enumerated powers, were granted to the federal government (e.g. declare war)
      • All powers not expressly given to the national government, i.e. reserved powers, are for the states (e.g. intrastate commerce and marriage)
    • How is president chosen?

      • state legislature decide how electors are chosen = the electoral voting system today
      • without majority, i.e. electoral college is in deadlock, then House chooses president
  4. After drafting, the last task is to be ratified by 9 out of 13 states in Article VII, but obviously while some people are happy, there are some who would be opposing it $\implies$ Federalists and Anti-Federalists

    • Federalists supported the Constitution. They tended to be among the elite members of society, e.g. being wealthy
    • Anti-Federalists feared the power of the national government and believed state legislatures, with which they had more contact, could better protect their freedoms.
  5. In the end after major persuasion efforts, the last two to sign were the wealthy, populous states of Virginia and New York.

    • In Virginia, George Washington, who wrote letters to the convention, changed the minds of many.
    • In New York, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote a series of essays, beginning in 1787, arguing for a strong federal government and support of the Constitution

Constitutional Change: One of the strengths they built into the Constitution v.s. prior Articles of Confederation

  1. Having drafted nineteen proposed amendments, James Madison submitted them to Congress. only ten were accepted by three-quarters of the state legislatures. In 1791, these first ten amendments were added to the Constitution and became known as the Bill of Rights.
  2. The Bill of Rights was intended to quiet the fears of Anti-Federalists that the Constitution did not adequately protect individual liberties and thus encourage their support of the new national government.
  3. Other important ones include: the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, ratified at the end of the Civil War, changed the lives of African Americans who had been held in slavery.

Political Foundation of the US

Some important terms:

  • Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: America has been most shaped by the unusually free and egalitarian ideas and material conditions that prevailed at its found- ing-captures important truths
  • Feudalism: a system where the relationship in society was derived from the holding of land
    • collective ownership and control of the means of production.
    • land is controlled by a small group of nobles, who hold power and privileges over the common people
    • want a stronger government power
  • Socialism: means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole
  • Bourgeoisie: the middle class/capitalist class who own most of society’s wealth and means of production
  • Egalitarianism: doctrines are generally characterized by the idea that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or moral status.
  • Romanticism: American Romanticism is a frame of thought that places value on the individual above the group, the subjective response and instinct over objective thought, and emotion over logic.
    • Romanticism was a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that first began in Europe late in the 18th century. American Romanticism developed toward the end of the Romantic movement in Europe.
  • Previously, analysts have described American political culture as the preeminent example of modern liberal democracy, of government by popular consent with respect for the equal rights of all. Here, the idea is that “inegalitarian ideologies and conditions that have shaped the participants and the substance of American politics just as deep”.
    • for over 80% of U.S. history, its laws declared most of the population to be ineligible for full American citizenship due to race, nationality, or gender.
    • Tocqueville is story is centered on relationships among a minority of Americans (e.g. white), and via reference to economic statuses men have held in Europe
    • (race) Tocqueville treated “Indians and Negros” as tangents to the American nation = exceptions not considered into discussion
    • (gender inequality) Tocqueville believes that women should be treated in a distinct sphere of action = making them not civic equivalent of men. e.g. denied of ruling at home or taking most professional offices
  • The author (smith) then gave a few examples work/authors for excluding/marginalizing those problems (i.e. see them as minor/external exceptions to the framework) to pretend egalitarian inclusiveness as the norm for US politics. “None of these mainstream approaches to American politics has given prominence to the racial, ethnic, or gender makeup of the American citizenry, though neither have they wholly avoided those issues.”
    • e.g. scholars construct the identities of marginal groups as irrational, passionate, dangerous “others,” both to defend their exploitation and to deny the presence of such qualities in mainstream citizens
    • but note that colonial British American pursued practices of racial/gender dominance long before any types of liberal and republican idelogies came to play in America $\implies$racial/gender inegalitarianism is technically *more rooted* than egalitarian principles.
    • e.g. Higram’s book had many ingredients to correct the Tocqueville thesis (e.g. American nativism built on ethnocentric attitudes), but did not compel any major reinterpretation of American politics
    • e.g. Fuchs’s book contained analysis of exclusive civic cultures of America, but does not discuss exclusion of women $\implies$ tend to omit/minimize excluded groups as every author in the Tocquevillian transition do
  • Therefore, the author offers a multiple traditions view of America: we should not presume US politics are rooted in essentially liberal or democratic values and conditions. Instead, we must analyze America as the ongoing product of often conflicting multiple traditions.
    • i.e. US culture is shaped by a complex and multiple groups interacting with each other, and is thus a result of recurring conflicts amongst the apparently inconsistent combinations of the multiple traditions
    • additionally, those conflicts often involve each group trying to “valorize their own traits” while “denigrading those of others”
    • e.g. for a long time, there is a “separate but equal” treatment to the blacks (e.g. segregation of public school) $\implies$ inequal citizens
    • e.g. Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years; in 1889 Chinese Exclusion Case still upheld requirements for Chinese-American to have certificates of citizenship not required of whites
    • e.g. Women suffrage passed by Congress only on June 4, 1919

Problems in the US Constitution

“How Democratic Is the American Constitution?” by Robert A. Dahl contains a more critical view of the US constitutions

  • He argues that the Constitution, as originally written and interpreted, has always had significant undemocratic features, and that these have been reinforced by subsequent developments.

  • He also points out that the Constitution has been amended over time to address some of its undemocratic features, but that many others remain.

A few selected quotes/key points he mentioned include:

  • The US constitutions was not that “smartly framed”:

    • framers’ reliable knowledge about constitutions appropriate to a large representative republic was, at best, meager.

    • The necessity for compromise and the opportunities this gave for coalitions and logrolling meant that the Constitution could not possibly reflect a coherent, unified theory of government

    • (On why we got the Senate and House of Representative system) The solution of equal representation was not a product of constitutional theory, high principle,or grand design. It was nothing more than a practical outcome of a hard bargain (e.g. by Delaware) that its opponents finally agreed to in order to achieve a constitution

  • Undemocratic Elements in the Framers’ Constitution

    1. Slavery. First, it neither forbade slavery nor empowered Congress to do so
    2. Suffrage. the constitution failed to guarantee the right of suffrage, leaving the qualifications of suffrage to the states $\implies$ It implicitly left in placethe exclusion of half the population—women—as wellas African Americans and Native Americans
    3. Election of the President. To ensure president election is insulated from both popular majorities and congressional control, the Framer’s solution is a body of presidential electors composed of men of exceptional wisdom and virtue who would choose the chief executive unswayed by popular opinion $\implies$ was almost immediatelycast into the dustbin of history
    4. Choosing senators. senators were to bechosen not by the people but by the state legislatures $\implies$ senators would be less responsive to popular majorities and perhaps more sensitive to the needs of property holders
    5. Equal representation in the Senate. each state was, as we have seen, awarded the same number of senators $\implies$ placed and highly privileged minorities—slaveholders, for example—gained disproportionate power
    6. Judicial power. failed to limit the powers of the judiciary to declare as unconstitutional laws (i.e. laws opposing the US constitutions) that is passed by the Congress and signed by president $\implies$judges can then affect law making (even though none would have supported this idea)
    7. Congressional power. the powers of Congress were limited in a way that could prevent the federal government from regulating or controlling the economy. Without the power to tax incomes, for example, fiscal policy, not to say measures like Social Security, would be impossible.

Why these 50 States? Land Policy and State Formation

Some facts at current days:

  • Tension in US constitutional design on representation based on population. What percent of US residents (people physically in the US) do no have voting representations in the House or Senates?

    • note that you should count in Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, etc.
    • as a result, $1.6$% of US residents have no voting representation (if they physically move to US mainland, then they can vote)
  • When did the US states became “states”? Red is the earliest, and blue the latest

    When became States Land Acquisition
    Statehood Order by Dates: Statehood by Dates image-20230201164014190
  • How to become an independent state? Being a state gives 2 US senators, and representation in US house proportional to share of total population. Therefore, this could impose high influence on future policy making:

    • new states cannot be granted different privileges than others

    • requires passage of bill through House and Senate
    • it is formed out of a state, then the state legislature has to agree as well
    • as statehood changes the balcen of votes in national legislature, hence can be vetoed by national legislative majority
  • Any current movements to change number of states?

    • statehood for DC, PR
    • cession from California (e.g. state of Jefferson), OR, also WA, UT, etc, as people feels like large cities dominate politics

In this section, we consider the question: does the selection of these statehood have anything to do with policy making in the federal government? As you shall see soon, why “states” get to be “states” depends a lot on the motivation of reducing conformity cost when implementing government policies.

Certain backgrounds on relevant US history:

  • scholarly consensus: US government had little ruling capacity before Civil War. As a result, many federal land policy was used to gain control over territory through private effort i.e. cannot govern the large territories they owned, hence encourage private individuals to do it

    • controlling territory is expensive and difficult, gov has no resource
    • can offer reward (e.g. land) to populations with military expertise
    • compact settlement enabled effective territorial control
  • however, while all framers agreed to expand territory, they had different vision what their expansion will look like (starting from 13 states). These ideals can be separated into two schools:

    • opposition to presense of non-white
    • opposition to non-white people with rights

    as a result, this gives

    • justification of ethnic cleansing against indigenous population
    • justified ensalving subset of population

    • generated opposition to giving political rights to new territory with non-white majorities
  • obviously for federal government to pass a policy, you need approvals by many states

As a result, lots of strategies arise to limit conformity cost in federal gov policy making:

  1. limit who has right to participate in decision-making to ensure preferred outcome: e.g. given statehood until there is a sufficiently large white population
    • e.g. gerrymandering, franchise restrictions
    • e.g. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ended war between US and Mexico. then both northerners and southerners are thinking: “How can we get the most territories, with the fewest addition of people”, i.e. “do not want people of Mexico, either as citizens or subjects,” but only land
  2. prevent policy-making/implementation: limit (e.g. the number of) alternative options to be in favor of your preferred outcome
    • e.g. make a policy impossible to happen: e.g. a government weak enough to prevent a future president to pass a law to end slavery
    • e.g. limit a government’s action by limiting its fiscal capacity

And as a result these factors shaped which states are recognized, and which ones are not.

For Example, then under this theory, ceteris paribus (i.e. “all other things being equal”), how could Washington DC or Puerto Rico become a state?

  1. white majority
  2. their policy do not fly in the face of the federal government’s vision

Frymer’s Notes on Land Policy

From the paper A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours”: Territorial Expansion, Land Policy, and U.S. State Formation

“The importance of federal land policies in securing and incorporating territorial borders illuminates an under-examined mechanism by which developing nation states, even those with limited bureaucratic and military capacity, can successfully assert power over a vast and difficult geographic terrain.”

Some major points are:

  • land policy such as granting veterans land in conflicted areas $\implies$ increase settlement there which could not only expand its territory but also better defend (e.g. serve as buffer zone). Most often this includes “shrinking the Indian territory”. Examples include
    • The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, authorizing the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders (actions of the United States during this period would constitute genocide under current-day international law)
    • “Advancing compactly” = settle the land “progressively” with “compact” settlements and a “formidable” barrier before advancing on the frontier
    • In 1842, Congress passed the Armed Occupation Act providing 160 acres of land to those settlers who were armed and willing to occupy land south of Gainesville, Florida as a way of ending the Second Seminole War.
    • The success of the Armed Occupation Act prompted calls to extend the policy to western territories. Legislation was quickly proposed to induce a volunteer force of mounted men to settle the Oregon Territory that at the time was contested between the US, British, and Indian nations
    • Preemption Act and Homestead Act in 1841 and 1862 fostered an “unparalleled rush for land in Illonois”
  • the implication of those land policies is that those “federal land policies enabled an otherwise constrained American government to assert authority over the direction and pace of expansion and settlement and to maintain an official fidelity to constitutional principles while conquering territory, removing indigenous populations, and engineering a dominant racial vision by manufacturing white majorities in lands populated by diverse peoples.”
  • However, as the aim is population movement, you shall also compare against the method of forming sizeable government bureaucracies to mobilize population movements
    • The results of American conquest are certainly significant, but the boundaries could well have been far more expansive had nation builders not been constrained by a small military and a need for manufacturing white majorities.
    • the reliance on land policies—as opposed to more conventional coercive forms—enabled a certain amount of racial diversity to thrive on the frontier despite a white hegemonic society. This diversity is not just a result of ideological conflicts and multiple orders. but is also institutionally constructed from weaknesses in the capacity of the American state that enabled these pockets of diversity to withstand eradication, particularly on frontier borderlands.

Note that, as mentioned near the end:

“Expansions have been fundamentally opposed/restricted by people motivated to preserve policy control or other privileges” hints at certain undemocratic/inegalitarian values in US policy-making in the past

  • Egalitarian ideas are important for self-identification, but not to determine their collective actions

  • longevity of US government is not explained by abstract commitment to democratic principles. E.g. otherwise to be allowed for statehood you wouldn’t need stuff such as white majority, etc, if you are truly egalitarian

This brings back to America’s political Traditions discussed in Section Political Foundation of the US, so that policy makers are not really “rooted with egalitarianism” but rather:

  • desire of constrain who gets rights in order to achieve their own policy goals
  • hence, when looking at a policy, you should think about really: where does this come from? Who made it? What do they want to achieve?

American Federalism

The federal design spelled out in the Constitution divides powers between two levels of government—the states and the federal government—and creates a mechanism for them to check and balance one another. As an institutional design, federalism both safeguards state interests and creates a strong union led by a capable central government.

This section traces the origins, evolution, and functioning of the American system of federalism, as well as its advantages and disadvantages for citizens.

Recall that other “non-federalist” approach include


for example

  • countries such as France, Japan, and Sweden are democratic with unitary systems.
  • as with confederation $\implies$ weak national government $\implies$ American system in the past $\implies$ it maximizes regional self-rule at the expense of effective national governance.

Division of Powers

Modern democracies divide governmental power in two general ways:

  1. the first and more common mechanism shares power among three branches of government—the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary.
  2. the second, federalism, apportions power between two levels of government: national and sub-national.

Some, like the United States, use a combination of both structures.

  • US has a sub-national gov = state gov, and national gov = federal gov
  • In both level of gov, there are separation of power
    • the President assumes executive power, Congress exercises legislative powers, and the federal courts (e.g., U.S. district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court) assume judicial powers.
    • In each of the fifty states, a governor assumes executive authority, a state legislature makes laws, and state-level courts assume judicial powers

Federalism is an institutional arrangement that creates two relatively autonomous levels of government, each possessing the capacity to act directly on behalf of the people. Although many federalism vary by design, they share a lot of key similarities.

  • each unit of government has its own set of officials and independent authority
  • existence and authority of each level is protected by a constitution
  • each unit of government can pressure others
  1. First, all federal systems establish two levels of government, with both levels being elected by the people and each level assigned different functions. (e.g. federal gov cares more about national affairs, whereas state gov cares more about matters lie within their region)
  2. National constitution that cannot be changed without the substantial consent of sub-national governments. In the US, approval needs two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the states (supermajority)
  3. allocate legislative, judicial, and executive authority to the two levels of government in such a way as to ensure each level some degree of autonomy from the other. (e.g. state gov has its own governor, legislature, and court)
  4. national courts commonly resolve disputes between levels and departments of government.
  5. Finally, sub-national governments are always represented in the upper house of the national legislature, enabling regional interests to influence national lawmaking. In the US, the Senate functions as a territorial body by representing the fifty states (those are not the same as state governors or state senates)

Why these different levels in this Federal Design? Mechanism to minimize conformity costs

  • people being represented under the same level of government (e.g. states) wanted the same thing $\implies$ lower interstate conformity cost
    • more homogeneous among people being represented
  • constitution excluding things that might prevent unification/uniform decision

And again

Collective action framework helps us to see how political institution make certain things more (or less) possible

  • institutions can solve coordination or free rider problems
  • but they could also not solve certain problems, i.e. so that having an institution could make that harder to happen
    • for example, filibuster = use prolonged speechmaking to delay or prevent a vote on a bill.
    • The purpose of the filibuster is to prevent the majority from passing a bill that the minority opposes $\implies$ the minority party can use this tactic to try to block the passage of a bill that they oppose $\implies$ a single senator could veto $\implies$ large conformity costs as majority preference is vetoed
    • poorly designed to solve problems that aren’t represented by eligible voters

Federalism and Constitutions

We have briefly discussed the basics of US constitutions in section The US Constitution Basics. Here we take a more detailed look to see how those articles are related to the US federalist system.

In general, some delineate the scope of national and state power, while others restrict it (e.g. Bill of Rights). The remaining provisions shape relationships among the states and between the states and the federal government.

  • allow for certain collective actions to be more easily carried out
  • enumerated powers of the national legislature are found in Article I, Section 8.

    • e.g. elastic clause or the necessary and proper clause, enables Congress “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying” out its constitutional responsibilities. (this is a rather open construction, hence it did enable national gov to expand authority beyond)
    • e.g. commerce clause is a provision in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) that gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” While this can be interpreted broadly as Congress have a broad power to regulate commerce, the Court has also imposed some limitations on Congress’s power, such as limiting to interstate activity
    • establishment of new states
    • e.g. supremacy clause (see below as well), basically federal laws supersedes all state laws
  • Article I, Sections 9 and 10, along with several constitutional amendments, lay out the restrictions on federal and state authority.

    • e.g. prevents measures that cause the deprivation of personal liberty (such as slavery, imprisonment without justification)
    • e.g. Bill of Rights, including freedom to speech, local police searching you without a warrant
  • supremacy clause in Article VI of the Constitution regulates relationships between the federal and state governments by declaring that the Constitution and federal law are the supreme law of the land.

    • however, enforcement is not always that simple.
    • In the case of marijuana use, which the federal government defines to be illegal, thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have nevertheless established medical marijuana laws, others have decriminalized its recreational use, and fifteen states have completely legalized it. The federal government could act in this area if it wanted to.
  • powers of the state governments were never listed in the original Constitution, but the Tenth Amendment affirms the states’ reserved powers

    • “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
    • most important include police powers = establish mechanism to police, such as rules; and provision of public services; system of local government = how local gov should work; and regulation of intra-state commerce
    • however, some reserved powers are no longer exclusively within state domain, e.g. boundary between intrastate and interstate commerce has become indefinable as a result of broad interpretation of the commerce clause.


  • Various constitutional provisions govern state-to-state relations.

    • Article IV, Section 1, referred to as the full faith and credit clause or the comity clause, requires the states to accept court decisions, public acts, and contracts of other states. Thus, an adoption certificate or driver’s license issued in one state is valid in any other state.
    • privileges and immunities clause of Article IV asserts that states are prohibited from discriminating against out-of-staters by denying them such guarantees as access to courts, legal protection, property rights, and travel rights. The clause has not been interpreted to mean there cannot be any difference in the way a state treats residents and non-residents. For example, individuals cannot vote in a state in which they do not reside.
  • Some areas both state and federal governments can regulate

    • militia, both state and federal
    • states may act in a federal area, so long as it does not contradict federal law

In a sense, Constitution basically provides a framework + freedom for the institutions to work out. Then, people can use whatever levers at their disposal to change a policy in a state/entire United States.

However, there are “governments” that are missing from this:

  • local governments has no status in federal constitution
    • are granted power by states (e.g. local establish police department, but state could take over if it wants, e.g. due to corruption)
    • so people say local gov are “creature of the states”
  • in many states, there is a the concept of “home rule” for local governments
    • provisions in many state constitution limit action in certain areas of local government
    • this must be specifically conferred, in practice given to most larger cities
      • e.g. city of Baffalo is allowed to establish police academy

Distribution of Finances

Where do national, state, and local government get their money from? A graph below in 2018/2020 illustrates some high level info:

  • for federal government, most of the revenue comes from income taxes (includes all kinds of income, paid by you) and payroll taxes (includes your payroll, paid by both employer and employee)
  • For local governments the property tax, a levy on residential and commercial real estate, was the most important source of tax revenue

How are those money spent?

Federal Spending State and Local
  • A look at the federal budget in 2019 shows that the three largest spending categories were Social Security; Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program; and defense and international security assistance (18 percent) $\iff$ Constitution assigns the federal government various powers that allow it to affect the nation as a whole.
  • for local and state, we see that educational expenditures constitute a major category for both; state also allocate comparatively more funds to public welfare programs, such as health care, income support, and highways.

Note that one interesting point here is about “free-rider problem”, since grants are given to states but come from taxes states collect, then a state can impose the lowest amount of tax and still get grants/findings from government.

The Evolution of American Federalism

How did US Federalism work in real life?

