POLS 112: Introduction to American and California Government

Political science and the study of government is motivated by a fundamental concern about collective actions or choices and their consequences.  Collective action occurs wherever more than one individual contributes to the achievement of an outcome.  Because collective action can generate cooperative benefits not available to individuals on their own, such benefits provide the fundamental basis for social life.  However, cooperation involves the risk of being taken advantage of by others.  Generally speaking, we encounter a Collective Action Problem (CAP) whenever we face a choice between giving up autonomy for cooperative benefits v. giving up benefits for autonomy.  These are the horns of the Tragedy of the Commons: everyone acting rationally (maximizing self-interest) in the short run, results in everyone being worse off (reducing self-interest) in the long run.  This is a “beautiful” problem in that it is one of the most enduring in the biological and social sciences; it challenges us to grapple with important ideas and rethink our assumptions; and it is of direct importance to finding solutions in a world that desperately needs them.

Required Electronic Materials 

This course will use a large number of articles and excerpts that will be posted here.

If you do not have access to a reliable printer, consider printing or making copies at the library (10 cents/page), in a campus computer lab, or at a local copy shop, or using the GoodNotes, or iAnnotate app for marking up PDFs on mobile devices. Note that this  course involves significant amounts of reading. Unless otherwise indicated, you are expected to complete all the readings. You are strongly encouraged to bring copies of all readings to class each day, as well as to take notes as you read. Stay on top of the assigned readings and any multimedia content. Read or view them in pieces if you are pressed for time. Do what works best for you to achieve high levels of comprehension and engagement with the course content. 

NOTE: Students who complete all required course readings will be positioned to do well in the course. Students who do not complete all assigned readings – for whatever reason – will not do well. Do not take this course if you do not plan to complete the assigned readings.

Course Contents

Course Description

This course introduces students to the study of government and politics in the United States and California. The theories and research we study focus on U.S. political culture and institutions: The U.S. Constitution, Federalism, Public Policy, Media and Public opinion, Parties, Interest Groups and Social Movements, Campaigns and Elections, Congress, The Executive and The Judiciary and Civil Rights and Liberties. (Fulfills GE D1).

What you will learn to do:

  1. Apply the theoretical frameworks and applications of political science, its conceptual vocabulary, and methods of inquiry.
  2. Understand basic facts and concepts about the American political system, including its history, philosophical, constitutional and legal foundations, leading political values and ideas, governing institutions, and policymaking processes.
  3. Appreciate the diversity of political systems around the world.
  4. Understand some history of classical and modern political thought; of the fundamental values and ethical issues contested in politics over time; and of alternative moral and ethical frameworks for interpreting and evaluating contemporary political discourses.
  5. Recognize the major problems, the leading policies, and the legal issues confronting contemporary political systems, particularly in the U.S.
  6. Practice citizenship skills, ethical values, and the ability to understand and appreciate human diversity; engage in community life as active citizens.
  7. Think critically; construct logical arguments; collect, analyze, and interpret evidence and data; formulate reasoned conclusions.

Course Communications

Polylearn: Polylearn will be used as our primary course web site. This site will house the course syllabus, schedule, electronic readings, and online activities. You will also submit assignments through this site, access your grades, and participate in class discussions. Make it a habit to regularly visit the Polylearn course site. All announcements will be posted to this site. You are responsible for timely receipt of announcements.

email: You must have a Cal Poly User name for this course. This address is necessary to receive course email and to log onto the electronic Polylearn system. If you wish to use AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc., as your primary email address instead of your Cal Poly email account to, log into http://my.calpoly.edu and use the Personal Information channel to change your Email Delivery Address. When you email me, please include POLS 112 in the subject line.

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