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Political Science Department

Government 252 The Psychology of Politics

Ron Seyb Office Hours:
Ladd 310 M&W, 2-4
Ext. 5248 Fall 2003

Course Description

This course addresses three questions: (1) Why do some Americans choose to pursue careers in politics? (2) How do political elites make choices? (3) What effect do these choices have on public policy and civic engagement? Political psychologists seek answers to these questions by exploring the motives, beliefs, and personality characteristics of political leaders. The course will demonstrate that the reasons political actors give for their behavior are rarely accurate. Much political behavior is driven by unconscious motives, irrational beliefs, personality traits, and information-processing biases that can lead political actors to endorse policies that are contrary to their interests and choose courses of action that are counterproductive, immoral, or destructive. We will try to discover why political actors make such "foolish" choices by exploring how they acquire their personality traits and belief systems, process information, and respond to the demands of their social and political environments.

Course Requirements

(1) There will be two in-class examinations: a midterm examination on Friday, October 22 and a final examination to take place on a date set by the capricious schedulers in the Registrar's Office. Your performance on each examination will determine 30% of your final grade.

(2) You will be required to write a 10-15 page psychobiography of a president of your choice utilizing the analytical framework provided by Stanley Renshon in High Hopes. Your psychobiography will be due on Friday, November 14 and will determine 40% of your final grade.


You must show-up to class on time to succeed in this course. I will allow you three excused absences (tardies will be counted as absences) before I start reduced from your final score as ruthlessly as Arnold reduced his supply of commonsense on The Tonight Show. You must provide me with your excuse by 11:00 AM on the day you are absent. Any absence after you have exhausted your three excused absences, or any unexcused absences will result in a 2% reduction from your final grade (e.g., a 90 will become an 88).

You should also keep in mind that according to the Academic Information Guide, "any students who miss more than a third of the (class) sessions may expect to be barred from (the final examination). In such cases, the course grade will be recorded as F."

Midterm Examination: October 22 (30%)
Psychobiography: November 14 (40%)
Final Examination: TBA (30%)
Attendance: Every Class Meeting

The following books can be purchased at The Skidmore Shop for less than you would need to spend to become the top contributor to the "Carol Moseley Braun Quixotic Campaign Fund":

Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar, Going Negative
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman, The Press Effect
Scott Plous, The Psychology of Judgment and Decision-Making
Stanley Renshon, High Hopes

Weekly Topics and Reading Assignments

(* denotes a reading to be distributed in class)

Week 1: (September 3-5): Political Leadership in America
Readings: *Garry Wills, Certain Trumpets, pp. 11-34

Week 2 (September 8-12): The Optimist's Leader
Readings: *Steven Kelman, "'Public Choice' and Public Spirit," The Public

Week 3 (September 15-19): Political Beliefs and Political Choice
Readings: *Alan Brinkley, "The Concept of New Deal Liberalism," "Introduction" to The End of Reform
*Andrew Sullivan, "Going Down Screaming," The New York Times Magazine, (October 11, 1998)
*Robert Dreyfuss, "How the DLC Does It," The American Prospect(April 23, 2001)

Week 4 (September 22-26): Personality and Leadership
Readings: Renshon, Chapters 2-6

Week 5 (September 29-October 3): Decision-Making I: The Rationality Myth
Readings: Plous, Chapters 7-11

Week 6 (October 8-10): Decision-Making II: Groupthink
Readings: Plous, Chapters 17 and 18
*Irving Janis, "A Perfect Failure"

Week 7 (October 13-17): Decision-Making III: Judgment under Uncertainty in the White House
Readings: Renshon, Chapters 12 and 13
*Richard Brookhiser, "The Mind of George W. Bush," The Atlantic Monthly (April 2003)

Week 8 (October 20-22): The New Language of Leadership
Readings: *Deborah Tannen, "Let Them Eat Words," The American Prospect (September 2003)
*George Lakoff, "Framing the Democrats," The American Prospect (September 2003)
*Geoffrey Nunberg, "The Liberal Label," The American Prospect (September 2003


Week 9 (October 27-31): Political Marketing
Readings: Ansolabehere and Iyengar, Chapters 1-3

Week 10 (November 3-7): Advertising Effects and Non-Effects
Readings: Ansolabehere and Iyengar, Chapters 4-7
Week 11 (November 10-14): The Media Frame
Readings: Jamieson and Waldman, Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2


Week 12 (November 17-21): Media Effects and Non-Effects
Readings: Jamieson and Waldman, Chapters 3-5

Week 13 (November 24): Catch-Up
Readings: No Reading

Week 14 (December 1-5): The Voters Decide
Readings: *Myron Levine, "The Issue Voting Debate"

Week 15 (December 8-10): Review for the Final Examination
Readings: No Reading