Since the constitution does not specify the precise ruling of states and federal gov, this has led to

  • several clashes between national gov and state gov

  • changes in the configuration of federalism over time that capture distinct balances between state and federal authority.

Examples of national gov v.s. state gov include:

  • establishment of the Bank of the United States, and are states allowed to tax federal property (e.g. that bank)?
    • In McCulloch v. Maryland, Chief Justice John Marshall argued that Congress could establish “all means which are appropriate” to fulfill “the legitimate ends” of the Constitution.
    • therefore, state (in many cases) cannot tax national institutions as “the power to tax is the power to destroy.”
  • commerce clause of Article I, Section 8; specifically, it had to determine whether the federal government had the sole authority to regulate the licensing of steamboats operating between New York and New Jersey.
    • in the end, federal law trumped the New York State license-monopoly law
    • As Marshall pointed out, “the acts of New York must yield to the law of Congress.”
  • what about doctrine of nullification—that states had the right to reject national laws they deemed unconstitutional.
    • ultimate showdown between national and state authority came during the Civil War
    • pro-state: Supreme Court ruled that the national government lacked the authority to ban slavery in the territories $\implies$ Civil War
    • The defeat of the South had a huge impact on the balance of power between the states and the national government.
      1. First, the Union victory put an end to the right of states to secede and to challenge legitimate national laws.
      2. Second, Congress imposed several conditions for readmitting former Confederate states into the Union; among them was ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
    • In sum, after the Civil War the power balance shifted toward the national government.

In sum, With the exception of the Civil War, the Supreme Court settled the power struggles between the states and national government. From a historical perspective, the national supremacy principle introduced during this period did not so much narrow the states’ scope of constitutional authority as restrict their encroachment on national powers.

Dual, Cooperative, and New Federalism

Dual federalism, the states and national government exercise exclusive authority in distinctly delineated spheres of jurisdiction, i.e. limited only to perform within the enumerated powers. As a result, state and gov are like “equal” players in politics, hence dual.

This happened in the late 1870s, motivated mainly by:

  • several Supreme Court rulings blocked attempts by both state and federal governments to step outside their jurisdictional boundaries.

  • prevailing economic philosophy at the time loathed government interference in the process of industrial development.

but was dealt a legal blow in 1895 and is no longer used.

In the late 1870s, industrialization changed the socioeconomic landscape of the United States. One of its adverse effects was the concentration of market power $\implies$ lead to several new issues to federal ruling

  • there was no national regulatory supervision to ensure fairness in market practices, collusive behavior among powerful firms emerged in several industries. e.g. anti-competitive practices in the railroad industry.
  • Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887, which created the Interstate Commerce Commission; then three years later, this is broarden by Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which made it illegal to monopolize or attempt to monopolize and conspire in restraining commerce
  • In 1895, in United States v. E. C. Knight, the Supreme Court ruled that the national government lacked the authority to regulate manufacturing, arguing that the national government’s regulatory authority applied only to commercial activities. (If manufacturing activities fell within the purview of the commerce clause of the Constitution, then “comparatively little of business operations would be left for state control,” the court argued.)

However, things start to change in Great Depression of the 1930s, which brought economic hardships the nation had never witnessed before

Cooperative federalism was born of necessity and lasted well into the twentieth century as the national and state governments each found it beneficial. Under this model, both levels of government coordinated their actions to solve national problems, such as the Great Depression and the civil rights struggle of the following decades.

  • federal gov can attempt to intervene in all areas of local/public policy, not limited to their enumerated powers
  • layers of government do not coerce each other, but national can take leadership role (i.e. coerce)
  • federal resources give it an upper hand, in practice
  • federal government can influence through carrots and sticks (see Grant and Mandates)

the more dominant in 1932/37 - present.


Essentially there is now a broadening of federal powers in concurrent and state policy domains, it is also the era of a deepening coordination between the states and the federal government in Washington.

  • Before the Great Depression, the government offered little in terms of financial aid, social benefits, and economic rights. After the New Deal, it provided old-age pensions (Social Security), unemployment insurance, agricultural subsidies, protections for organizing in the workplace
  • The unemployment insurance program, also created by the Social Security Act, requires states to provide jobless benefits, but it allows them significant latitude to decide the level of tax to impose on businesses
  • coordination between state and national gov is clearest in the social welfare and social insurance programs created during the New Deal and Great Society eras, most of which are administered by both state and federal authorities and are jointly funded.

Thus, the era of cooperative federalism left two lasting attributes on federalism in the United States:

  1. nationalization of politics emerged as federal legislative activities were aimed at addressing problem such as marketplace inefficiencies, etc $\implies$ again federal governments gain more policy making power
  2. flexibility that states and local authorities were given in the implementation of federal social welfare programs $\implies$ cross-state differences in the levels of benefits and coverage (not to confuse with “full faith and credit clause”)

New federalism is based on the idea to restore states’ prominence in policy areas into which the federal government had moved in the past. It is also based on the belief that the decentralization of policies enhances administrative efficiency, reduces overall public spending, and improves policy outcomes.

The most prominent figure championing this was perhaps Ronald Reagan, along with several efforts by the Supreme Court

  • The election of Ronald Reagan heralded the advent of a “devolution revolution” in U.S. federalism, in which the president pledged to return authority to the states according to the Constitution.

  • in United States v. Lopez, the court struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which banned gun possession in school zones. It argued that the regulation in question did not “substantively affect interstate commerce” $\implies$ gives this ruling back to state
  • However, many would say that the years since the 9/11 attacks have swung the pendulum back in the direction of central federal power.

Note that it is important not to see these systems as “permanently replacing” each other. Each tend to leave some footprints in their succeeding system, and hence it is best to see this as an “evolution process” $\implies$ the combined effect of all of them is more important.

Grant and Mandates

The national government’s ability to achieve its objectives often requires the participation of state and local governments.

Intergovernmental grants offer positive financial inducements to get states to work toward selected national goals.

  • A grant is commonly likened to a “carrot” to the extent that it is designed to entice the recipient to do something.
  • Mandates are typically backed by the threat of penalties for non-compliance and provide little to no compensation for the costs of implementation. Thus, a mandate is commonly likened to a “stick.”

the revenue used for grants are offered through taxing and spending powers

In the past, examples of grants include “land grants” e.g. University of Delaware, are land-grant institutions because their campuses were built on land donated by the federal government. But today, grants have become a bit more complicated system

  • Categorical grants are federal transfers formulated to limit recipients’ discretion in the use of funds and subject them to strict administrative criteria that guide project selection, performance, and financial oversight, among other things. Medicaid and the food stamp program are examples of categorical grants.
    • e.g. establishment of criminal justice at local level was funded by federal gov in the past.
  • Block grants come with less stringent federal administrative conditions and provide recipients more flexibility over how to spend grant funds. Example include Workforce Investment Act program, which help youths and adults obtain skill sets that will lead to better-paying jobs

Grant money can change political calculus (e.g. Medicaid: give extra money to extend health insurance to people otherwise inapplicable. Some states took it and hence changed their policy, some did not.)

However, the national government has greatly preferred using categorical grants to transfer funds to state and local authorities because

  1. this type of grant gives them more control and discretion in how the money is spent.
  2. elected officials who sponsor these grants can take credit for their positive outcomes
  3. block grants lack mechanisms to hold state and local administrators accountable for outcomes
  4. once categorical grants have been established, vested interests in Congress and the federal bureaucracy seek to preserve them

Block grants have been championed for their cost-cutting effects $\implies$ placing a ceiling on funding

  • By eliminating uncapped federal funding, the national government can reverse the escalating costs of federal grant programs.
  • Paul Ryan (R-WI), former chair of the House Budget Committee estimated one could save the federal government upwards of $732 billion over ten years if Medicaid is converted to block grant

Unfunded mandates are federal laws and regulations that impose obligations on state and local governments without fully compensating them for the administrative costs they incur.

Penalty of non-compliant often includes either a) threatens civil and criminal penalties for state and local authorities b) suspension of federal grant, or c) a combination of both.

This is as bad as it sounds, but it is difficult to restrict the temptation of not using it:

  • The widespread use of federal mandates in the 1970s and 1980s provoked a backlash among state and local authorities, which culminated in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) in 1995. However, since the act’s implementation, states and local authorities have obtained limited relief.
  • Real ID Act of 2005, a federal law designed to beef up homeland security by replacing driver’s license and identification cards (DI/ID) with standardized machine-readable cards. However, while the cost to states of re-issuing DL/IDs is estimated to be $11 billion, the government only reimburse a small portion of the cost. As a result, since 2016 and only thirty-eight were in full compliance with Real ID as of December 2018.
  • other examples: National Voter Registration Act.

The continued use of unfunded mandates clearly contradicts new federalism’s call for giving states and local governments more flexibility in carrying out national goals. As a result, there have been more instances of confrontational interactions between the states and the federal government.

Preemption: federal law that assets national government control over an area. Intent is to limit state government authority, hence many of them are also litigated in courts.

Examples include

  • recently, over the issue of abortion
  • Defensive of Marriage Act (1996) where federal govt took over

Competitive Federalism Today

One aspect of competitive federalism today is that some policy issues, such as immigration and the marital rights of LGBTQ people, have been redefined as the roles that states and the federal government play in them have changed $\iff$ both state and federal government can influence each other.

Contending Issues: In sum, as the immigration and marriage equality examples illustrate, constitutional disputes have arisen as states and the federal government have sought to reposition themselves on certain policy issues, disputes that the federal courts have had to sort out.

  • before, it was understood that the federal government handled immigration and states determined the legality of marriage.
  • Since the late 1990s, states have asserted a right to make immigration policy on the grounds that they are enforcing, not supplanting, the nation’s immigration laws.
    • In 2005, twenty-five states had enacted a total of thirty-nine laws related to immigration;
    • In 2012, in Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court affirmed federal supremacy on immigration, as Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, which sought to make it so difficult for undocumented immigrants to live in the state that they would return to their native country
  • By passing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, the federal government stepped into policy making on marriage.
    • DOMA considered denying same-sex couples from various federal provisions and benefits—such as the right to file joint tax returns and receive Social Security survivor benefits.
    • In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court changed the dynamic established by DOMA by ruling that the federal government had no authority to define marriage (i.e. laws cannot discriminate between same-sex and different-sex couples based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment)

Strategizing about new issues: By creating two institutional access points—the federal and state governments—the U.S. federal system enables interest groups such as MADD to strategize about how best to achieve their policy objectives.

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was established in 1980 by a woman whose thirteen-year-old daughter had been killed by a drunk driver, and they aim to raise the drinking age and impose tougher penalties
    • tried lobbying state legislators, but did not succeed
    • redirect its lobbying efforts at Congress, and succeeded. In 1984, the federal government passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDAA), raising minimum purchase age to 21.
  • anti-abortion advocates (in 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision making abortion legal nationwide) used the same strategy of venue shopping
    • initially targeted at the Congress, but failed
    • shift their focus to state legislators, where their advocacy efforts have been more successful. By 2015, for example, thirty-eight states required some form of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, etc.

Surely as a result of the borderline between state v.s. federal policy become intermingled.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Federalism

[discussion] means this point was made during the discussion section

Among the merits of federalism (i.e. separated power) are that it

  1. limits ability of federal government to oppress (e.g. people)
  2. promotes policy innovation, “a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory;” = laboratory of democracy
    • For example, a number of New Deal breakthroughs, such as child labor laws, were inspired by state policies.
    • [discussion] e.g. police training before enforcement (before, all you need is a badge and a gun. In 1959, California and NY required police training/provided financial incentive)
    • [discussion] in general might find a better policy
  3. promotes political participation, as it creates a government closer to the people (e.g. only for people in this region)
  4. accommodates diversity of opinion.
    • the system of checks and balances in our political system often prevents the federal government from imposing uniform policies across the country.
    • As a result, states and local communities have the latitude to address policy issues based on the specific needs and interests of their citizens.
  5. states can act when federal government can’t agree (if urgent) = less coordination and transactional cost when making intrastate policies
    • [discussion] but of course, interstate coordination becomes more difficult (see #5 below)

Drawbacks include (or adv of centralized power):

  1. economic disparities across states, race-to-the-bottom dynamics (i.e., states compete to attract business by lowering taxes and regulations)
    • economic disparities include
      • e.g. in 2017, Maryland had the highest median household income (80,776), while West Virginia had the lowest (43,469).
      • In 2016, New York spent 22,366 per student for elementary and secondary education, while Utah spent 6,953.
    • The economic strategy of using race-to-the-bottom tactics in order to compete with other states in attracting new business growth also carries a social cost.
      • For example, workers’ safety and pay can suffer as workplace regulations are lifted, and the reduction in payroll taxes for employers has led a number of states to end up with underfunded unemployment insurance programs.
  2. the difficulty of taking action on issues of national importance.
    • federal design of our Constitution and the system of checks and balances has jeopardized or outright blocked federal responses to important national issues.
    • but with a national government, this becomes much easier
  3. free-riding: some states rely on contribution of others, e.g. on the grants issue, or raising military for national defense
    • can be decreased if having a national government = third party supervising the prisoner’s dilemma
  4. duplication of efforts $\implies$ inefficiency, as you have so many layers of govt and each has its own authority, making decisions can be much slower
    • lower transactional cost to enforce policies/make decisions
  5. interstate coordination problem exists = to coordinate the same traffic laws across different states, it is very difficult and still varied today
    • [discussion] becomes even greater today as we have more population and more complicated dynamics such as powerful econ people

Urban Politics

What counts as a government?

US census of Governments uses the three criteria

  • existence of organized entity
  • governmental character: power to levy taxes, issue debt, i.e. actions that governments usually take
  • substantial autonomy

Examples of local governments that satisfy this definition

  • county government/parish

  • city government

  • township

  • school district: raise taxtes, make policies

  • other special purpose districts/governments: e.g. levy taxes and provide funding. This include

    • airports, cemeteries, corrections, jails
    • electric power, fire protecion, gas supply district
    • highways, hospitals, housing, and community development

    to what degree can they tax? This is often restricted/predefined by the state government.

Special district governments are independent, special purpose governmental units, other than school district governments, that exist as separate entities with substantial administrative and fiscal independence from general purpose local governments.

Why are we discussing this? Why so many special form of governments?

When you want to get something new done, you can

  • get it done with an existing governemnt
  • create a new government with that responsibility

Hence this is to explain why are we having 90,126 governments (a lot, because people want different things) in the US at the time of this note, according to the census.

A more detailed breakdown:

Type of Govt Number
County 3,031
City 19,522
Township 16,364
Independent School District 12,884
others 37,381

With this in 2010, this gives 1 govt per 3800 people.

But is having so many forms of government good or bad?

Proliferation of government can result in

  • [+] allows for diversity of policy
  • [-] raises cost of oversight = hard to keep up with what they are doing, and who to support $\implies$ problem for democratic control
  • [-] can create coordination problems/free rider .e.g people inaction
  • [+] can allow for greater expertise development = governors becomes better at their job in govt = improves quality of action
  • [-] surely duplication effort
  • [-] allows for greater preference matching and disparity, as shown in the next section

Political Boundaries

Consider you are the green local government, and you want you policy to pass. ‘O’ indicates people who supports your policy, and ‘X’ against it.

Interestingly, you can get policy change if you change the boundary of your affected people/region

Deadlock 3/5 Majority 3/4 Super Majority
image-20230208180859085 image-20230208180906170 image-20230208180916479

In fact, you can “steal” an election


Gerrymandering (illegal): manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class. This is especially done by people who are already in charge. (think of path dependence in Institutional Change)

  • e.g. exists, such as in Chicago, it was made so that republicans cannot get enough support
  • e.g. NY, which is controlled by democrats, and wanted to redraw on a boundary to increase its chance

Therefore, changing jurisdiction boundaries can be beneficial to control what policy is passed. This can actually be done in two ways

Preference sorting = change policies that are politically possible, achieved by mechanism indicated above

Economic sorting = change policies financially possible. Sort the geographical regions such that certain district becomes restricted in funds $\implies$ can no longer enact certain policies. (e.g. many schools are funded by large public money)

Limits on Local Government

What can the local government not do, given that it seems powerful with all the different mechanics above?

  • state preemption = (recall) federal law that asserts national government control over an area. Intent is to limit state government authority
  • wealth in jurisdiction/resources
  • state restrictions on tax revenue: state laws restrict what kind of tax revenue or rate a local jurisdiction can set
    • hence restricts fiscal ability, and limits what policies are possible
  • population and business flight = when you change policy in a region, business and population can just leave = restrict local government’s choices
  • elections: need to cater to people’s wills, otherwise step down of power
    • however this is a “twist” to this, being anti-democratic: can create policies so that a) other policies are much harder to achieve = transactional cost, or b) difficult for people who are against it to “represent” themselves in elections
  • free-rider problems (e.g. due to the proliferation of local gov) and coordination problem still exists.
    • e.g. land policies: local gov has the right to set which area is zoned for what kind of houses. However, they tend to prefer zoning for luxury houses than for affordable houses (wishing other local govs to establish) $\implies$ difficult to build enough affordable housing

More on New York City

ref: Community power in a postreform city: politics in New York City; Pecorella, Robert F, Chapter 1

The author presents a contextual approach to urban politics, which suggest that

  • periodic fiscal crisis $\implies$ regime change in New York’s governance a lot
  • politics unfolds within a social-economic environment that constraints the breadth of options to public officials
  • so that during periods of crisis, local politics becomes more a function of local economics

But it is also worth noting the other popular schools of urban politics:

Pluralism, in political science, the view that in liberal democracies power is (or should be) dispersed among a variety of economic and ideological pressure/interest groups and is not (or should not be) held by a single elite or group of elites.

Pluralism believes that

  • diversity is beneficial to society and that autonomy should be enjoyed by disparate functional or cultural groups within a society, including religious groups, trade unions, professional organizations, and ethnic minorities.
  • continual competition among diverse groups, with none able to accumulate sufficient re­sources to monopolize the political game, is conducive to the development of polyarchy where democratic norms govern
  • this plural system thus moves incrementally in balancing the pressures for stability and change

Under the pluralist view (in some sense resembles the multi-tradition view of US politics):

  • New York emphasized group competition when analyzing both periods of normal politics $\implies$ viewed as a diverse political arena where competing interest groups interact with city officials to secure some share of the prizes of local politics
  • the 1975 fiscal crisis resulted from economic decline following a temporary imbalance in the city’s interest group configuration

Statism is the doctrine that the political authority of the state is legitimate to some degree. This may include economic and social policy, especially in regard to taxation and the means of production.

Statism differs with Pluraist in

  • From the statist perspective, then, urban fiscal crises are the predictable con­ sequence of government’s inability to exercise authority and choose among dif­ ferent claims on public resources.
  • although resources are noncumulative from a system-wide perspective, the agency-client relationships that characterize group entrenchment represent cumulative power within a particular policy area. The ability of entrenched interests to exclude countervailing groups from their policy domains negates the pluralist concepts of political competition.

Stratification approach: local politics is essentially the domain of eco­ nomic elites whose policy influence overrides that of any other group or coali­ tion in the city.

They differ from previous groups in that:

  • instead of concentrating their attention on public decision­ making processes group, stratification believes the determinant role that economic elites play in local politics.
  • elitists researcher thus believes that a) an economic elite controls most major public policy decisions; b) city politics includes a visible political class whose members contest for office but who are, in the final analysis, subservient to the local economic elites
  • from the perspective of elite theorists, urban fiscal crises are the consequence of the self-interested policies pursued by the economic elites who control cities

US Civil Rights

The U.S Constitution and its founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice are admired and emulated the world over. However, not everyone living in the U.S. has enjoyed the same treatment and freedoms the law promises: e.g. women, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and other groups, a majority of Americans have been deprived of basic rights and opportunities.

The belief that people should be treated equally under the law is one of the cornerstones of political thought in the United States. Yet not all citizens have been treated equally throughout the nation’s history. Some types of unequal treatment are considered acceptable in some contexts, while others are clearly not.

No one would consider it acceptable to allow a ten-year-old to vote, because a child lacks the ability to understand important political issues, but all reasonable people would agree that it is wrong to mandate racial segregation or to deny someone voting rights on the basis of race. It is important to understand which types of inequality are unacceptable and why.

What are Civil Rights?

Before we dive in on what is Civil Rights, it is good to know

We typically envision civil liberties as limitations on government power, intended to protect freedoms upon which governments may not legally intrude.

For example

  • the First Amendment denies the government the power to prohibit “the free exercise” of religion.
  • the Eighth Amendment prohibits the application of “cruel and unusual punishments” to those convicted of crimes,

Civil rights, on the other hand, are guarantees that government officials will treat citizens equally and that decisions will be made on the basis of merit rather than race, gender, or other personal characteristics.

In a sense this is also limitation on government, but limiting the government’s ability to discriminate or treat some people differently, unless the unequal treatment is based on a valid reason, such as age.

For example:

  • Fifth Amendment: “all men are created equal” by providing de jure equal treatment under the law.

  • equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states, in part, that “No State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”; also ensure that the states would respect the civil liberties of formerly enslaved people (from Civil War).

But how do you identify discrimination? What count as discrimination? Consider the following examples:

  • need a a minimum age for driving $\to$ age discrimination?
  • school only enroll students have a high school diploma or a particular score on the SAT or ACT $\to$ discriminate students with weaker grades?

How can the federal, state, and local governments “discriminate” in all these ways even though the equal protection clause seems to suggest that everyone be treated the same?

The decision between what is discrimination and what is not lies in the purpose of the discriminatory practice, and really, how justifiable it is.

The simple, most general rule is the rational basis test. That is, as long as there’s a reason for treating some people differently that is “rationally related to a legitimate government interest,” the discriminatory act or law or policy is acceptable.

  • e.g. universities discriminate against students with weaker grades and test scores because these students most likely do not yet possess the knowledge or skills needed to do well in their classes

However, depending on what group of people is discriminated, courts apply more stringent rules to policies, laws, and actions

Discrimination based on gender or sex is generally examined with intermediate scrutiny.

  • need to demonstrate such discrimination is “substantially related to an important governmental objective.”
  • e.g. laws that treat men and women differently are sometimes upheld,

Discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups or those of various national origins is reviewed with the strict scrutiny standard

  • there is a compelling governmental interest in treating people from one group differently
  • if there is a non-discriminatory way to accomplish the goal in question, discrimination should not take place.
  • e.g. laws and actions that are challenged under strict scrutiny have rarely been upheld

In summary, a simple helper method for you to identify true discrimination

  1. Which groups? First, identify the group of people who are facing discrimination.
  2. Which right(s) are threatened? Second, what right or rights are being denied to members of this group?
  3. What do we do? Third, what can the government do to bring about a fair situation for the affected group? Is proposing and enacting such a remedy realistic?

The African American Struggle for Equality

Here I summarize some major events related to civil rights and civil war:

Antebellum: 1787-1865

  1. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson made the radical statement that “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
  2. But at his time, Jefferson also owned dozens of other human beings as his personal property. He recognized this contradiction, and agreed to free those upon his death
  3. but still, framers of the Constitution chose not to address the issue in any definitive way. Political support for abolition was very much a minority stance in the United States at the time
  4. As US expanded westward $\to$ They feared the expansion of slavery would lead to the political dominance of the South over the North and would deprive small farmers in the newly acquired western territories who could not afford to enslave others.
  5. President Abraham Lincoln had been willing to allow slavery to continue in the South to preserve the Union, he changed his policies regarding abolition over the course of the war.
  6. Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863: Although it stated “all persons held as slaves . . . henceforward shall be free,” the proclamation was limited in effect to the states that had rebelled

Basically a period where you have:

  • anti-slavery thoughts: abolitionists, black religious, ed, prof, business groups; small farmres, merchants, markers, esp. N & border
    • note that they are here for different reasons, e.g. purely economical, ideological, moral.
  • pro-slavery thoughts: slave owners, textile; industrialists in N, artisans and working-class, European immigrates

Civil Rights in the Court: 1877-1960s

  1. After the civil war, changes wrought by Fifth and Fourteens Amendment introduced banning of slavery and equal rights/treatments

  2. But soon, violence in the hands of white men was used to discourage Black people from exercising the rights they had been granted.

  3. The revocation of voting rights, or disenfranchisement, took a number of forms

    Method How it works How it discriminates
    literacy tests and understanding tests call on voter to demonstrate his (and later, her) ability to read a particular passage of text. more difficult passages to those whose registration they wanted to deny (typically, Black people).
    grandfather clause exempted those who had been allowed to vote in that state prior to the Civil War and their descendants from literacy and understanding tests. to protect in some states, poorer, less-literate white voters feared being disenfranchised due to the literacy/understanding test
        allowed most illiterate white people to vote while leaving obstacles in place for Black people who wanted to vote as well.
    poll tax pay to register to vote. Because formerly enslaved people were usually quite poor, they were less likely than White men to be able to pay poll taxes.
    white primary they held primary elections to choose the Democratic nominee in which only White citizens were allowed to vote. make the votes from Black people meaningless since since White voters can agree beforehand to support whoever won the Democrats’ primary
  4. alongwith disenfranchisement, there is also discrimination of treatment - “separate but equal

  • As long as nominally equal facilities were provided for both races, it was legal to require members of each race to use the facilities designated for them.
  • state and local governments passed laws limiting neighborhoods in which Black and White people could live.
  • Collectively, these discriminatory laws came to be known as Jim Crow laws = legalized racial segregation
  1. Then comes a series of court rulings and accusations made by organizations such as National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for equal treatment

    • e.g. overturning segregation in education.
    • Beyond these favorable court rulings, however, progress toward equality for African Americans remained slow in the 1950s.

Basically a period where you have:

  • anti-Jim Crow thoughts: liberal democrats and liberal republicans; black business; most non-white advocacy organizations
  • pro-Jim Crow thoughts: conservative south democrats and republicans, most white business, and most white academic institution

Legislating Civil Rights and Post Civil Rights Movement: 1970s - (2016?)

  1. After Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a White person and was arrested, Civil rights pioneers adopted these measures in the 1955–1956 Montgomery bus boycott.
    • prefer more confrontational approaches, including the use of direct action campaigns relying on marches and demonstrations.
    • The strategies of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience,
  2. As the campaign for civil rights continued and gained momentum, President John F. Kennedy called for Congress to pass new civil rights legislation, which began to work its way through Congress in 1963 $\implies$ for the first time outlawed segregation/discrimination and other forms of discrimination by most businesses that were open to the public
  3. Progress in registering African American voters remained slow in many states despite increased federal activity supporting it, so civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. decided to draw the public eye to the area where the greatest resistance to voter registration drives were taking place.
    • planned a march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965.
    • The events at Selma galvanized support in Congress for a follow-up bill solely dealing with the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 went beyond previous laws by requiring greater oversight of elections by federal officials.
  4. But of course, there are other approaches to black rights. Malcolm X expressed significant distrust of White people, and advocated for their separation from the United States through eventual emigration to Africa.
    • His position was attractive to many young African Americans, especially after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

Basically a period where you have:

  • Race-Conscious: abolitionists; most democrats; non-white advocacy orgs
    • recognizes and takes into account the significance of race in society, including its impact on individuals and groups.
    • This approach acknowledges that race is an important factor in shaping experiences and outcomes and seeks to address racial disparities and inequities.
  • Color-blind: most republicans; conservative democrats; most federal and state judges
    • assumes that race should not be a factor in how people are treated or perceived

which is like trying to answer the question: how do you treat people equally

So in short:

  • south wanted slavery, 19th century northern and westerners had to fight to end it

  • south wanted to limit black rights post-emancipation - federal courts had to stop it

  • civil rights movement removed the last elements of white supremacy from law

Substance of policy debates determines coalition possibilities. i.e. depending on different time periods/context, there are different racial problems (e.g. due to economic grounds, etc) $\implies$ different support groups, some of which might seem confounding

Geography of White Supremacy

It is widely held (but false) that racial conflicts in the US caused by Southern racism. Why?

  1. federalism allowed variety of tactics to preserve white supremacy
  2. black population concentrated in South (by design) until 20th century
  3. Federal restricted non-Black citizenship advocated by western states

Another piece of data would be the probability of being lynched = 1889 - 1918

  • physical violence as a tactic to suppress the political rights of people $\implies$ show others to obey more
  • a period where white people trying to deter black from political participation

There is also discrimination against other groups:

  • Racial Restrictions on Citizenship: In 1780-1870: only ‘free whites’ were allowed to naturalize, and for example, Chinese, were only allowed to naturalize in 1943. From 1952, finally no racial restrictions.

Racial hierarchy is an American legacy, not Southern.

But at the same time:

Population change since 1965 has opened new frontiers

Some of the very recent issues include

  • Redistricting: Changes in population can require redistricting, or the redrawing of electoral boundaries, which can lead to political battles over how to allocate political power and representation.
  • Immigration policies: As immigration patterns have changed, there have been debates and political conflicts over how to manage borders, regulate immigration, and balance concerns around national security and economic growth with issues of human rights and social justice.
  • Urban-rural divides: Population change has also contributed to the urban-rural divide in many countries, with different political priorities and values emerging in urban and rural areas, and political leaders struggling to bridge these differences.

Voting Rights

Several related courts:

  • Dred Scott v Sanford (1857): held back people with enslaved ancestor could not be citizen. But then supemacy court decided that black does not have the right to sue
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896): whether or not state mandated segregation is a violation of equal protection. Decision: 14th amendment.
  • Korematsu v. United States (1944): upheld internment of Japanses-Americans as allowed
  • Shelly v. Kraemer (1948): previously allowed private agreements to involve racial restrictions. Now unconstitutional under this one
    • the issue here was that private owners created a covenant and the Fourteenth Amendment applies to state action.
    • However, the Court reasoned that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to judicial enforcement of such covenants, as that is state action. Thus, the Court concluded that the state is taking action in this case, therefore such an private racial agreement cannot be allowed.
  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954): banned segregation in public schools
  • Shelby County v. Holder (2013): certain states who were racially restrictive are require to pre-clear before elections. Ruling is that those pre-clearance requirement is unconstitutional
    • i.e. previously required certain states and localities with a history of discrimination in voting to obtain federal approval, or “preclearance,” before changing their voting laws or procedures

Sometimes the judgment is conservative, and sometimes liberal.

More on white primary (Texas style):

  • Texas banned white people voting in primary, but then it is sued to be unconstitutional
  • In 1935, they won a rule “party rule banning Black voting in primary was private action, so it is allowed
  • In 1944, delegating power to parties to run primary still a form of state action, so it is unconstitutional again

What does this show us?

  • white supremacists persistence, that people even try to move discriminatory actions into private sphere to prevent scrutiny

therefore, it is very difficult to use fixed actions or policy positions to treat discriminatory intent.

The Fights for Women’s Rights

  1. At the time of the American Revolution, women had few rights. Although single women were allowed to own property, married women were not.
    • e.g. all personal property they owned legally became their husbands’ property.
    • e.g. their husbands were entitled to their wages.
  2. Following the Revolution, women’s conditions did not improve. Women were not granted the right to vote by any of the states except New Jersey.
  3. In 1848, Stanton and Mott called for a women’s rights convention, the first ever held specifically to address the subject, at Seneca Falls, New York.
    • Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled after the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed women were equal to men and deserved the same rights.
    • The Declaration passed, but the resolution demanding suffrage was the only one that did not pass unanimously.
  4. The more radical National Woman’s Party (NWP), led by Alice Paul, advocated the use of stronger tactics. The NWP held public protests and picketed outside the White House
    • Finally, in 1920, the triumphant passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granted all women the right to vote.

Civil Rights and the Equal Rights amendment

  1. Just as the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments did not result in equality for African Americans, the Nineteenth Amendment did not end discrimination against women in education, employment, or other areas of life
  2. A second women’s rights movement emerged in the 1960s to address these problems. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of sex as well as race, etc
    • Nevertheless, women continued to be denied jobs because of their sex and were often sexually harassed at the workplace.
  3. National Organization for Women (NOW) = NOW promoted workplace equality, including equal pay for women. NOW also declared its support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which mandated equal treatment for all regardless of sex.
    • but until today, ERA failed to be ratified
    • Title IX of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 passed into law as a federal statute (not as amendment) $\implies$ if a school receives federal aid, it cannot spend more funds on programs for men than on programs for women.

Pressing Issues today

  1. Roe v. Wade, (1973) was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court conferred the right to choose to have an abortion. In June 2022, the Supreme Court overruled Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on the grounds that the substantive right to abortion was not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history or tradition”.
  2. glass ceiling, an invisible barrier caused by discrimination, prevents women from rising to the highest levels of American organizations, including corporations, governments, academic institutions, and religious groups. Women earn less money than men for the same work.

Civil Rights for Indigenous Groups

This includes group such as Native Americans, Alaskans, and Hawaiians

  • Ironically, Native Americans were not granted the full rights and protections of U.S. citizenship until long after African Americans and women were, with many having to wait until the Nationality Act of 1940 to become citizens.


  1. From the very beginning of European settlement in North America, Native Americans were abused and exploited.
  2. As White settlement spread westward over the course of the nineteenth century, Indian tribes were forced to move from their homelands.
  3. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which forced Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi River.
    • Not all tribes were willing to leave their land, however. The Cherokee in particular resisted
    • Between 1831 and 1838, members of several southern tribes, including the Cherokees, were forced by the U.S. Army to move west
    • The forced removal of the Cherokees to Oklahoma Territory, which had been set aside for settlement by displaced tribes and designated Indian Territory, resulted in the death of one-quarter of the tribe’s population. The Cherokees remember this journey as the Trail of Tears.
  4. By the time of the Civil War, most Indian tribes had been relocated west of the Mississippi. However, once large numbers of White Americans and European immigrants had also moved west after the Civil War, Native Americans once again found themselves displaced.
  5. In 1898, the Curtis Act dealt the final blow to Indian sovereignty by abolishing all tribal governments.


  1. As Indians were removed from their tribal lands and increasingly saw their traditional cultures being destroyed over the course of the nineteenth century, a movement to protect their rights began to grow.
    • e.g. Sarah Winnemucca, member of the Paiute tribe, lectured throughout the east in the 1880s in order to acquaint White audiences with the injustices suffered by the western tribes.
  2. In 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act granted citizenship to all Native Americans born after its passage.
  3. In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, which ended the division of reservation land into allotments. It returned to Native American tribes the right to institute self-government on their reservations.
    • However, most tribes remained impoverished, and many Native Americans, despite the fact that they were now U.S. citizens, were denied the right to vote
  4. In the 1960s, a modern Native American civil rights movement, inspired by the African American civil rights movement, began to grow.
    • In 1969, a group of Native American activists from various tribes, took control of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay
    • In 1973, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a more radical group than the occupiers of Alcatraz, temporarily took over the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC.
  5. The current relationship between the U.S. government and Native American tribes was established by the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975.
    • tribes assumed control of programs that had formerly been controlled by the BIA, such as education and resource management, and the federal government provided the funding.
  6. In addition to gains in water rights and land rights, Native American tribes made other gains in recent decades. Tribes have robust and well-recognized governing institutions based on democratic principles.
  7. Finally, the appointment by President Biden, and subsequent Senate confirmation, of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) as Secretary of the Interior was a powerful and pathbreaking moment. She is the first Native American to hold that position at Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Equal Protection For Other Groups

Many groups in American society have faced and continue to face challenges in achieving equality, fairness, and equal protection under the laws and policies of the federal government and/or the states.

Some of these groups are often overlooked because they are not as large of a percentage of the U.S. population as women or African Americans, and because organized movements to achieve equality for them are relatively young.

Hispanic/Latino Civil Rights

  • Hispanic usually refers to native speakers of Spanish or those descended from Spanish-speaking countries. Latino refers to people who come from, or whose ancestors came from, Latin America. Not all Hispanics are Latinos and vice versa. People from Spain are Hispanic but are not Latino, while people from Brazil are Latino but not Hispanic.
  • Many Latinos became part of the U.S. population following the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845. The Spanish-speaking population of the United States increased following the Spanish-American War in 1898 with the incorporation of Puerto Rico as a U.S. territory.
    • In the early twentieth century, waves of violence aimed at Mexicans and Mexican Americans swept the Southwest. Mexican Americans in Arizona and in parts of Texas were denied the right to vote,
  • Today, Latinos constitute the largest minority group in the United States. They also have one of the highest birth rates of any ethnic group.

Asian American Civil Rights

  • Asian Americans have also often been discriminated against and denied their civil rights. Often stereotyped as the “the model minority” (because it is assumed they are generally financially successful and do well academically), the truth is that Asian Americans have long faced discrimination.
  • The Chinese were the first large group of Asian people to immigrate to the United States.
    • Their willingness to work for less money than White workers led White workers in California to call for a ban on Chinese immigration. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented Chinese from immigrating to the United States for ten years
    • With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, all Asian people, with the exception of Filipinos, were prevented from immigrating to the United States or becoming naturalized citizens.
  • Discrimination against Asian Americans, regardless of national origin, increased during the Vietnam War.
    • Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese caused members of these groups to unite around a shared pan-Asian identity, much as Native Americans had in the Pan-Indian movement.
    • (history) The Vietnam war is fought between the communist forces of North Vietnam and the government forces of South Vietnam (with eventual allies of US troops and Chinese=strong ally of north Vietnam as well). The main cause of the Vietnam war was the spread of communism and the desire of the North Vietnamese to reunify the country under a communist government. The war was characterized by guerrilla tactics and unconventional warfare, and resulted in a significant loss of life and widespread destruction.
  • Unfortunately, recently racist vitriol related to the origin of COVID-19 has recently highlighted discrimination against Asian Americans again

Civil Liberties

In writing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Thomas Jefferson drew on the ideas of English philosopher John Locke to express the colonists’ belief that they had certain inalienable or natural rights that no ruler had the power or authority to deny to their subjects.

The framers of the Constitution wanted a government that would not repeat the abuses of individual liberties and rights that caused them to declare independence from Britain.

What are those freedoms? And how should we balance them against the interests of society and other individuals?

What are Civil Liberties?

Recall that we defined a distinction between civil liberties and civil rights in What are Civil Rights?: civil liberties as limitations on government power, intended to protect freedoms upon which governments may not legally intrude.

Two general form of protection

  • substantive restraints (i.e. to a particular action). For example, get contraception; neither states nor the national government can forbid people to follow a religion of their choice, even if politicians and judges think the religion is misguided.
  • procedural restraints. For example, police must follow certain procedure when arresting/interrogating people

That said, the way you practice your religion, like any other practice, may be regulated if it impinges on the rights of others.

The first tool you think of as to “restrict the government on regulating civil freedom” could be the “bill of rights”:

  1. The Constitution as drafted in 1787 did not include a Bill of Rights, although the idea of including one was proposed and, after brief discussion, dismissed in the final week of the Constitutional Convention. The framers of the Constitution believed they

    • faced much more pressing concerns—most notably keeping the fragile union together in the light of internal unrest and external threats.
    • had adequately covered rights issues in the main body of the document
      • bills of attainder: prohibit convicts or punishes someone for a crime without a trial,
      • prohibiting ex post facto laws: prohibit the retroactive effect that it can be used to punish crimes that were not crimes at the time they were committed,
      • limiting the ability of Congress to suspend the writ of habeas corpus: allow a neutral judge decide whether someone has been lawfully detained.
    • Hamilton went on to argue that listing some rights might actually be dangerous, because it would provide a pretext for people to claim that rights not included in such a list were not protected.
  2. However, many large states—New York and Virginia in particular—believed the Constitution’s lack of specified rights became a serious point of contention, and hence did not want to ratify the constitution. As a result, the framers agreed to consider incorporating provisions (i.e. later the Bill of Rights). Ultimately, James Madison proposed ten of the amendments were successfully ratified

    First Amendment Right to freedoms of religion and speech; right to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances; right to a free press
    Second Amendment Right to keep and bear arms to maintain a well-regulated militia
    Third Amendment Right to not house soldiers during time of war
    Fourth Amendment Right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure
    Fifth Amendment Rights in criminal cases, including due process and indictment by grand jury for capital crimes, as well as the right not to testify against oneself
    Sixth Amendment Right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury
    Seventh Amendment Right to a jury trial in civil cases
    Eighth Amendment Right to not face excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment
    Ninth Amendment Rights retained by the people, even if they are not specifically enumerated by the Constitution
    Tenth Amendment States’ rights to powers not specifically delegated to the federal government

BoR can be thought of a way to limit conformity cost. i.e. to limit the ability of the majority to impose their preferences on minority groups through legislation or other means. $\implies$ certain minority preference/rights are still preserved

However, the meaning and intent of BoR is often unclear.

For example:

  • ambiguous language
    • in 8th amendment What is “curel and unusual punishment”
    • establishment clause and prayer (does praer in public school count as religious )
  • practical contradictions
    • press freedom (1st), but public trial with impartial jury (8th) $\implies$ very hard if facts have been exposed in media, even illegal, can make it hard to make impartial decisions
  • omissions
    • who does the BoR restrict? Does it apply to state governments? What about local governments?

As a result, the Supreme Court had to make a lot of decisions.

  1. the Barron Case (1830) ruled that BoR does not applied to state $\implies$ then BoR has no meaning really as states are the implementations
  2. then, after the Civil War, succeeded states had to agree to amendments (e.g. 14th) in order to rejoin US
  3. in the 14th amendment, obligated states to provide equal protectoin, due procecss
    • national citienship (e.g. for black people)
    • equal protection: but note that police department was not there
    • due process: without due proces of law, state cannot deprice any person of life and liberty
  4. establishment of a monopoly of slaughter house in Arizona
    • decided that BoR does not apply to states $\to$ the decision limited the ability of the federal government to protect the rights of citizens against state abuses, and it helped to reinforce the power of state governments to regulate the activities of their citizens.
    • It was only later, through other landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade, that the Supreme Court began to expand the scope of federal power and protect the rights of citizens against state infringement.
  5. over time, more and more elements of BoR gets incorporated into state $\to$ **selective incorporation **(see below as well)


  1. In the decades following the Constitution’s ratification, the Supreme Court declined to expand the Bill of Rights to curb the power of the states
  2. The festering issue of the rights of enslaved persons and the convulsions of the Civil War and its aftermath forced a reexamination of the prevailing thinking about the application of the Bill of Rights to the states.
    • e.g. after the civil war, states passed “Black codes” that restricted the rights of formerly enslaved people
  3. Their long-term solution was to propose and enforce two amendments to the Constitution to guarantee the rights of freed men and women.
    • With the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, the scope and limits of civil liberties became clearer: “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”
    • second provision of the Fourteenth Amendment pertaining to the application of the Bill of Rights to the states is the due process clause, which requires fair treatment and procedural safeguards (e.g. the right to a trial, and that people be treated fairly and impartially by government officials) before the government can deprive a person of life, liberty, or property.
  4. there has been a process of selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights into the practices of the states: certain provisions must be upheld by the states, even if their state constitutions and laws (and the Tenth Amendment itself) do not protect them
    1. when issue arises, the Supreme Court decides whether state laws violate the Bill of Rights and are therefore unconstitutional.
    2. it this still consistent with the supremacy clause? The key is that if there is a conflict, then supremacy clause overrules.
    3. e.g. It was only in the McDonald v. Chicago case two years later that the Supreme Court incorporated the Second Amendment (keep and bear arms) into state law.

Securing Basic Freedoms

We can broadly divide the provisions of the Bill of Rights into three categories


  • protect basic individual freedoms;
  • criminal procedural protections: protect people suspected or accused of criminal activity or facing civil litigation;
  • express the view that Bill of Rights is not necessarily an exhaustive list of all the rights people have and guarantees a role for state as well as federal government

A bit more details into the different amendments

  1. The first amendment: guarantees both religious freedoms and the right to express your views in public.
    • establishment clause. Congress is prohibited from creating or promoting a state-sponsored religion (this now includes the states).
    • free exercise clause, on the other hand, limits the ability of the government to control or restrict religious practices.
    • basically, it not only forbids the creation of a “Church of the United States” or “Church of Ohio” it also forbids the government from favoring one set of religious beliefs over others or favoring religion (of any variety) over non-religion.
  2. The second amendment: the right of the people to keep and bear Arms
    • however, due to school shootings and gun violence. As a result, gun rights have become a highly charged political issue.
  3. The third amendment: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
    • citizens remembered having their cities and towns occupied by British soldiers and mercenaries during the Revolutionary War, and they viewed the British laws that required the colonists to house soldiers particularly offensive
  4. The fourth amendment: indicates that government officials are required to apply for and receive a search warrant prior to a search or seizure;
    • sits at the boundary between general individual freedoms and the rights of those suspected of crimes.
    • can be seen as to protects us from overzealous efforts by law enforcement to root out crime by ensuring that police have good reason before they intrude on people’s lives with criminal investigations.
    • however, the courts have found that police do not generally need a warrant to search the passenger compartment of a car, or to search people entering the United States from another country.
      • but they must demonstrate to a judge that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed or evidence will be found.
      • Probable cause is the legal standard for determining whether a search or seizure is constitutional or a crime has been committed; it is a lower threshold than the standard of proof at a criminal trial.
    • exclusionary rule: obtained without a warrant could not be counted as evidence in a trial

Rights of Suspects

In addition to protecting the personal freedoms of individuals, the Bill of Rights protects those suspected or accused of crimes from various forms of unfair or unjust treatment.

The next four amendments pertain to those suspected, accused, or convicted of crimes, as well as people engaged in other legal disputes.

  1. the fifth amendment:
    • protection against self-incrimination: you have the right not to give evidence in court or to law enforcement officers that might constitute an admission of guilt or responsibility for a crime.
    • protects individuals against double jeopardy, a process that subjects a suspect to prosecution twice for the same criminal act.
  2. the sixth amendment: contains the provisions that govern criminal trials, i.e. after which a person is charged with crime
    • the right to have a speedy, public trial by an impartial jury (i.e. excessively lengthy delays must be justified and balanced against the potential harm to the defendant.)
    • plea bargain, an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant pleads guilty to the charge(s) in question, or perhaps to less serious charges, in exchange for more lenient punishment than they might receive if convicted after a full trial.
  3. the seventh amendment: deals with the rights of those engaged in civil disputes
  4. the eighth amendment: cannot impose bail or fines that are unreasonably high or disproportionate to the alleged offense, and prohibits any cruel and unusual punishment
    • e.g. drawing and quartering, burning people alive, and the electric chair—are prohibited by this provision.

Examples include (criminal procedural protections)

  • Mapp v. Ohio - materials obtained by unconstitutional searches cannot be used in criminal courts
  • Gideon v. Wainwright - Can’t afford lawyers? State required to pay for lawyer for anyone who cannot afford it
  • Miranda v. Arizona - police must notify suspects of rights prior to interrogation
  • In re Gault - can this 15 year old be protected? Decision: procedural constitutional protections apply to juveniles as well

Interpreting the Bill of Rights

Ninth and Tenth Amendments indicate how the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be interpreted, and lay out the residual powers of the state governments - these two amendments affect our understanding of the Constitution as a whole.

  1. the ninth amendment: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

    • i.e. James Madison and the other framers were aware they might endanger some rights if they listed a few in the Constitution and omitted others.
  2. the tenth amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    • also allows states to guarantee rights and liberties more fully or extensively than the federal government does
    • however, by the supremacy clause, if the federal government passes a law or adopts a constitutional amendment that restricts rights or liberties, or a Supreme Court decision interprets the Constitution in a way that narrows these rights, the state’s protection no longer applies.
  3. the right to privacy: scholars have interpreted several Bill of Rights provisions as an indication that James Madison and Congress sought to protect a common-law right to privacy: a right to be free of government intrusion into our personal life, particularly within the bounds of the home.

    • stem from the 9th amendment, i.e. implicitly reasoned from the other amendments/laws

    • sexual privacy: including right to obtain contraception, abortion rights (overturned recently), the rights for adults to have noncommercial, consensual sexual relationships in private.

      • Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization: now abortion is not protected by constitution (overruled Joe v. Wade)
    • privacy of communication and property: this has been complicated in modern era where the society is under pervasive surveillance.

      • pervasive use of GPS; and research shows that even metadata—information about the messages we send and the calls we make—can tell governments and businesses a lot about what someone is doing.
      • increased use of drones, small preprogrammed or remotely piloted aircraft.
      • In the United States, many advocates of civil liberties are concerned that laws such as the USA PATRIOT Act (i.e., Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act), passed weeks after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, have given the federal government too much power by making it easy for officials to seek and obtain search warrants or, in some cases, to bypass warrant requirements altogether.

      as a result, the emergence of these technologies (while unarguably beneficial) means calls for vigilance and limits on what businesses and governments can do with the information they collect and the length of time they may retain it.

  4. other “found” rights (implied by interpreting other laws)

    • to procreate, i.e. people do have fundamental right to have children
      • living with extended family
      • To control own child’s upbringing (e.g. Meyer v NE, to teach a child a foreign language)
      • etc.

One takeaway message from the privacy issues. e.g. abortion case with Dobbs

  • the same conclusion can be reasoned to by multiple paths
  • part of the US Supreme Court reasoning is very political palatable, given the current context
    • Hence to make a case successful it largely depends on *how you reason your case

And fundamentally, both the Constitutions and the BoR can be seen as an attempt to solve the collective action problem.

By having the Constitutions and BoR:

  1. Constitution $\to$ a separation of powers $\to$ ensures that decisions are made through a collective process involving multiple branches of government
    • by requiring cooperation and compromise among different groups and branches of government, it encourages coordination and limiting the ability of any one group to dominate the decision-making process
  2. the Bill of Rights provides protections for individual rights and freedoms that can help to reduce conformity costs and encourage political participation.
    • By guaranteeing freedoms such as free speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government, the Bill of Rights helps to ensure that minority groups are able to have their voices heard in the decision-making proces
  3. the Constitution and Bill of Rights establish a legal framework $\to$ disputes can be resolved without resorting to violence or coercion $\to$ providing a means for resolving conflicts and coordinating actions
    • e.g. as there is a law, you have knowledge of what other people can or not do to you

Problem of Delegation

we will discuss agency models,and then discuss house and senate system in US

Agency Model

Agency Model: developed most in economics, to analyze the phenomenon that one person delegates some task to another to get something done (in stead of doing it yourself)

For Example:

  • voters delegate policy making to governments
  • government don’t provide service directly, but sometimes ask private companies
  • congress delegates enforcement of laws (but makes a lot of laws) to president and bureaucracy
  • school departments delegates teaching to professors
  • professor delegate teaching instructors/discussion sections to TAs
  • students/parents delegate education and safety to the college they attend

Sometimes really consequential decisions/responsibilities being delegated to others

in general, leaders in an organization delegate certain decisions and responsibility to lower members $\implies$ occurs everywhere. But why did it occur?

  • take advantage of specialization = those delegated with narrow set of tasks can develop better skills at it
  • overcome individual time/resource constraints = simply too difficult for a single person to control everything
    • e.g. all polices report to the chief $\to$ at some point too overwhelming for that single chief to understand what is happening $\to$ hierarchical
  • mitigate collection action problems (e.g. free rider) . for example, this small group of people has this responsibility
  • deflect responsibility: let other people enact certain harsh decisions/implementations
    • e.g. let IRS collect taxes, but when using it to build infrastructure such as bridges, MC shows up

While this sounds great, what can go wrong in this agency model?

  • they might not do what you want $\to$ moral harzard problem = personal interest for those agents could come first
  • they might just be bad at it $\to$ adverse selection problem

This basically comes down to Agency Loss = different between the quality of you doing it v.s. someone else doing it = i.e. cost of due to delegating power to others

(note that this is applicable to the proliferation of local government = different lens to the same problem)

How do you reduce agency loss? (i.e. cost of delegating power to others)

  • Intentional disobedience can be mitigated by
    • set clear rules and instructions, be explicit what the agent should do
    • punishment/reward, e.g. monitoring
  • incompetence can be mitigated by
    • careful selection of agent with right skills
    • dismissing agents without skills, e.g. competitions

But of course, this might not be easy to implement in real life

  • how do you keep certain FBI work on law enforcement but not CIA, so that if you tried to remove them they threaten with some compromised documents?

The US Congress

Recall that:

  • Instead of having all power delegate to a president (after years of tyranny under a king), framers, while recognizing the need for centralization in terms of a stronger national government with an elected executive wielding its own authority, those at the Constitutional Convention wanted a strong representative assembly at the national level: the congress
  • Thus, Article I of the Constitution grants several key powers to Congress, which include overseeing the budget and all financial matters, introducing legislation, confirming or rejecting judicial and executive nominations, and even declaring war.


  1. Speaker of the House: The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives and is responsible for overseeing the House’s proceedings, setting the agenda, and managing its operations. The Speaker is also second in line to the presidency, after the Vice President. The Speaker is elected by the members of the House and is typically the leader of the majority party.
  2. Majority Leader: The Majority Leader is responsible for managing and scheduling the House’s legislative agenda. They work with the Speaker of the House to set the legislative agenda and help guide legislation through the House. The Majority Leader is typically the second-ranking member of the majority party in the House.
  3. Minority Leader: The Minority Leader is responsible for representing the minority party in the House and works with the Majority Leader and Speaker of the House to negotiate and craft legislation. The Minority Leader is typically the leader of the minority party in the House.
  4. Whip: The Whip is responsible for counting votes and ensuring that members of their party vote in accordance with the party’s position. They work closely with the Majority and Minority Leaders to build support for legislation and to ensure that their party’s position is reflected in the House’s votes.

What’s special about the Congress system in the US?

  • The bicameral system established at the Constitutional Convention and still followed today requires the two houses to pass identical bills, or proposed items of legislation. This is not easy, hence
    • reduce hasty decisions
    • large-scale dramatic reform is exceptionally difficult to pass and that the status quo is more likely to win the day
    • difficult for a single faction or interest group to enact laws and restrictions
  • The congress is a bicameral system
    • the Senate every state will have two senators who each serve a six-year term.
    • the House of Representatives are distributed among the states based on each state’s population

Certain powers of the congress include (granted by the Constitution)

  1. levy taxes: quite possibly the most important power Congress possesses, i.e. controls the money.
  2. setting budget and regulate interstate and international commerce
  3. introduce legislation
  4. oversight of the actions of the president and the administration: the Senate’s final say on many presidential nominations and treaties signed by the president, and the House’s ability to impeach or formally accuse the president or other federal officials of wrongdoing
  5. war declaration: they don’t run military, but they can decide whether if war can happen
  6. also have a “necessary and proper clause”

How does Constitution limit Congress’ power (therefore incurs conformity costs)

  • need periodic (2y) elections = congressmen needs to respond to people’s needs
  • separation of power
    • president being able to veto legislations
    • house + senate
  • different elections
    • some people could be representing parts of NY, and certain the entire state of NY
    • different goals
  • BoR limiting what congress can do

The traditional process by which a bill becomes a law is called the classic legislative process. How does a bill get passed in the congress?

  1. legislation must be drafted
  2. majority leadership consults with the parliamentarian about which committee to send it to.
  3. hold a hearing on the bill.
    • If the chair decides to not hold a hearing, this is tantamount to killing the bill in committee.
  4. Once hearings have been completed, the bill enters the markup stage.
    • This is essentially an amending and voting process.
    • Tabling a bill typically means the bill is dead, but there is still an option to bring it back up for a vote again.
    • If the committee decides to advance the bill, however, it is printed and goes to the chamber, either the House or the Senate.
      • House can debate and add amendments. Once the limits of debate and amendments have been reached, the House holds a vote. A majority (51%) is needed to pass
      • in the Senate, the bill is placed on the calendar so it can be debated. Typically, senators allow each other to talk and debate as long as the speaker wants = the filibuster problem. To invoke cloture (prevent filibuster), the Senate had to get a two-thirds majority.
  5. Post-fixing: recall that for a legislation to pass, both House and the Senate need to pass identical bills. Typically one of the two approach is taken:
    • the chamber to simply accept the bill that ultimately makes it out of the second chamber.
    • first chamber to further amend the second chamber’s bill and send it back to the second chamber.
  6. Pass to president for signature.
    • If the president does veto the bill, both chambers must muster a two-thirds vote to overcome the veto and make the bill law without presidential approval


Congress with Agency Model

How do collective action problem limit Congress

  • need for information
    • free-rider: the acquisution of knowledge incurrs some costs, but once you know it everybody can take advantage of it
  • compromise/building coalitions
    • legislation need majorities to make decisions
  • need to decide what to prioritize, since workload is inhuman (coordination problem)
  • getting members of congress to work towards the same goal. Arises since individual and collective goals could be different
    • individual goals: reelection/higher office; power in Washington. i.e. MC might be better of
      • doing casework = directly helping a person = getting support back
      • focus on pet legislation = what you personally really cared about
      • just spend a lot of time campaigning in the district
      • not drafting legislation (which is technically the job as congress member)
    • collective goal: good public policy, maintaining the institution

Collective action of the congress (e.g. drafting good polict) significantly undermined by individual interests

But this is not without hope:

  • Specific members (i.e. a hierarchy) have special powers to induce coordination (solve coordinate action)
    • legislative parties: Members of Congress are organized into political parties, and party leaders play a critical role in promoting coordination among members.
      • Party leaders work to build consensus (balance individual interests) and ensure that their party’s positions are reflected in legislative outcomes.
      • reduce the cost of information exchange and promote the exchange of information and ideas
    • committee system: allows for members to work together to craft policy and can help to balance individual interests with the interests of the legislative body as a whole; can also seen as being delegated some power
      • so that this smaller group of people can do collective action stuff more easily, e.g. gathering information
      • but the tradeoff is of course that there is still agency loss? How do we mitigate that?
        • select the right members (e.g. to control what kind of bills show up at the first place, e.g. giving leadership positions to loyal members)
        • deploy reward and punishments (e.g. reward specific members things they are interested in)
  • shift some of the benefits of individual goals/powers to speakers of the house/whips
    • Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader have the ability to decide which bills are brought to the floor for consideration, and they have the power to shape the legislative agenda. This allows them to prioritize certain issues and work to build consensus among members, rather than allowing individual members to dictate the agenda based solely on their own interests.
    • the Whips do focus on getting votes for their party’s positions, they also work to ensure that party members are represented and that their interests are taken into account in the legislative process.
    • MC give up some individual freedom for collective benefits
    • but given speaker of house’s power, this means that:
      • [-] e.g. Gaetz v.s. McCarthy. Gaits said we are not voting for you unless you change the powers to limit yourself. Note that in republican there are extreme factions = members want restraints on the speaker of house.
      • [+] e.g. can use reward/punishment = essentially their power to achieve what they want. Nacy Pelosi to get AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) if you do what;
        • threats = cut you out on majority committee
        • get another candidate to compete with you
      • in summary, leader use reward and penalty to motivate the party. But party can change what power leaders have correspondingly
  • agency model as a solution: delegation of power from the house, and intended to use them to solve the collection problem
    • Resources of delegated to Party Leaders
      • scheduling (agenda control): setting rules of how to make decisions can affect the final decision!
        • e.g. preference for three senators A>B>C v.s. B>C>A v.s. C>A>B
        • then A v.s. B will have A win; A v.s. C will have C win = what actually gets passed
        • hence, this could also be misused for bad purposes
      • can control campaign money = solve coordination problem by giving reward and threats = controlling priority and working towards the same goal
        • e.g. Pelosi denying party members of Campaign funds when they don’t do their job (in Pelosi’s eyes)
    • Resource for Party in Senate (some what weaker and much more limited)
      • no rules committee
      • unlimited debate and amendments
        • less efficient = small member of senate can kill legislation
      • decide committee leadership by seniority
    • delegate work to a committee: as explained before, a committee with less people have a smaller collective action problem. But

In the collective action framework, those are strategies to get one policy/preference passed among many conflicting preferences.

In general, political change is hard

  • federal system has created a lot of veto points, so people can maintain policies they liked
  • entrenched political power extensive, used to preserve status quo (e.g. the conservatism in the bicameral Congress)

Hard to change, but not impossible. It is important for you to understand what it takes/you need to do to change the world.

  • abortion now banned 12 states now
  • slavery and Jim Crow segregation ended

Typology of Legislation

crucial to explain what legislation can be passed more easily in the congress. A lot of this depends on:

  • who/how many is going to come to you and complain (e.g. people being unhappy)
  • who/how many is going to is going to come to you and reward/support you (e.g. people being happy)

To see why this happens, we can first understand how targeted a particular legislation will be

  • e.g. if you take a particular group benefit away/give, people will notice. If everybody pays a little, is fine = diffuse cost
  Concentrated Costs Diffuse Costs
Concentrated Benefits NA Free Trade Agreement
Cigarette tax to fund inner city education
Farm subsidies (farmers get money for keeping land but funded by taxation)
Automotive subsidies
Diffuse Benefits Environmental Protection
Eminent domain
Public education

why the above:

  • NA Free Trade Agreement: any business can have the entire NA for trade; all those business that depends on the tariff needs to bear a huge costs
  • Environmental Protection: business who pollutes need to bear the immense costs; benefit is for everyone in general = diffuse
  • Eminent domain: government taking over some property (e.g. land) for a public project
  • Military: the US entirely benefits form the strong military; paid by the broad tax based

In general:

  • if costs/benefits are concentrated = leads to recipients very likely to provide feedback/show up
  • if costs/benefits are diffuse = leads to recipients unlikely to notice


  • MC biased toward well organized narrow interests = concentrated benefits and diffuse costs $\to$ benefited people will more likely show up to support the bill
  • MC will be bad passing at diffuse benefits and concentrated cost = not a lot of people show up to support it, but a lot showing up to condemn

The Presidency

Some background

  • Election Process: primaries and electoral college

    • The rise of the presidential primary and caucus system as the main means by which presidential candidates are selected has had a number of anticipated and unanticipated consequences.
      • i.e. the political party system, + primaries, which are elections in which candidates vied for the support of state delegations to the party’s nominating convention.
      • caucus or large-scale gathering was made up of legislators in the Congress who met informally to decide on nominees from their respective parties.
      • Hence, to win in primaries $\to$ candidates seek to align themselves with committed partisans,
    • then, the candidate who wins the popular vote in November receives all the state’s electoral votes.
      • the Electoral College consists of a body of 538 people called electors, each representing one of the fifty states or the District of Columbia.
      • this system created certain irregularities: e.g. Donald Trump comfortably won the Electoral College by narrowly winning the popular vote in several states, while Hillary Clinton collected nearly 2.9 million more votes nationwide.
      • Should no candidate receive a majority of the votes cast, the House of Representatives would select the president, with each state casting a single vote, while the Senate chose the vice president.


  • Impeachment: removing the president over serious wrongdoing

    1. the House of Representatives could impeach the president by a simple majority vote.
    2. the Senate could remove the president from office by a two-thirds majority

    e.g. the most recent impeachments were of President Donald Trump, who was impeached in the House twice. However, support for removal in the Senate did not meet the super-majority requirement,

  • Power of the president: a few note-worthy ones include

    1. commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States
      • today, this has been expanded greatly, with presidents waging undeclared wars,
    2. negotiate treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate, and receive representatives of foreign nations
    3. nominating federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, as well as other federal officials, and making appointments to fill military and diplomatic posts.
    4. veto legislation if necessary, although a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of Congress could override that veto;
    5. (later developed) executive privilege, the right to withhold information from Congress, the judiciary, or the public.

    The rather vague wording in Article II, which says that the “executive power shall be vested” in the president, has been subject to broad and sweeping interpretation in order to justify actions beyond those specifically enumerated

In general, we now see a growth of presidential power attributable to the growth of the United States $\to$ rising profile of the United States on the international stage has meant that the president is a far more important figure as leader of the nation.

After winning an election:

  • appointments

    • most importantly selection of a cabinet.
      • today in total there are 15 members
      • inner cabinet—the heads of the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, and the Treasury (echoing Washington’s original cabinet)—receive the most attention from the president, the Congress, and the media.
      • president nominate those positions, while the Senate confirms or rejects these nominations. Though most of the time it is confirm.
    • selection of the West Wing of the White House = president’s staff, and the name is where they worked
      • e.g. political advisers, speechwriters, and a press secretary to manage the politics and the message of the administration
      • not subject to Senate approval
    • selection of vice president: before, vice presidents were often sent on minor missions or used as mouthpieces for the administration. But now they are taking a much more active role + collaboration with the president.
  • forging an agenda: decide how to deliver upon what was promised during the campaign.

    • most presidents do recognize that they must address their major initiatives during their first two years in office.
    • the delivery of an inaugural address: set forth priorities within the overarching vision of what they intend to do.

The public presidency: can you use media + IT to get more political popularity?

  • before, using radio to broadcast the president’s voice into many of the nation’s homes.
  • now, television and the internet, but it remains a question whether choosing to go public actually enhances a president’s political position in battles with Congress.
    • [-] polarize political debate
    • [-] increase public opposition to the president
    • [-] complicate the chances to get something done.
    • [+] rallying supporters
  • but also the first lady: help to gain public support and help their husbands
    • e.g. increasing public political role of the first lady continued in the 1980s with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” antidrug campaign

President’s action during office:

  • direct action, it may break a policy deadlock or establish new grounds for action
    • exercises the power of pardon without conditions, i.e. fully forgiven for their offense, and their criminal record is effectively erased
    • line-item veto is a type of veto that keeps the majority of a spending bill unaltered but nullifies certain lines of spending within it.
    • signing statements are statements issued by a president when agreeing to legislation
    • executive orders or proclamations to achieve policy goals = direct government agencies to pursue a certain course, but are subject to court rulings or changes in policy enacted by Congress
      • often used in cases of national security, e.g. aggressively deploy U.S. military force.
      • rally around the flag effect, in which presidential popularity spikes during international crises = during national emergencies and war, presidents need to act independently and vigorously
  • informal powers of persuasion and negotiation essential to working with the legislative branch $\to$ to secure policy achievements in cooperation with Congress.
    • e.g. when the president nominates and the Senate confirms persons to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court
    • e.g. In times of divided government (when one party controls the presidency and the other controls one or both chambers of Congress), it is up to the president to cut deals and make compromises that will attract support from at least some members of the opposition party

How Powerful is the US President

19th century president had weak power, more like clerks than leaders

  • limited role in domestic policy making
  • limited capacity in federal agencies
  • cabinet (parties) made most of the policy choices
  • exceptions of this include
    • Lincoln: assumed unpredence tpower during civil war
    • Jackson - incredibly popular so can go against Congress and courts

20 century - instead of lead by congress, federal government lead by the executives

  • due to industrial revolution = a lot happened and Congress appointed those stuff to the executives
  • New Deal programs expanded purview of executives
  • Great Society continued
  • eventually the Congressional monitoring resource did not keep pace with executives work, could not monitor anymore

Advantage/Disadvantage of extensive delegation of power to executives by the Congress

  • [+] specialization: possibly greater expertise acquisition
  • [+] reduced a lot of workload congress
  • [+] more flexible policy-making
    • faster to change = congress might want certain policy changes more up-to-date with economic, medical, advances in science situations today
    • but of course in the Congress’s perspective, you are giving up power = delegation problem
  • [+] avoid contentious policy issues (a political benefit for the congress, deflect responsitbility)
  • [-] policy control becomes harder (one solution they employed is to make rules on how those policy can be made)

As a result, the president’s power today can hugely affect policy-making

  • veto power of president
    • even if president doesn’t veto = still huge impact because policies being written, hidden in mind, want to comply to president = but incredible difficult to measure its impact
    • veto bargining
  • persuasion: if the congress passed something the president doesn’t like, one choice is to appeal to/persuade the public and let the public put pressure on the congress! (it is often very easy for the president to gather media attention)
  • unilateral executive action: allow presidents to “make” policy outside of the regular lawmaking process, allowing them to move first and act alone in policy-making
    • i.e. “if the congress is not doing it, I will do it”.

Veto Bargaining

What will happen to the bill devised by the Congress leaders (ignoring Senator for now), if they know it can be vetoed by president?

  • sometimes it is not about passing a policy, but to send message
    • e.g. objective was to signal to policy maker that they are committed to change the policy
  • ordinarily, presidential veto is taken into account when coming up with a policy.
    • spatial model: a single dimension of <----- P ------- C ----->. Let SQ be the status quo policy, and distance being how disliked it is

      1. <--SQ-- P ------- C ----->. Congress can draft a policy $p$ towards their ideal upto here <--SQ-- P --p---- C -----> and president won’t veto.
      2. <----- P ------- C --SQ-->. Congress can draft a policy exactly at their ideal, to <----- P ------- Cp --SQ-->, and the president will also pass it
      3. <----- P ---SQ--- C ----->. Then status quo cannot be changed = congress cannot propose a new legislation different from this = gridlock. (i.e. P and C want to move the policy in opposite direction). For example,
        • immigration reform = Republican want to make immigrant less pleasant, and democrats want to improve
        • Environmental policy = Biden want to increase control on env, but Congress want to decrease environmental monitor;
        • Abortion
    • what can politicians do if it is in gridlock?
      • omnibus = pack something the president like into the policy, but also something you like so that president more likely pass it
      • C: best option is to pass/think about other policies, or if they can, change what P wants
      • P: can perform unilateral executive action = change policy on their own, and wait for congress to stop them. Why executives are so powerful today
    • from the spatial model
      • if $P$ and $C$ are aligned, the interval of opposite pull will be smaller = pass policy easier as they have the same interest
      • greater polarization: the gridlock interval becomes wider = president party very very different from the Congress = harder to make policy

but of course, several nuances in the spatial model

  • Congress can overrule veto with super-majority = then this model doesn’t work = need to also model senators

  • First-Mover Advantage: whoever passes something first will force the other to either veto it or pass it. Consider the three scenarios above

    • Congress moves first (because they are legislative anyway):
      • case 1) [+] congress can draft a policy $p$ towards their ideal upto here <--SQ-- P --p---- C ----->
      • case 2) [+] can draft exactly at their ideal, to <----- P ------- Cp --SQ-->
      • case 3) no gain no loss
    • President move first by passing executive order, so Congress is forced to either veto or pass it
      • case 1) [+] president can move directly at his/her ideal
      • case 2) [+] can move to <----- P ----p-- C --SQ--> hence becomes closer to the president than before
      • case 3) no gain no loss

    in all cases, whoever moves first gains advantage! An example IRL is Biden’s 400billion student loan relief program passed using executive order. Now congress/USSC is unhappy and checking it.

Therefore: agreements will be much harder to reach, but it depends the above strategies

Unilateral Executive Action

Executive orders: direct/ask agencies in how they should carry out their job but technically cannot touch on law-making

Example: Case of DACA: how executive orders can be used to “change” policy

  • DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is a program that offers work permits and deportation relief to more than 640,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. when they are children
  • One memo signed by President Biden ordered the Departments of Homeland Security to safeguard the Obama-era DACA program

Legislative orders:

  • immigration reform has been an issue = federal gov failed to pass any significant policy in immigration
  • 2012- Obama admin issued rule on discretoin over deportatoin
  • USSC said Trump had this power but the way he uses it is wrong

Conclusion: president is powerful, but

  • limited on political circumstances.
  • mismatch in expectations bending the laws = innovation

The Courts

Some backgrounds:

  • along with part of the check and balance system, the judiciary is arguably the branch where the individual has the best chance to be heard. For the most part, the Supreme Court is an appeals court, operating under appellate jurisdiction (i.e. hearing appeals from the lower courts)
  • the power of judicial review: as part of the system of checks and balances, to look at actions taken by the other branches of government and the states and determine whether they are constitutional.

  • before, the basic structure of the judicial branch was:

    • At the lowest level are the district courts, where federal cases are tried, witnesses testify, and evidence and arguments are presented.
    • A losing party who is unhappy with a district court decision may appeal to the circuit courts, or U.S. courts of appeals, where the decision of the lower court is reviewed.
    • Still further, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible, but of the thousands of petitions for appeal, the Supreme Court will typically hear fewer than one hundred a year.
  • the judiciary today continues as a dual court system

    • with courts at both the national and state levels.

    • Both levels have three basic tiers consisting of trial court, appellate court, and finally courts of last resort, typically called supreme courts


      in case of federal courts:

      • there are ninety-four U.S. district courts in the fifty states and U.S. territories, of which eighty-nine are in the states (at least one in each state).
      • On the U.S. Supreme Court, there are nine justices—one chief justice and eight associate justices. Circuit courts each contain three justices, whereas federal district courts have just one judge each.
      • court system operates on the principle of stare decisis (Latin for stand by things decided), which means that today’s decisions are based largely on rulings from the past = if legal facts of today’s court is the same as before, then it should be treated the same way. court interpretations can change as times and circumstances change, hence changes is still possible.

Courts and Public Policy

  • United States has a common law system. With code law in place, as it is in many nations of the world, it is the job of judges to simply apply the law. Under common law, as in the United States, they interpret it
  • last resort for individuals or a group believing there as been a wrong
    • e.g. employment discrimination based on their religious attire,
    • e.g. put limits on the ability to impose the death penalty, ruling, for example, that the government may not execute a person with cognitive disabilities

Courts and Federalism

  • State courts really are the core of the U.S. judicial system, and they are responsible for a huge area of law.

    • Although the Supreme Court tends to draw the most public attention, it typically hears fewer than one hundred cases every year.
    • The federal courts, on the other hand, will hear any case that involves a foreign government, patent or copyright infringement.
    State Courts Federal Courts
    Hear most day-to-day cases, covering 90 percent of all cases Hear cases that involve a “federal question,” involving the Constitution, federal laws or treaties, or a “federal party” in which the U.S. government is a party to the case
    Hear both civil and criminal matters Hear both civil and criminal matters, although many criminal cases involving federal law are tried in state courts
    Help the states retain their own sovereignty in judicial matters over their state laws, distinct from the national government Hear cases that involve “interstate” matters, “diversity of citizenship” involving parties of two different states, or between a U.S. citizen and a citizen of another nation (and with a damage claim of at least $75,000)
  • this federal design has both pluses and minuses

    • [+] more than just one court system ready to protect that
    • [-] judicial rulings about what is legal or illegal may differ from state to state $\leftarrow$ state law that governs the authority of state courts
      • different courts in which a person could face charges for a crime or for a violation of another person’s rights.
      • Just as the laws vary across the states, so do judicial rulings and interpretations, and the judges who make them.

The federal court system: the basics has been mostly covered before with the three level. Here we discuss the selection of judges

  • At the federal level, the president nominates a candidate to a judgeship or justice position, and the nominee must be confirmed by a majority vote in the U.S. Senate

    • through such senatorial courtesy, senators exert considerable influence on the selection of judges in their state,
  • All judges and justices in the national courts (from US District to USSC) serve lifetime terms of office. This is to provide the judicial branch with enough independence such that it could not easily be influenced by the political winds of the time.

  • What was once a predominately White, male, Protestant institution is today much more diverse:

    First Catholic Roger B. Taney (nominated in 1836)
    First Jew Louis J. Brandeis (1916)
    First (and only) former U.S. President William Howard Taft (1921)
    First African American Thurgood Marshall (1967)
    First Woman Sandra Day O’Connor (1981)
    First Hispanic American Sonia Sotomayor (2009)

    However, the number of women and people of color on the courts still lags behind the overall number of White men.

    • As of 2021, the federal judiciary consists of 67 percent men and 33 percent women.
    • In terms of race and ethnicity, 74 percent of federal judges are White, 12 percent African American, 8 percent Latinx, and 4 percent Asian American.

The US Supreme Court

  • structure
    • There is one chief justice, who is the lead or highest-ranking judge on the Court, and eight associate justices
    • Each justice has three or four law clerks: law clerks’ work and recommendations influence whether the justices will choose to hear a case
  • selecting cases
    • Case names, written in italics, list the name of a petitioner versus a respondent, as in Roe v. Wade, for example. Since the petitioner is the one bringing up the case and the party unhappy with the decision of the lower court will be the one $\to$ can tell which party lost at the lower level of court (e.g. Roe, for example)
    • accepts fewer than 2 percent of the as many as ten thousand cases it is asked to review every year.
      • most often it is writ of certiorari, a request that the lower court send up its record of the case for review. Then four of the nine justices must vote to accept a case. This is called the Rule of Four.
      • solicitor general is the lawyer who represents the federal government before the Supreme Court: He or she decides which cases (in which the United States is a party) should be appealed from the lower courts and personally approves each one presented. Most of the cases the solicitor general brings to the Court will be given a place on the docket.
  • supreme court procedures
    • Once a case has been placed on the docket, briefs, or short arguments explaining each party’s view of the case, must be submitted
      • first by the petitioner and respondent
      • other non-involving groups may also file may file an *amicus curiae* (“friend of the court”) brief giving their opinion, analysis, and recommendations about how the Court should rule.
    • After brief filed, USSC hears oral arguments in cases from October through April. The proceedings are quite ceremonial.
      • each side’s lawyers have thirty minutes to make their legal case, though the justices often interrupt the presentations with questions.
      • decide the case in a (private) conference by discussions and then voting
      • Oral arguments are open to the public.
  • Judicial opinions
    • along with the decision, there will be a published majority opinion = explanation of the majority vote, and a dissenting opinion, being written by the people assigned by most senior justice in the dissenting group
  • Influencing the decision
    • courts must rule on its facts. Although the courts’ role is interpretive, judges and justices are still constrained by the facts of the case, the Constitution, the relevant laws, and the courts’ own precedent.
    • but in reality many factors play a role in its decision-making
      • including law clerks, the solicitor general, interest groups, and the mass media. But additional legal, personal, ideological, and political influences weigh on the Supreme Court and its decision-making process.
      • judges personal beliefs and political attitudes also matter
      • affected by another “court”—the court of public opinion, e.g. swayed by special-interest pressure, the mass media, etc.
    • Both the executive and legislative branches check and balance the judiciary in many different ways.
      • President appoint nominees, Congress retains the power to modify the federal court structure and its appellate jurisdiction, and the Senate may accept or reject presidential nominees to the federal courts.
      • court rulings matter only to the extent they are heeded and followed = judicial implementation. While it is true that courts play a major role in policymaking, they have no mechanism to make their rulings a reality = relies on the executive to implement or enforce its decisions.
      • in general both the president and other branches tend to provide support rather than opposition $\to$ what becomes of court decisions is largely due to their credibility, their viability, and the assistance given by the other branches of government.

Therefore, US legal system is federalized with the legislatures:

  • 50 state court systems and 50 state constitutions
  • federal courts can declare state laws invalid if they conflict with the federal constitution (supremacy clause)
    • e.g. abortion is explicitly protected in some states while not in the constitution = allowed under this framework

Judiciary Court and the Agency Problem

What’s the aim of federal court?

  • resolving disputes: often state and federal governments disagree, or congress and president disagree
    • e.g. Trump admin threatening California air quality standards (i.e. your cars need to meet a particular efficiency threshold, and they set their own standards). California wanted to raise the standard due to the large amount of cars there, but Trump disagrees.
    • e.g. ACA medicaid expansion
    • e.g. Trump v. Hawaii
  • judicial review = declare laws invalid/enforce state agencies to do stuff = most important for political science

Structure: USSC is really the court of final appeal

  • justices vote whether or not to accept a case, usually important ones such as from solicitors (represent US gov)
  • judgments from USSC set precedent for the entire country = so laws are even across states

Agency problem and USSC:

  • government chooses USSC members, hence delegation = judges act as agents of Congress and President
    • to help implement decisions
    • to help adjudicate bureaucracti obedience
    • but of course, the aim of USSC is to reduce agency loss (e.g. congress has 800+ people)
  • Regular criticism: life appointment inconsistent with democratic policy control
  • Regular defense: protect the rights to unpopular people/minority (i.e. even against popular idea, you will not be removed = less impetus to conform simply to majority)

How can the agency loss be limited?

  • careful selection: president appoints judges and senate confirms
  • reasonably controlled/monitored by the congress and other branches:
    • congress sets structure of fedearl courts
    • if congress is unhappy with it, congress can change laws, e.g. start the process of amending the constitution

What factors motivate USSC’s decision in a case?

  1. follow the rules/constitution/federal statutes, which can be vague sometimes, and sometimes contradictory/inconsistent with others
    • how do they interpret those complex laws? (a) Intent of authors (b) purpose of the law (c) the plain meaning of the text
  2. follow their own ideology = a preconceived notion of what is good or bad
    • this can be a big influencer, the cases that reached USSC are often hard to decide by just following the rules
  3. care about the legitimacy of the institution itself = want it to be revered and respected

Why might USSC still care about public opinion/maintaining legitmacy?

  • they have no enforcement power, so what happens in reality depends on if policy enforcers will do it (e.g. only if it is popular)
  • themselves suffer from delegation problem, e.g. they cannot control the president to actually perform those decisions

How USSC is affected by Public Opinion

Key idea: supreme court cares about their public approval, even though they will never be thrown out = wants to maintain legitimacy in the eyes of the public

But if an external event/some social forces affects both the public opinion and the USSC in a same way, it will look like public opinion affecting USSC but in reality this is a spurious correlation.

In the paper, they show that


  • e.g. positive correlation of “Public Mood” is $1.59^*\pm0.78$ being statistically significant
  • therefore, changing public mood and court ideology drive USSC decision making

in the first section, they concluded that USSC will follow public opinions when:

  • high profile decisions mattered the most, so justices care the most = had to stick to their personal ideologies/principles = most costly for the justice to just go with public opinion
  • so for low profile decisions = USSC care more about public opinion
Table 2 Figure 1
image-20230306220736599 image-20230306220711393

so that in this table:

  • following “public mood” is correlated with non-salient court cases, but no clear correlation with salient court cases

Conclusion: good evidence that USSC sometimes responds to public opinions = justices are balancing between public opinion and their legitimacy

Democratic Trade-offs

To some extent, this is also related to the agency problem/limiting agency loss:

USSC can prevent majority actions by elected branches = in some sense an anti-democratic institution. But, in those cases, many USSC blocks can be overcome through other means:

  • US Constitution can be amended
  • over time, USSC justices can be replaced

What are the mechanisms that federal courts can use to affect policy making

  1. restrain federal/state action, e.g. your action violates some rights of people = blocks majoritarian policy making
  2. remove/change the set of restraints on federal/state actions, e.g. Dobbs v. Jackson on Women’s health = changes venue for majoritarian policy making
  3. change the rules of electoral competition = changes the means for majoritarian policy making
    • e.g. USSC have expanded the set of question they adjudicate = can determine the rules on how parties compete in redistricting = can affect the policy that comes out!
      • previously, the court cannot tampered with political actions, and the constitution does not specify this power as well. Now, USSC can review redistricting
      • (Wesberry v. Sanders) USSC brings in 14th amendment ad requires US house districts on basis of population
      • (Reynolds v. Sims) 14th Amendment requires state legislative districts on the basis of population = cannot have a city has only 1 senate for million, and a rural area 1:1000.
    • the above example results in massive shift in the balance of power between city and rural areas = came out from the USSC decisions even though they did not explicit tamper with the redistricting process itself

Note that:

  • it is often difficult for the USSC to entirely prevent a societal goal from happening (e.g. segregation), but to only block/remove a particular mechanism from achieving a goal:
    • e.g. recall the segregation fight between people (education segregation, white primaries, racial covenant, etc) and the courts
    • i.e. difficult to fix all bugs all at once, but a few at a time when it pops up
  • if USSC had been weaker = would not block majoritarian policy making. e.g. DACA would be gone
    • recall that DACA is an administrative relief that protects eligible immigrants who came to the United States when they were children from deportation. DACA gives undocumented immigrants: 1) protection from deportation, and 2) a work permit
    • DACA is created by the executive branch/Obama, but Trump admins want to revoke = USSC decided that is inconsistent with administrative rule, hence kept it in place

A democratic bargain = whatever you do to the opposition when in power, that party can do the same to you when you step our of power

  • this alternation of power mechanism therefore act as a deterrent = a threat to tyranny
  • but works if that party can wield the power when in place
  • therefore, this alternation of power can protect powerful groups

Conclusion: courts are part of the rules of the game = e.g. decide how policies are made. Solve certain problems but also introduces others

The Bureaucracy

the many arms of the federal bureaucracy, often considered the fourth branch of government, are valuable components of the federal system.

  • elevated certain types of nonelected workers (i.e. hired) are elevated to positions of relative power within the governmental structure.
  • Collectively, these essential workers are called the bureaucracy.
  • examples in include: The Interstate Commerce Commission, Federal Reserve Board, etc

A bureaucracy is an administrative group of nonelected officials charged with carrying out functions connected to a series of policies and programs.

  • fundamentally, implementing the laws (e.g.) passed by Congress. Also include writing the more specifics laws, enforcing them, etc.
  • public administration: the implementation of public policy as well as the academic study that prepares civil servants to work in government
  • but, their roles are barely mentioned in the Constitution, despite being seen as “the fourth branch of the government”

The origin of US Bureaucracy

  • For example, Article II, Section 2, provides the president the power to appoint officers and department heads. In the following section, the president is further empowered to see that the laws are “faithfully executed.” $\to$ Granting the president and Congress such responsibilities appears to anticipate a bureaucracy of some size, yet the design of the bureaucracy is not described.
  • first developed in 1820s with the rise of centralized party politics is the spoils system: political appointments were transformed into political patronage = appointing federal posts as rewards for supporters swelled over the following decades.
  • next, there is industrial revolution that increases the economic size of the US and brought people together with railroads and telegraphs
  • President Woodrow Wilson believes that administrative activities should be devoid of political manipulations (while politics does set tasks for administration, public administration should be built on a science of management)

Fall of political patronage

  • supporting the patronage system held that their positions were well earned; those who condemned it argued that federal legislation was needed to ensure jobs were awarded on the basis of merit.
  • Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 (Pendleton Act). The act established the Civil Service Commission, a centralized agency charged with ensuring that the federal government’s selection, retention, and promotion practices were based on open, competitive examinations in a merit system

The Bureaucracy comes of Age

  • With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, President Roosevelt and U.S. Congress rapidly reorganized the government’s problem-solving efforts into a series of programs designed to revive the economy $\to$ In the 1930s, the federal bureaucracy grew, and by 1940, approximately 700,000 U.S. workers were employed in the federal bureaucracy.

The Civil Service Commission

  • the Pendleton act had important consequences due to
    1. the law attempted to reduce the impact of politics on the civil service sector by making it illegal to fire or otherwise punish government workers for strictly political reasons.
    2. raised the qualifications for employment in civil service positions by requiring applicants to pass exams designed to test their competence in a number of important skill and knowledge areas.
    3. allowed for the creation of the United States Civil Service Commission (CSC), which was charged with enforcing the elements of the law.
  • Congress and the president responded (to prior skepticism on bureaucracy) with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which abolished the Civil Service Commission. In its place, the law created two new federal agencies:
    • Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has responsibility for recruiting, interviewing, and testing potential government employees in order to choose those who should be hired.
    • Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), responsible for investigating charges of agency wrongdoing and hearing appeals when corrective actions are ordered.

Merit-Based Selection

  • In this system, the large majority of jobs in individual bureaucracies are tied to the needs of the organization rather than to the political needs of the party bosses

  • Before, a civil service exam is required, stipulated by the Pendleton Act. This mandatory testing has since been abandoned, and now approximately eighty-five percent of all federal government jobs are filled through an examination of the applicant’s education, background, knowledge, skills, and abilities. (amongst them a few still requires testing)

  • Civil servants receive pay based on the U.S. Federal General Schedule.


    this system is to create an environment in which those most likely to succeed are in fact those who are ultimately appointed. However

    • [+] naturally result in organizations composed of experts who dedicate their lives to their work and their agency.
    • [-] permanent employees can become too independent of the elected leaders. While a degree of separation is intentional and desired, too much can result in bureaucracies that are insufficiently responsive to political change.
    • [-] accepted expertise of individual bureaucrats can sometimes hide their own chauvinistic impulses.

Models of Bureaucracy

  • The patronage system tied the livelihoods of civil service workers to their party loyalty and discipline. Without the patronage network (spoils system), bureaucracies form their own motivations.
  • models for understanding how bureaucracy works
    • Weberian Model:
      • ideal type of bureaucracy, the Weberian model, was one in which agencies are apolitical, hierarchically organized, and governed by formal procedures.
      • specialized bureaucrats would be better able to solve problems through logical reasoning
      • as a result, it would impose order and efficiency, create a clear understanding of the service provided, reduce arbitrariness, ensure accountability, and limit discretion.
    • Acquisitive Model: bureaucracy compete for limited resources
      • bureaucracies are naturally competitive and power-hungry $\to$ they recognize that limited resources are available to feed bureaucracies, so they will work to enhance the status of their own bureaucracy to the detriment of others.
      • e.g. attempt to emphasize their work to Congress and maximize its budget by depleting all its allotted resources each year
      • In this way, the bureaucracy will eventually grow far beyond what is necessary and create bureaucratic waste
    • Monopolistic Model: absence of competition in bureaucracy
      • recognize the similarities between a bureaucracy like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and a private monopoly like a regional power company
      • there are rare bureaucratic exceptions that typically compete for presidential favor, most notably organizations such as the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the intelligence agencies in the Department of Defense. Apart from these, bureaucracies have little reason to become more efficient or responsive due to absence of competition.

Types of Bureaucractic Organizations

  • In the U.S. government, there are four general types: cabinet departments, independent executive agencies, regulatory agencies, and government corporations.

  • Cabinet departments are major executive offices that are directly accountable to the president.

    • they include the Departments of State, Defense, Education, Treasury, and several others = headed by a single person nominated by the pres.

    • usually have many smaller agencies within them, e.g. FBI within DoJ.

    • individual cabinet departments are composed of numerous levels of bureaucracy. These levels descend from the department head in a mostly hierarchical pattern


  • Independent Executive Agencies and Regulatory Agencies

    • Like cabinet departments, independent executive agencies report directly to the president.
    • Unlike cabinet, independent executive agencies:
      • they are assigned far more focused tasks.
      • These agencies are considered independent because they are not subject to the regulatory authority of any specific department.
      • located outside of cabinet departments (obv.)
    • examples of Independent Executive Agency include Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
    • Independent Regulatory commissions
      • to grant control and limit agency loss = Congress writes a law, these are the people who can oppose it even if popular
        • e.g. a federal reserve system = people insulated from popular anger; in the long term people will be better-off
      • independent from President as well
    • examples of Regulatory Agency include Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), charged with regulating that most identifiable and prominent symbol of nineteenth-century industrialism, the railroad; Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) expanded significantly in the digital era beyond mere regulation of stock floor trading
  • Government Corporations

    • subject to market forces and tend to generate enough profit to be self-sustaining, but they also fulfill a vital service the government has an interest in maintaining.
    • Unlike a private corporation, a government corporation does not have stockholders. Instead, it has a board of directors and managers; they are also exempted from taxes
    • examples: most widely used government corporation is the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Another widely used government corporation is the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, which uses the trade name Amtrak

Bureaucracy Rule-Making: the processes of rulemaking and bureaucratic oversight are equally complex (since bureaucracy is complex)

  • before, notice-and-comment rulemaking: bureaucracy publicize its proposals, and allow for the public to comment.
    • if you want to deletage a task to an agent, what would you do? = monitoring: notice and comment rule-making
    • e.g. FDA = which packaged food can be labeled healthy. This rule was put up , and would limit added sugars and other changes
      • of course, some unhappy as certain cereals would be not be labeled as healthy
      • several manufacturing lobbied and this ruling is still in process = allows interest groups to "self-fix" them = interest groups to monitor bureaucrat compliance = and also policy to be influenced by science and the public!
  • now, some uses the negotiated rulemaking process: neutral advisors known as convenors put together a committee of those who have vested interests in the proposed rules $\to$ then, with the help of neutral mediators, the committee eventually reaches a general consensus on the rules.

Government Bureaucratic Oversight

  • The ability for bureaucracies to develop their own rules and in many ways control their own budgets has often been a matter of great concern for elected leaders. As a result, elected leaders have employed a number of strategies and devices to control public administrators in the bureaucracy.
  • The Congress
    • because of its power to control funding and approve presidential appointments.
    • perhaps the most powerful oversight tool is the Government Accountability Office (GAO) $\to$ produce reports, mostly at the insistence of Congress.
      • e.g. from Bureau of Prisons = needed to report the number of prisoners they incarcerate, and Congress found that 45% of the prisoners who are released are re-arrested within 3 years.
      • Congress thinks this is too high, and decided to require BoP create programs to fix this (e.g. to help them during incarceration), and also metrics to evaluate its effectiveness
      • BoP has still yet implemented an evaluation plan due to various difficulties = in reality you might need to do more to push bureaucracies to do what you want
  • The president:
    • Most directly, the president controls the bureaucracies by appointing the heads of the fifteen cabinet departments and of many independent executive agencies, such as the CIA, the EPA, and etc.
    • other way to conducts oversight over the federal bureaucracy is the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) $\to$ produce the president’s annual budget for the country
    • repealing bureaucratic rules = if you are appointed new president but disagree with previous admins. What can you do with the bureuacracies?
      • wanted to make sure that TODO
      • new President directed agencies to review every single rule that was promulgated between that period
      • Department of Labor issued a new rule = note that Presidents can’t write rules themselves, make new rules through agencies under control
      • Congress passed resolution to overrule the rule
      • President vetoed that resolution on Monday, so this new rule will probably stand
  • The citizens
    • Freedom of Information Act of 1966 = provides journalists and the general public the right to request records from various federal agencies. These agencies are required by law to release that information unless it qualifies for one of nine exemptions.
    • Government in Sunshine Act of 1976 = requires all multi-headed federal agencies to hold their meetings in a public forum on a regular basis.
      • this name comes from the belief that corruption thrive in secrecy but shrink when exposed to the light of public scrutiny.
  • Within Bureaucracy itself
    • When Congress drafted the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, it specifically included rights for federal whistleblowers, those who publicize misdeeds committed within a bureaucracy or other organization, and set up protection from reprisals.
    • Over time, Congress and the president have strengthened protections of those whistleblowers with Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.

Government Privitization: a more controversial solution to the perceived and real inefficiencies

  • [+] rhetoric of privatization—that market competition would stimulate innovation and efficiency—sounded like the proper remedy to many people and still does.
  • [-] certain government functions are simply not possible to replicate in a private context.
  • ways of privitization
    • Divestiture, or full privatization, occurs when government services are transferred, usually through sale, from government bureaucratic control into an entirely market-based, private environment. Rare but: Student Loan Marketing Association in 1973 to full privatization in 2004
    • Issuing government contracts to private companies in order for them to provide necessary services. e.g. By 2006, reliance on contracting to run the war was so great that contractors outnumbered soldiers. = a very routine form of privatization
    • Third-party financing = the federal government signs an agreement with a private entity so the two can form a special-purpose vehicle to take ownership of the object being financed. The special-purpose vehicle is empowered to reach out to private financial markets to borrow money.

Bureaucratic Structure and Independence

Structure of the bureaucracy depends a lot on the leadership (who is in charge), funding, and mandate

How does Congress decide on structure?

  • how similar are the goals: if a bureaucracy is often making decision on political unpopular matters
  • can change the legislation of bureaucracy to prevent tyranny = achieve 51% $\gets$ may want a group of people in charge instead of a single person on sensitive/contradictory issues.

Creating bureaucracy creates agency problem

  • [-] a hired bureaucrat can have a different incentive compared to what you wanted
  • [-] hard to watch everything = monitoring problem
    • e.g. the stuff they do is so complicated, it is difficult to assess how well they are doing it
  • As a result
    • [-] (w.r.t President and Congress) making policies President and the Congress dislikes, especially if staffed with extreme preferences
    • [-] corruption can happen
    • [-] shirking, difficult to fire a person due to political reason by design (as those jobs are politically protected to decouple from politics)

How can congress control this agency loss:

  • Pass new laws; senate confirmation when appointing offices
  • hold hearing where bureaucrats must answer
  • Congressional Review Act = allows congress to override a rule through joint resolution
  • Administrative Procedures Act = establishes rules for how bureaucracies make policy, and requires them to solicit comments, allow time, and etc.
  • Freedom of Information Act = requires certain records from the bureaucrats be made public

Bureaucratic Autonomy - where does it come from?

  • bureaucracies develop a reputation for competence


    where interests groups are the people who vote/have interest

  • with unique organizationl abilities

    • have well-resourced mezzo-level bureaucrats to figure out what people likes, and do more of that
  • has distinct political agendas

Why bureaucracy are really the fourth branch

  • bureaucracies also have constituencies = people supporting them = very specific group of people who are benefited
  • this is different from the constituency for electing president/Congress

Bureaucratic Private Enforcement Regime

Why was there a massive increase in federal litigation before?

Private enforcement regime refers to the system of legal mechanisms and procedures that allow individuals or private entities to enforce their legal rights against other individuals, companies, or government entities. This can involve seeking compensation for harm suffered or seeking an injunction to prevent harm from occurring.

This is to be in contrast to public enforcement, where regulatory bodies such as the government or law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing the law.

  • allow private citizens to be able to sue private entities = stop violation of laws; rather have federal bureaucracy agents to enforce this
  • e.g. law in Taxes that empowered individuals to sue people
  • motivates people because people will be receiving benefits (e.g. suing employment inequality)
  • emerged as a strategic choice (see benefits and drawbacks below)

Why PER is beneficial?

  • [+] decouples with president = president who disagrees cannot prevent this
  • [+] tie the enforcement process with the American population = ensure it is proportional to public preference
    • i.e. self-correction relative to the interest groups of that entity
  • [+] by creating individual benefit from those private enforcement process (e.g. money), less free-rider = people waiting others to sue

but also comes with certain costs

  • [-] more litigation, hence need more judges to hear them, or the entire process become slow
  • [-] selective use of PER: people who are more wealthy gets more attention; an uneven advantage favoring the more powerful = more inequality
    • so uncertain areas are more vulnerable to judicial backlogs = e.g. not getting attention and went into backlogs to be “waitlisted”
  • [-] gives judiciary large role in determining policy (bad if you want more unpolitical opinions)

How to motivate more people to do PER:

  • if you win a PER:

    • =’win damages, legal fees to be paid, time lost’
    • therefore, you can increase probability of wining, reduce legal fees, etc, to motivate people do PER more
    • basically find ways to increase the expected benefit by changing various components/burdens
  • if you lose:

    • =’no damages, legal fees to be paid, time lost’
  • hence there is a balance between how to “assign” those burdens


But in general, PER has been used a lot. The grey line being US plaintiffs litigation has been shifted to private people.


Bureaucracy is not the only option to stop violation of law/promote equality, but PER can also have drawbacks.

  • inequality occurs in PER.
    • e.g. greater employment inequality due to employers know, depending on how wealthy/powerful the employee is, how likely they are being sued
    • e.g. to uphold environmental protection standards, company will select poorer community to dump all the environmental wastes
  • a strong bureaucracy could prevent the above from happening. But there is the other problem of president oversights, etc

Progressive Reformers

A trade-off between controlling (e.g. bureaucracies) with expertise v.s. controlling with democracy

  • more expertise = to protect policy from being changed by simply winning a majority vote
  • more democracy = less corruption/tyranny

During the progressive era, people worked to change governments at all levels from 1890s to 1920s and wanted gov to run like a business. They focused on the bureaucracies to have:

  • less corruption = fix voting systems
  • more efficient
  • immorality = e.g. alcohol ban
  • social improvement and safety = e.g. more on women’s suffrage, so that they care more about limiting corruption = who supported their goal

During this era, changes to achieve this include

  • 16th = can levy taxes and require more from healthier states
  • 17th = popular electrion of senators = less corruption
  • 18th = prohibition of alcohol
  • 19th = women’s right to vote

And this gives some hint to “ideal” bureaucratic designs

  • need a mix of bureaucrats with expertise/political independence + bureaucrats with “democratic” opinions
    • e.g. Federal Reserve System reflects this. There are 12 regional banks getting regional interests (democracy), but 7 governors serving 14-years term to be less affected by politics (expertise)
    • e.g. Council-Manager form of city government. Professional manager serves longer in charge of government functions (expertise), and manager reports to council who does final decision incorporating public opinions
  • so basically there is a trade-off between “listening to people” and “making expert decisions”
    • if main threat is incompetence, the “solution” is political independence = complex/technical policy areas often fit this
    • if main concern is subversion/extremism, then more political control is a good solution

Welfare State

Welfare state = A series of agencies through which government takes care of health and well-being of the people

  • you will see how this becomes an example of agency loss and a debate/conflict between fed and state

What are the major elements of US welfare state?

  • social security = pension for older people
  • Medicare and Medicaid = health insurance
  • Unemployment insurance
  • etc.

Examples not counted as welfare include: public education, mortgage assistance, policing, etc. Hence as you can see:

Surly, boundaries of ‘welfare state’ is politically contested.

But who runs the welfare state?

  • social security = by federal government
  • medicare = by fed government
  • medicaid = by state governments
  • earned income tax credit = by federal
  • etc.

Why are some programs managed by fed, some by state? Specifically, why give states power to decide criterion for eligibility for Medicaid, for example?

  • reduces agency loss for political majorities in states = they might not trust the federal bureaucrat
  • increases agency loss for majority in congress = as states can do what they want
  • a lower level government in general also lower agency loss of voter = more responsive.

  • e.g. max income for medicaid for parent eligibility is different for different states (e.g. Texas very low, hence few Medicaid eligibility)

This therefore also results in long history of conflict over who should be eligible for the benefits $\gets$ government and states want different group of people to be receiving the benefits

Police Reform

This topic is not on midterm, but has a lot on bureaucracy and agency problems, also a research project by the professor.

Research question: how well did police policy-making process serve Black people?

  • how democratic responsible are they = are they listening to the people?
  • how well did police policies actually protect black people.

A policy-making process for police:

  1. (many) black people unhappy with policing
  2. advocacy groups propose solutions, e.g. more training, Police Community Relations (PCR), more black cops, break policy department into smaller units = more accountability
  3. policing experts settle on PCR and hiring Black officers
  4. other solutions pruned

Empirical questions answered by the reading/paper:

  • Did PCR programs change arrest rates for Black people?
  • Did PCR programs reduce crime rates?

The short summary is a decreased low level arrest for white, not a lot for black people.

Historical context: 1945-70

  • Popular constraints in 1955:
    • complaint that black victims were not concerned
    • brutality, e.g. police hurting the suspect during arrest
    • unreliable protetion from white vigilantes
    • wide-spread complaints on disrespect
  • reform proposals
    • training = give officers a different set of skills
      • e.g. introduce police officers to prejudices and make them aware of those
      • e.g. teach cops to see crimes not as race but environemntal efforts
    • hiring black officers = believing it happened due to adversarial selection problem
    • civilian review board
    • police community relations = began in 1955
      • how do we get black leaders and police together, work together and solve
  • during this time, there was also a lot on women reform, but also on Vietnam war
  • this results in the most common features of PCR programs
    • training
    • community advisory councils or meetings; residents come to police and can file complaints
    • specialized outreach officers= sell the police department to residents of various colors
  • however, the result is
    • Dallas had no PCR and ended with decreasing arrests
    • so we are not uniforming seeing PCR helping it. Raises the question: what effect does PCR have? Control variables?

Related works

  • no studies of PCR program effect on punishment
  • black perference $\neq$ low punishment; black people wanted a bunch of diverse things to be safe. But
    • high rates of crime victimization drive support for punitive approaches
    • black officers took these jobs to be police officer, often not to change the racial-police relationship = should not expect that just putting black police will make them act different from other polices
  • conjecture that policy-making environment may bias against black preference


  1. these programs effects will depend on city racial conposition
  2. PCR increase arrest rates for low-level offenses, if
    • reduced risk of intervention for officers = don’t want to be involved with brutal cases to hurt themselves
    • increased service for crime victims, i.e. more police is answering your help
  3. PCR decrease arrest rates for low-level offenses, if
    • greater deference to community preferences, e.g. want less arrests for gambling
    • officers working less hard = greater shirking
    • effort switched to serious crimes

The empirical study then considers data of PCR program status, population, black and white minor crimes arrest rates. Then perform mixed effect models and measure how PCR changed things.

Results summary:

  • PCR units reduced minor crime arrest rates for white, no clear effect on Black arrests rates
  • PCR units reduced violent crime rates

so unfortunately one of the major policy used in policy departments, PCR, had no clear effect in helping the black

But why? This is still being worked on.

But be careful that arrest rates can mean different things, e.g. if they are not perpetrators, then this indicates police wrongdoings.

  • e.g. can look at dismissal rates in addition to arrest rates = a lot of people who were arrested have not committed the crime.

Public Opinion

Public opinion: aggregation of people’s view about issues, situations, & public figures.

  • e.g. when situations arise internationally, polling companies survey whether citizens support U.S. intervention in places like Syria or Ukraine. These individual opinions are collected together to be analyzed and interpreted for politicians and the media.

But where do people’s opinions come from? Most citizens base their political opinions on their beliefs and their attitudes

Belief: closely held ideas that support our values and expectations about life and politics.

  • for example, the idea that we are all entitled to equality, liberty, freedom, and privacy is a belief most people in the United States share.
  • i.e. what we think are true about the world, e.g. who do we think are responsible for xxx.
  • can change rapidly over time

Attitude: surveys want to measure people’s view on an issue = measuring their attitude

  • represent the preferences (e.g. like or dislike) we form based on our life experiences and values.
    • more specific than ideologies; people of the same ideology can have different attitudes on the same issue (e.g. due to a variety of factors)
    • can be more effective affecting survey responses than belief (e.g. I believe this is true, but I still dislike it.)
  • organized and consistent manner of thinking, feeling, and reacting to people/groups/social issues
    • but most people’s attitudes are quite losely structured/inconsistent
    • but still more stable than beliefs
    • e.g. consumer confidence = belief in economy changes rapidly during Trump/Pandemic/Biden, despite in reality the real change in economy is much less = people’s attitudes on presidency/certain events affect their belief on the economy
  • attitude might be strong/weak = can change over time or not = depends on people and on issues
    • e.g. racial attitudes

Ideology/Belief system: configuration of your beliefs and attitudes such that it can explain/connect one’s belief and attitudes

  • established beliefs and ideals about how government and public policy should work
  • in theory, this promotes consistency among political attitudes
  • in practice, ideology combine attitudes linked by policy groups

Some examples of contemporary idelogies

  • liberal positions
    • pro-choice
    • higehr and more progressive taxation
    • environmental protection
    • social welfare programs
  • conservative positions
    • pro-life
    • lower taxes
    • ‘traditional’ values
  • one interesting issue is on military intervention
    • it seems party identification (democrat or republican) is not a good predictor for military intervention
    • party identification is not identical to ideology but a reasonably good proxy recently

On gross, what are majorities ideologies? Liberal-Conservative Self-Identification shows:

  • about half of the population don’t identify with any of those labels

  • (a survey of 7 point scale, extremely conservative; …; extreme liberal; don’t know)

Influence of Public Opinion on public policy

  • US constitution give mechanism to make it easier for folks to express and develop their public opinons
    • broad suffrage
    • freedom of speech and press
  • public opinion affect politicians making decisions = they need to monitor public opinions
    • e.g. need to deal with regular elections

Origin/factors that influence public opinion

  • they have shared political values (e.g. equlity of opportunity, individual freedom)
    • basic model: people form opinion using those values they have
    • but those values are not born with those values = political socializatoin
  • political socialization
    • influenced by family, social groups (e.g. unions and churches)
    • education = years of formal education associated with more tolerance; more participation in politics
    • major political events = people who have gone through those major events (e.g. Civil War, new Deals) have a shared opinions; this makes their opinions more similar to each other than people from other times

US Opinion over time

Many events which has opinions change over time (measured from public opinion pool)

  • abortion: in the past (1988) about 40% opposing abortion, now only 10-15% opposes it
    • a further breakdown for recent opinions = about 30-40% thinks it abortion should be permitted when rape, etc. And another 25-40% thinks it should be woman’s freedom
  • guns: about 5% people thinks it should be made easier to acquire guns; about 50% more difficult, and 45% keep same.
    • interestingly, this trend has been remarkably stable
    • why more stable? several possible reasons
      • this is a distant issue, v.s. abortion is recent = unstable
      • in reality, there had been decisions making gun purchases easier.
        • e.g. recently expired ban on buying assault rifles = more easier;
        • e.g. USSC also passed laws to make it easier
      • an example where decisions can go against political opinion
  • income difference: should government take action to reduce the difference
    • about 50% agree that government should try to reduce income diff, about 20% thinks status quo
  • public schools: about 70% wanted increase in public schools
  • social security: about 50% wanted increase in social security
  • more aid to poor: about 50% thinks that federal should spend more to aid the poor, and about 40% thinks status quo
  • reduce deficit: about 75% people think it is very to extremely important

The above is very weird: everybody wanted more spending on income/social security/more aid, but also reduce deficit = less spending = inconsistency.

  • wrong question wording/wrong measurement

  • maybe public opinon should influence but not used to determine policy
  • elite notions of policy coherency should be abandoned

Interpretation of those surveys are often complicated, and consistency in aggregate opinion is rare (e.g. see above).

What can go wrong in Public Pooling?

Can public opinion be manipulated/what can affect people’s attitudes?

  • first of all, this is difficult because many contributing factors are fixed, i.e. are steadfast and hard to change

    • e.g. culture, religion. Have impact on your opinons, and they don’t change much over time
  • opinions on contradictory issues can manipulate through framing

    • given an issue, how you frame the issue affects how people think about it (e.g. religious freedom problem v.s. discrimination problem)
    • basically answer could change based on how you frame the question
  • sampling error
  • drawing random samples is subject to trade-off between more data/less error v.s. more time/money costly

  • selection bias, often selective non-response: might have missed certain populations.
    • e.g. survey in college and apply it to real life
    • e.g. the survey results we did in class is different than the results in public poll

      • e.g. folks don’t trust the government won’t answer surveys, hence missed
    • solution is a random sample of the entire population where everyone has chance of selection, and over-sampling plus re-weighing

      • but this is difficult to implement in real life. e.g. no single directory to entire US population, and no reliable way to reach everyone (e.g. no internet access)
  • measurement error: people’s answer might not be what they actually think

    • you asked the wrong question, so data you collected does not answer what you wanted to measure
    • often this happens when your question is unclear/too simple
      • e.g. LA Times poll in 1980s “Do you think a pregnant women should or should not be able to get a legal abortion, no matter what the reason?” 57% says no.
      • e.g. CBS poll a few months later “If a woan wants to have an abortion, and here doctor agrees to it, should she be allowed to have an abortion?” 58% said yes
      • yea, questions are a bit different, but the point is that people’s majority opinion changes on the issue of abortion.

Measurement Validation: But how do you even quantify how good your methodolgy is, given that there is no “ground-truth to begin with”?

  • the simple idea is to ask the public if they think the methodology will answer the question you have in mind
  • e.g. want to research how changing a priming text can change how people want to run for office
    • idea is to manipulate sense of racial discrimination, group solidarity, difficult etc.
    • then by this validation technique, you can reduce (some) measurement errors (i.e. people did not answer the way you wanted) by:
      • e.g. just survey/interview people what they think the answer is asking (vast majority to just make sure this)
      • e.g. in this research ask people in survey if they think those text approximately induce what you wanted to do
  • e.g. want to research: does the exposure of racial identity (e.g. people of Asian descent) change your support to the republican party?
    • Idea is to have a two sets of people: White and Asian American. Then random subset of both groups were treated with micro-aggression “I forgot that this study is only for US citizens. Are yuo a US citizen I cannot tell.” = cue a sense of exclusion to Asian Americans. The hypothesis is that this should only affect results for Asian Americans, not white.
    • Result: Asian descent after micro-aggression had less support for republicans, v.s. White descent after micro-aggression. = exposure to racialized micro-aggression caused Asian-identifiers to be more supportive of Democrats
    • Why is this useful? Implication that trend in democratic voting among Asian America may due to experiences of discrimination. = Hence republicans can have more support if they break this association with discrimination.


How do you select a candidate? What are some “metrics” you would use to evaluate competence?

  • their policy proposals
  • policy priorities and party alignments; endorsements (who sponsored them)

  • their identity (age, race, gender, class)
  • political track records/resume
  • ask yourself: how are things going for you/others given that he/she will be in office?

What are elections for?

  • mechanism for principals (votres) to keep agents in line/accountable (reduce agency loss)

    • allow selection of candidates with desirable qualities
    • prospect of fture electrions creates incentive for office-holders to behave themselves/care about eopple
    • possibility of unseating incumbent creates incentive to monitor

    basically tie policy to what voters are interested in

  • voting produces collective goods

    • victory for party
    • signal voter (dis)satisfaction to officials (so they can react)
    • an opportunity to remove agents who are not performing well

Rational Theory of Elections

Elections/voting as a free-rider problem: it can be costly

  • if voters wanted to maximize their individual well-being, would you vote?

    • benefits: voting gives greater tie to the community
    • costs: you have to do all the effort/studying, or the party you don’t like wins
  • a classical model of voting

    \[V = P*B - C + D\]

    where $V$ whether to vote, $P$ the prob of individual vote will change outcome, $B$ the benefit if candidate wins, $C$ the cost of voting, and $D$ duty of psychological gratification. Therefore in this simple model, you would vote if:

    \[P*B + D > C\]

    some factors

    • if a coup/vote manipulation occurs, then $P\to 0$.
    • $P$ would go up if: the vote is currently tied, there is a small voting population
    • $B$ would go up if there are big difference between candidate policy goals
    • $C$ would go up if: the financial status of the person, registration/voting laws, intimidation/violence
    • $D$ would go up if: peer/social group pressure want you to vote
  • low-info rationality. In reality, it is found that on average, people know little about politics

    • does this mean that they are bad voters? Not necessarily
    • learning all these info is time-consuming, but good substitutes around
      • can rely on cues
        • e.g. relying on price to infer quality when buying clothes
        • hence, can making choosing an agent (who is better for you) much simpler
      • examples of cues involve
        • party labels/involvement
        • endorsements: what kind of organization is backing him/her
          • American Civil Liberties Union: civil liberties focused, on the rights of racial minorities
          • Newspaper can give endorsement as well (e.g. editorial board)
        • identity feature such as gender or race
        • candidate experience
      • it turns out that providing this informational is indeed a major objective of campaigns

Research Example: Candidate Evaluation

2021 World Bank data: US ranks below other rich liberal democracy in the proportional of national legislative seats (senate+house) held by women.

Does this indicate US is behind in terms of gender discrimination? This is a complicated question.

  • Q: if imbalance in office matches imbalance in candidate pool, does this mean no discrimination?

    Not if candidates are strategic

  • Q: does euqal win rates in general elections mean on discrimination?

    Not if selection process produces different candidate pools

  • What would be the “good” questions to ask? We need to consider: would the voter’s evaluation change if gender were different?

Path to (federal) office:

  1. decision to run for office
    • women might have a harder time getting their main messages out due to discrimination in voters
  2. wining in primary (need more fund-raising)
  3. winning general election

The discrimination process may happen anywhere in this trajectory. Therefore even if in the end you have “equal win rates” there might still be discrimination. (e.g. discrimination against women in 1 and 2, but reversed in 3)

Takeaway: total effect of social features like gender is more expansive than quantitative studies we have today

  • quantitiative tools are useful for testing a single change
  • therefore, all the estimates of effects we measure will be partial

Research Question: Association of the task with gender implications can affect women’s win rate


  1. women have a larger advantage over men in legislative than in executive (women better at talking)
  2. women have a larger advantage where policy domain are perceived towards women’s task (e.g. school boards)
  3. women have a larger advantage over men in constituents that are more liberal (so voters have less attachment with traditional gender values = more likely to vote for women)

The idea is to study this from the election result in 2021. Assuming there is

  • no candidate quality different between genders

  • similar selection process in the different elections (e.g. school board, mayor=more executive, city council=more legislative)

The result is:

  • women win rate does seem higher in school boards, and also higher in city council than mayor
  • women’s win rate gaped more than men in school boards when there are more liberal voters. But there is a mixed effect in council elections and mayor

Campaigns and Persuasion

How do I gather more more votes?

  • should I persuade those who disagree (involves democratic value of listening to people)?
  • should I mobilize those who agree (just want them to show up and actually vote for me)?

How do you decide voting?

  • issue-based voting:
    • a person’s vote depends on if you agree with the candidate’s take on it
    • a person’s vote depends on the weights of those issues (how important)
    • but in reality, you will see that many people also vote just for the candidate regardless of his positions
  • how can campaigns change things?
    • can change weights of those issues
    • can add new considerations to the issue
      • not an easy task = voters can be saturated with considerations
      • there is only a small number of people who are persuadable
  • J. Kalla and Broockman in 2017 did a study on if campaigns are helpful in changing people’s votes
    • finding: little evidence of impact = all those money spent on campaigns have a net effect of zero
    • why?
      • persuasion TODO
      • there may be an impact in the beginning, but wears off when actually voting
      • odd cases TODO: how does this relate to spending money.
  • Then why do campaigns spend so much money?
    • maybe: in the real world campaigns are to “cancel” each other out. One party says bad things about others, and vice versa = zero net output.
    • the change of the campaigns might have long term effects (e.g. decade), hence measuring in a single season is not suitable
    • even if peoples votes didn’t change, those campaigns can affect people’s values/belief about the world

Does Policy Derive how People Vote?

Voter Competence Test:

  • should we see elections as driven by voters, or do voters follow their politicians they prefer
  • elections not by what voters want, but what the campaigns


  • focus on respondents who only learned the policy positions during campaigns

  • when people realized their candidates is different from position they support, they still voted for them = it looks like people are following politicians instead of the policies

    • e.g. Bush v Gore, who is social security funds handled
    • e.g. Carter v. Ford - whether federal gov should fund more TODO

    • then ask people: Q: do you know who is supporting what position? Tell them the info, and ask again. Some people who knows about this issue got it right in the first round. Some people (learners) learns it afterwards.
  • Finding: voters (learners) don’t change their votes even when there’s changes in their candidate support

    • Does this mean candidates face no pressure to take certain issue positions? No
      • the study is only on voters who learned the positions taken by the candidate. Hence this excludes the cases of those voters who already know the positions (and changed their votes)
      • excludes interest groups, who typically take a strong hold/attention to the positions taken
    • If pressure comes mostly from interest groups, is it bad?

What are politician punished for?

  • strong evidence that shark attacks depressed Wilson vote in NJ (beach state) = people blindly attribute this to Wilson
  • strong evidence drought reduces incumbent party vote share

So based on all those “bad” findings, are US voters incompetent? A really complicated question.

This shows that many voters’ voting behavior does not really represent their interest (e.g. blind rationale, learners, etc). Therefore, we may need to re-think elections = collecting votes as a mechanism to aggregate people/voters’s interest to form policies

  • Politics not as competition between policies but competitions between groups for government
  • politics as policy competition leaves more room for compromise

Democratic Benchmarks

Whenever assessing the performance of a political system, you should to think about alternatives (what it can do). Why?

It turns out there is a limit on democratic choice system. No choice aggregation rule can satify four conditions simultaneously

  1. if everyone prefers A to B, the rule will pick A
  2. choice between two optins not influenced by third
  3. responds to more than one person’s wants
  4. decision cannot be manipulated by choice order

All institutions doesn’t do at least some of the four.

As a result, this means all of the following features of US political system are not “really” democratic = influence the final aggregated result

  • influence the aggregation process
  • eventually all procedures are flawed

all of the above features influence what public policy is.

Political Party

What is a political party, and how would you tell if the party is changing?

political parties are groups of people with similar interests who work together to create and implement policies.

On a high level: what do they do? Essentially they gain control over the government by winning elections.

  • recruit candidates = exercise control over who they want
    • v.s. why not let candidates apply by themselves? = the party might have a different set of interest than candidates who are applying
    • e.g. Trump candidacy in 2015/16
  • nominate candidates (run for state government, Congress, and the presidency.)
    • different state has different rules (e.g. top two in votes end up in a runoff)
    • in the end, state laws affect this selection progress significantly
  • guide members of Congress in drafting legislation.
  • etc.

But it is also helpful to break down political party into the three categories

  • party in government
  • party in electorate,
  • party organizations (fight for what the rules should be)

What can political party do for politicians? solve collection action problems

  • provide a host of funds/resources (people needed to) to help a politician win an office
    • especially to gather votes and sure people vote consistently if they are in the party
  • compromise/coordination when lawmaking = parties guide proposed laws through Congress and inform party members how they should vote on important issues.
    • e.g. you can ask party to pressure people if they want things different than what you want
  • agency problem/trade-off: politicians only want help to achieve office position
    • e.g. politicians want parties to leave them alone after helping, but party members prefer the opposite!

Who identifies with which party?

This is decided over a range of empirical studies, and it is found that

People align with a political party not because of its policies, but to compete against/dislike groups who share different values/identity = really for their own interest.

Data 1 Data 2
image-20230417202032980 image-20230417202150189

here we see that there is a

  • fair amount of stability in party memberships = those party members usually vote for their parties
  • but one place you see change is “how intensely” are you partisan
    • see a rise of strong partisan to 44% from around 35% and less weak partisanship
    • intensity of people’s commitment to the identity increases = shift in partisan system is not more people coming but more committed to partisanship = affect how politicians make electoral strategy

But what do people/voters really think of the political party as?

  • Q: which party is more conservative? 80% answered republicans correctly, but 20% either don’t know or answered wrongly
    • = hints that some people align with a party without really knowing its policy
  • Q: do you think the two parties are different? a lot of people think the parties are the same in the past, now mostly different, but still
    • = hints that some people align with a party without really knowing its policy
    • making polarization increasing, but people at least know
  • Q: how do you feel about the rival party? On average 19.3% happy with members of the other party, and 71.5% happy with own members.

    • ^ but specifically what traits are different? e.g. close-mindedness/unintelligent
      • are very parallel observation that both parties share the same trend of disliking other parties
      • but it is also found that in general, people dislike any other groups, not necessarily rival
      • yet still, the increase in dis-likeness=polarization is important
    Anti-Group Increasing Polarization
    image-20230417202830606 image-20230417202620818
  • Q: what groups of people tilt the politician group? Here we member within each party grouped by their traits

    Tilt Republican Tile Democratic
    image-20230417203202854 image-20230417203212104
    • = increasing separation of the identities between people in each parties = how social group change opinion = politics as competition between groups (a newer theory today) v.s. competition between policy (older)
    • also implies politician within group may only care about moving powers to people who think like yourself
  • finding: misconceptions of the parties can influence how people feel of the other party = also support the above conclusion that party alignment may have not much to do with the real policy they put out = people are bit egoistic

    • perceived of the republican supporters:
      • folks in the survey think the republican are 40% over 65 aged people, in reality 20%, etc.
      • in conclusion: many folks don’t have an accurate impression of the party composition
    • perceived of the democratic supporters:
      • folks in the survey think the democrats are 30% gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and 40% black, but in reality the proportion is much lower
      • same conclusion as above.
    • when corrected of those impressions, people’s view of the other party improved
    • and that those mis-perceptions are most skewed among those who look at political news most often

Conclusion: today we may have a shift in how we understand people’s stance for their political party/competition between them

  • older models: members of each party have many overlapping interest/identities (but conflicts/argues over a few ideologies)
  • today: parties are more not very related/very polarized/huge difference between political groups
    • perhaps due to political sorting = people are much more polarized = members inside the same group aligned / hate other groups
    • also results in stronger partisanship = greater/more negative affects against other parties
    • partisan identification and sense of difference has increased
    • but this increasing political difference may come at a cost (TBD)

Median Voter Theorem

Median Voter Theorem: in a majority-rule voting system, the outcome will be determined by the preferences of the median voter.

Why would this happen? Consider the following leader position, where x goes with the Left and o goes with the right


assuming that

  • candidates L and R want to win electrions
  • people vote for candidates whose policy is closest to their ideal

then you have on a single dimension

  • if L moves further from the center then L will be losing: Lxxxx-ooooRooo

  • if R moves to the closer to the center then R will be winning: xxxLxxooRooooo

  • therefore, both parties would need to move closer to the center so that the other party cannot gain advantage. This results in


therefore, rational parties will converge to center = 2-party competition results in moderate parties

How well does this describe actual elections in US? Is this model too simplified?

  • but of course, the above assumes that voter is still enthusiastic to vote despite this sad situation, etc.

  • At district level this is plausible, but there are at least two violations
    • candidates of parties are selected by the primary system = primary candidates really diverge from each other
    • elections in states influence each other
    • as seen last time (Who identifies with which party?), people often vote not because of similar policies to their idea, but if they heard of them, or if they share similar physical identity, etc.
  • in general, many voters might not vote based on “whose policy is closest to their ideal”, but
    • if they have heard of them
    • if they have endorsement/trusted sources support them (i.e. weird reason people vote)
    • if they share identity with the voters (i.e. weird reason people vote)
    • and candidate recruits (e.g. party organizations) can manipulate all these things in a district
  • this means, in reality, to recover MVT you would need at least:
    • name-recognition not too skewed towards a candidate
    • endorsement not to skewed
    • candidate ideneity not too skewed

A Theory of Parties as Interest Group Coalitions

Who affects the political parities?

  • politician centered theory: politicians (when selected in office) drive changes in political parties

  • interest group centered theory: interest groups exert huge influence on who gets elected during primaries (e.g. fund a guy to be prominent) = can exert influence in political parties

Provisional conclusions

  • interest groups play a major role shaping the political party, especially in affecting the candidate before he/she is elected in office
  • once politicians are in office, they themselves surely exert large influence the political party

(Democratic) Parties mimic levels of national government

  • you have democratic party in Manhattan; democratic party in New York; democratic party in the National level
    • in theory, all those political parties should be independent = e.g. Manhatton GoP more liberal than Bonner Counter GoP.
    • this held true mostly in the past
    • but since the 1970s, state parties have become much more similar = they don’t respond to voters in their district, but aimed at a national agenda = “How national parties transformed state parties”

Why might interest groups and parties shift policy making to focus on a state level instead of a national level?

  • [+] some policies only apply to certain states
    • no easy “one size fits all” given variantions betweem states
  • [+] you can get more done in state houses than national houses = more money efficient
  • [+] many folks do not pay attention to issues on the state level
    • in theory, the lower the government (e.g. local/state) the more attention people pay
    • but empirically many people do the reverse: people don’t pay much attention to state levels but more to national affairs
    • hence easier to get (bad) policies passed if nobody pays attention

Federalism and Parties

What are some evidences that lower level political parties are do not listen much to the public/become more centralized to national agenda?

  • since 1970s, states are taking in more policy making spending

  • state parties are becoming more similar to each other = responding more to a national agenda than public opinon

    • evidence = direction of policy change is increasingly predicted by whether or not the party has uniform control
    • graph: if a party has uniform control, what would the average state policy look like?


    • findings 1: before, states “do what they want” hence averages out to zero despite national control; nowadays, which party is taking charge greatly shapes individual state’s policies

    • findings 2: some exceptions are civil rights and criminal justice


    • conclusion = national party control is a strong predictor of policies on a state level

  • test the counter-argument: do changes/trend in state policy follow changes/trend in public opinion policy?


    • most policy areas doesn’t work = state policies affected by other factors
      • abortion: public opinion looks flat, but significant shits in policies;
      • civil rights: the other way around; in both cases the two look unrelated
    • but there are ones that works, e.g. LGBTQ

Conclusion: divergence in state level policy is not explained by changes in public opinion, but increasingly by partisan control.

Why? Interest groups involvement in parties can be one explanation as a strong force

  • regular donors are more extreme (than ordinary donors)


    where those who donates to Interest Groups (IG) and/or legislation are more extreme in their political ideology (most liberal and most conservative)

  • contacted with the legislators more (than ordinary donors)


    similar to above, those who donated to IG and/or legislations contacted more

  • better predictor of legislative ideologies (than ordinary donors)


    there is a strong association between identity of donors and characteristics of the candidates


  • parties responsiveness seem to follow money (from specific sources), not public opinion = political party evolving with interest group system

  • party system being more nationalized = polarized

    • nationalized parties at state level mean polarized policies not driven by state-level opinion anymore
    • MVT theorem disrupted = left and right position being more affected by other factors than just policy preferences
    • state has less freedom to find policy through experimentation = less creative policy making

Interest Groups and Lobbying

Interest groups: individuals would band together in an attempt to use government in their favor. In general formal association of individuals or organizations that attempt to influence government decision-making and/or the making of public policy.

How is interest groups different from political parties?

  • interest groups are much narrower in their pursuits. e.g. focused on areas like taxes, the environment, and gun rights or gun control, or their membership is limited to specific professions.
  • do not function primarily to elect candidates under a certain party label or to directly control the operation of the government

Categories of IG

  • trade association: any economically based grouping. consumer brands association (e.g. for food regulation)
  • labor union: AFL-CIO, FOP, highly active in politics
  • individual membership associations (grassroot): random people who joined that cared abotu the same thing
  • professional associations: membership is individual, and goal is to participate in that occupation group. AMA, ABA

What do IGs do?

  • elections: mobilize voters to vote for campaigns, and act as endorsements for candidates (see previous sections)
  • legislatures: help draft bills, etc.
  • courts: if something bad happened, threatening to sue; file briefs when brought by others
  • bureaucracies: certain professional licensing run by interest group
  • A very diverse branching = IGs use every aspect of the US political system to achieve their goal.

Imagine you are a legislator and you heard the following from a lobbyist:

“Our research indicates the accessibility of guns is leading to unnecessary deaths”

  • if you heard this from a national rifle association v.s. Mom’s association of Gun sense…; former more convincing

“Our research indicates that carbon emissions need to be significantly curtailed in the next few yeras or the US will face significant ecnomic har from climate change”

  • if you heard this from greenpeace v.s. american petroleum association; latter more convincing

Intuition: source bias makes some statement harder to believe = less persuasive if it comes from IG who anyway wanted you to do this.

But then why spend money to lobbying, if everyone knows what your group wants?

  • persuade those who disagree with you: often hard
  • convince those who agree with you to focus on the issues you care the most.
    • i.e. subsidizing the efforts of those who agree with you = reduce your efforts
    • lobbists do more things than persuasion = providing resource subsidies for people who want to sue

For Example Colorado Juvenile Defend Center

  • 2012 they found that 45% kids charge with offenses had no council representing them
  • 2013 contacted sympathetic legislator, convinced them to form an interim committee
  • 2014 participated in negotiations and re-drafting of bill = the law changed because of this IG’s efforts

But given this effort, does this process correct for poor representation through elections, or subvert democracy of people? (interesting arguments to consider)

Lobbying at the state level: (i.e. groups that lobby)

  • municipal leagues
  • county commissioner associations
  • school board associations
  • local government: e.g. Colorado wanted bars to be closed at 2am. Then people and local government/mayor lobbied state legislators for change.
  • etc.

California require every lobby group to file forms. From data collected, it is found that

  • local government spent by far the most among IGs in California ;

  • many cities do lobby, and especially in California cities lobby a lot
  • and it is not just cities, over 500 cases are lobbied by counties, and over 1500 from special districts.
  • lobbying at the state government is most common, at national government reasonably common

On local lobbying:

  • it is a pervasive practice, and targets a lot on state government

  • has the potential to compound disadvantage for poor regions = don’t have money for IGs to toss around

In general, lobbying

  • is baked in to democracy = is a crucial part of US politics
  • but has a trade-off between the influence of interest groups/anti-democracy
  • interest group environment may not be a leveling playing field
    • not every issues have an interest group
    • IGs have different resource distribution; some group has more power/money = features of the group can also affect if how far can you get this issue solved
    • Strolovitch finds that organizations are substantially less active when it comes to issues affecting disadvantaged subgroups than they are when it comes to issues affecting more advantaged subgroups.

e.g. current measures to restrict IG’s power:

  • requires lobbying data be recorded and disclosed
  • cooling-off period = laws that require a person who works for a legislator cannot lobby for two years after they leave; to prevent them lobbying on things that are advantageous for them (but they can ask others to lobby)
  • campaign donation limits
  • tax disclosure laws

Collective Action and Free Riding in IGs

As mentioned before, an example of IGs in US is the labor organization/unions. But think about this:

  • The benefits sought by unions, such as higher wages, collective bargaining rights, and safer working conditions, are often enjoyed by all workers regardless of whether they are members.
  • therefore, free riders can receive the benefit of the pay increase without helping defray the cost by paying dues, attending meetings or rallies, or joining protests,

If free riding is so prevalent, why are there so many interest groups and why is interest group membership so high in the United States?

One explanation is that free riding is overcame by:

  1. Groups with financial resources/patrons outside the group have an advantage in mobilizing in that they can offer incentives or hire a lobbyist.
  2. opinions within smaller IGs may be
    • easier to reach consensus
    • if you don’t voice your opinion and the policy is not what you liked, high chance your preference will not be taken into account
    • easier to spot if you are not contributing
  3. Group leaders also play an important role, for example
    • offer material incentives, which are tangible benefits of joining a group. (AARP, for example, offers discounts on hotel accommodations and insurance rates for its members)
    • offer solidary incentives, which provide the benefit of joining with others who have the same concerns or are similar in other ways, as people are naturally drawn to others with similar concerns.
  4. disturbance theory: why groups mobilize due to an event in the political, economic, or social environment = people will naturally join groups in response to disturbances. for example
    • in 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book exposing the dangers posed by pesticides such as DDT $\to$ many individuals start to worry about environment and dangers of pesticides $\to$ an increase in both the number of environmental interest groups, such as Greenpeace and American Rivers,
    • In May 2020, George Floyd died shortly after police officer Derek Chauvin leaned his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine and half minutes, while Floyd was handcuffed and laying face down on the ground $\to$ massive protests across US

The Media

Freedom of the press and an independent media are important dimensions of a liberal society, and the media can have a huge impact in how we see the society today.

Some basic terms:

  • The collection of all forms of media that communicate information to the general public is called mass media (e.g. television, print, radio, and Internet.)
  • The Internet also facilitates the flow of information through social media, which allows users to instantly communicate with one another and share with audiences that can grow exponentially.

Regardless of where we get our information, the various media avenues available today, versus years ago, make it much easier for everyone to be politically and socially engaged.

But who controls the media we rely on? Suprisingly today, most media is controlled by a limited number of conglomerates (a collection of companies, organizations, and media networks)


what does this mean? When a media conglomerate has policies or restrictions, they will apply to all stations or outlets under its ownership, potentially limiting the information citizens receive.

  • This raise the question whether the media still operate as an independent source of information. Is it possible that corporations and CEOs now control the information flow, making profit more important than the impartial delivery of information?
  • The reality is that media outlets, whether newspaper, television, radio, or Internet, are businesses, they need to raise revenue! How do they get revenue? Get advertising and sponsors. How do they get them? You need active viewers. In the end, what attracts viewers and advertisers is what survives.

Functions of the Media

So what do those media do? What can they control?

  • help maintain democracy and keeps the government accountable for its actions, even if a branch of the government is reluctant to open itself to public scrutiny.
  • promote the public good by offering a platform for public debate and improving citizen awareness. Network news informs the electorate about national issues, elections, and international news.

  • agenda setting, which is the act of choosing which issues or topics deserve public discussion. e.g. In the spring of 2015, when the Dominican Republic was preparing to exile Haitians and undocumented (or under documented) residents, major U.S. news outlets remained silent.

Large network newscasts and major newspapers are still more powerful at initiating or changing a discussion.

Regulating the Media

The approval of the First Amendment, as a part of the Bill of Rights, demonstrated the framers’ belief that a free and vital press was important enough to protect = serves as the basis for the political freedoms of the United States. It said:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Although the media are independent participants in the U.S. political system, their liberties are not absolute and there are rules they must follow.

  1. First, the media do not have the right to commit slander, speak false information with an intent to harm a person or entity, or libel, print false information with an intent to harm a person or entity. But it seems that newspaper has been doing this a lot?
    • libel and slander occur only in cases where false information is presented as fact.
    • When editors or columnists write opinions, they are protected from many of the libel and slander provisions because they are not claiming their statements are facts.
    • the defamed individual or company to bring a lawsuit, and the courts have different standards depending on whether the claimant is a private or public figure.
  2. media have only a limited right to publish material the government says is classified.
    • If the journalist calls the White House or Pentagon for quotations on a classified topic, the president may order the newspaper to stop publication in the interest of national security. The courts are then asked to rule on what is censored and what can be printed.
    • e.g. in 19721, US gov sued New York Times and Washington Post to stop release information from a classified study of the Vietnam war. In the end, the court gave the newspapers the right to publish much of the study, but revelation of troop movements and the names of undercover operatives are some of the few approved reasons for which the government can stop publication or reporting.
  3. television and radio broadcasters are monitored by both the courts and a government regulatory commission.
    • Radio Act of 1927 was the first attempt by Congress to regulate broadcast materials.
    • Communications Act of 1934 replaced the Radio Act and created a more powerful entity to monitor the airwaves—a seven-member Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to oversee both radio and telephone communication.
    • the idea is to ask radio/TV stations to apply for licenses, which is granted only if stations follow rules about limiting advertising, providing a public forum for discussion, and serving local and minority communities. The licensing requires
      • equal-time rule: registered candidates running for office must be given equal opportunities for airtime and advertisements at non-cable television and radio stations beginning forty-five days before a primary election and sixty days before a general election.
      • While the idea behind the equal-time rule is fairness, it may not apply to supporters of that candidate or of a cause. Hence, there potentially may be a loophole in which broadcasters can give free time to just one candidate’s supporters.
      • indecency regulations: limit indecent material and keep the public airwaves free of obscene material.
        • However, broadcasters can show indecent programming or air profane language between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
    • net neutrality: required internet service providers to give everyone equal access to their services and disallowed biased charging of internet access fees.
  4. and many more

Impact of the Media

Since media release information consumed by the people, this information may affect what we think and the actions we take.

There are many theories debating how much impact the media has, e.g.

  • Lippmann’s statements led to the hypodermic theory, which argues that information is “shot” into the receiver’s mind and readily accepted.
  • minimal effects theory, which argues the media have little effect on citizens and voters. Information is transmitted in two steps, with one person reading the news and then sharing the information with friends.
  • cultivation theory, hypothesized that media develop a person’s view of the world by presenting a perceived reality, and the media can set norms for readers and viewers by choosing what is covered or discussed.

and some common techniques the Media use to sway peoples opinions:

  • framing: the creation of a narrative, or context, for a news story.
  • priming: when media coverage predisposes the viewer or reader to a particular perspective on a subject or issue.
    • e.g. If a newspaper article focuses on unemployment, struggling industries, and jobs moving overseas, the reader will have a negative opinion about the economy. If then asked whether they approve of the president’s job performance, the reader is primed to say no.

In the end, the consensus among observers is that media have some effect, even if the effect is subtle. Some important ways include

  • effects on governance and caompaigns
  • effects on the society

Media’s Effect on Governance and Campaigns

Some historical examples:

  • in 1972, candidates with the most media coverage build momentum and do well in the first few primaries and caucuses.
  • In the 1980s, campaigns learned that tight control on candidate information created more favorable media coverage.
  • In 1992, both Bush’s and Bill Clinton’s campaigns maintained their carefully drawn candidate images by also limiting photographers and television journalists to photo opportunities at rallies and campaign venues.

However, campaign coverage now focuses on shallow reports

  • i.e. colorful personalities, strange comments, lapse of memories, and embarrassing revelations are more likely to get air time than the candidates’ issue positions.
  • i.e. citizens want to see updates on the race and electoral drama, not boring issue positions or substantive reporting.

As a result, all these factors have likely led to the shallow press coverage we see today, sometimes dubbed pack journalism because journalists follow one another rather than digging for their own stories.

  • In 1968, the average sound bite from Richard Nixon was 42.3 seconds, while a recent study of television coverage found that sound bites had decreased to only eight seconds in the 2004 election.

  • that study also found the news showed images of the candidates, but for an average of only twenty-five seconds while the newscaster discussed the stories.

  • media’s discussion of campaigns has also grown negative.

    • During the 2012 campaign, seventy-one of seventy-four MSNBC stories about Mitt Romney were highly negative
    • FOX News’ coverage of Obama had forty-six out of fifty-two stories with negative information
    • major networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—were somewhat more balanced, yet the overall coverage of both candidates tended to be negative.


Due in part to the lack of substantive media coverage, campaigns increasingly use social media to relay their message.

So this includes:

  • using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts to provide information to voters. The best example would be Donald Trump, who took social media posts to a new level, both in terms of the number of posts and the intensity.
  • Yet, on social media, candidates still need to combat negativity.

Media’s Effects on Society

The media choose what they want to discuss. This agenda setting creates a reality for voters and politicians that affects the way people think, act, and vote.

Even if the crime rate is going down, for instance, citizens accustomed to reading stories about assault and other offenses still perceive crime to be an issue. More dominant examples today include, especially on issues of race and gender:

  • that local news shows were more likely to show pictures of criminals when they were African American,

  • Network news similarly misrepresents the victims of poverty by using more images of African Americans than White people in its segments.
  • media coverage of women has been similarly biased.
    • The media’s historically uneven coverage of women continues in its treatment of women candidates. Early coverage was sparse.
    • Women were often seen as a novelty rather than as serious contenders who needed to be vetted and discussed.

Side Notes

A few topics that is not on the US politics, but related

Data and Descriptive Representation

Republicans become more conservative over time.

(vertical graph here)

How do you rate if a policy is conservative v.s liberal?

  • a few easy ones:

    • tax rates

    • military spending

  • some hard ones

    • economic regulation = republicans are not all against it, but certain kinds of it

On what basis do you decide if a person is liberal or conservative?

  • self-identification
  • policy goals, using fixed defintions
  • who they vote with

DW-Nominate: spatially representing where people stand on the political spectrum, and explain what factor causes the clustering

  • procedure sketch:

    • takes all members and their votes for 2 yeras
    • who they vote with and who they vote against (similarity embedding between each other)
  • found that

    • just using the economic dimension + race can almost explain the clustering
    • the clustering is changing over time, being now very polarized


    • the polarization movement is asymmetric: republican have moved towards polarization/clustering earlier
    • high predictability of political decision/policy as groups are very polarized = less variety in a pro-econ people voting for a con-econ policy

Polarization as a feature of congress: more agreement inside group and aggression outside. This

  • makes legislation a lot harder since we need votes across the entire house
  • hence explains why policies are polarized
  • but note that the definition/baseline changes over time = e.g. democrats worried by econ problems could have voted with republicans

To note: important to think about descriptive representation from different dimensions:

e.g. consider the following data representing women in congress


  • doesn’t show the proportion of how is running and how is a candidate
  • other dimension include profession of those women, economic background, etc.

Reading Empirical Research Paper

What are the goals of quantitivative emprical research?

  • reduce the number of competing explanations (i.e. which existing theories might be wrong)
  • refine theories that mostly work (i.e. we had a good theory, but we need to patch it a bit to explain this as well)

Therefore, we will first

  • experiments: good at identifying causal effects, have controlled variables, but it is very difficult to know if your variable is indeed the cause
  • observational studies: a big dataset, but is that correlation driven by stuff in the dataset or something else

We want:

  • explanation for a particular event, e.g. rule out theories
  • prediction of what will happen in the future

Therefore, for quantitative empirical research paper will be organized like:

  1. introduction: previews of the arguments to be made in this paper
  2. theory: situates question and aguments
    • also contains justifications why they used this particular approach
    • also look for defensive language = reviewers had criticism on those
  3. data and methods
  4. results/discussion: here is what we think we have learned

Therefore, just with abstract and introduction, you can get a descent summary of what is happening

  • but this will only give you what the author wants you to remember. to critique you will have to read the entire paper