This assignment asks you to research and analyze a topic related to the study of the U.S. Congress. Here are some topic suggestions.
1. Describe the incumbency advantage in Congress. What factors contribute to the incumbency advantage? Has the incumbency advantage shifted over time? If so, in what ways? Should we consider policy changes that give challengers a better hope to win seats in Congress?
2. How is the Senate filibuster used in contemporary American politics and how is its current use different than in earlier eras in Senate history? How does the current use of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate affect Congress’s capacity to enact legislation today?
3. Describe and evaluate the role of political party leaders in Congress. What purpose do party leaders serve in Congress both now and over time? Analyze the leadership styles of recent House Speakers John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi (or other leaders) to help inform your analysis.
4. Describe Congress’s “war powers” and the changing relationship between Congress and the president on military-related matters, including military operations. Why has the Congress delegated so much authority to the president in his role as Commander-in-Chief? What are the costs and benefits of delegating so much power? Provide examples to support your arguments.
5. The U.S. Constitution gives U.S. Senate the power to confirm justices to the Supreme Court. How has the judicial nomination process changed in Congress over time? Why has the process become so contentious? Are there reforms that could be made to either Congress or the Supreme Court that might make the process less conflictual?
Paper should have Three primary sections (you can also include subsections to help organize your paper. I discuss this further below):
Section I. Introduction and Thesis Statement (40 points).
In this opening section of your paper (approximately 2 pages in length) you will want to introduce your primary research question and describe why the question (or line of inquiry) is important to our understanding of Congress. In this section you also want to include a paragraph that presents your thesis—your primary set of arguments—and a “roadmap” of where the rest of the paper is going.
Here is an example of a “thesis and roadmap” paragraph that you’d want to include somewhere toward the top end of your paper.
“In this paper I will investigate the process of gerrymandering—or the conscious act of drawing congressional district lines for the purpose of maximizing advantages to a political party, candidate, or group. Specifically I ask: what is gerrymandering in Congressional politics? What political factors contribute to gerrymandering? Who benefits from gerrymandering and what are the consequences of it for democracy and the principle of “one person one vote”? I will make several primary arguments. First, using evidence from the academic literature on Congress and news media stories, I’ll demonstrate how the process of gerrymandering has been used for three primary purposes: to advantage political parties’ electoral chances and their relative power in Congress; to restrict the power of racial and ethnic minority voters; protect incumbents from losing their seats. Second, I will demonstrate how the balance of power in state legislatures plays an important role in the degree to which House districts can be gerrymandered and for what purpose. Third, I will review decisions from several noteworthy U.S. Supreme Court cases that brought constitutional challenges to gerrymandering. I’ll demonstrated how the Court has thus far upheld the practice of partisan gerrymandering. In doin so, the Court has all but guaranteed the practice will remain an important factor in determining who wins elected contests and thus who holds power in Congress.”
Section II. Main Analysis and Evidence (80 points)
In this section (6 pages) you want to develop all the arguments outlined in your introduction section including those arguments you mention in your thesis and roadmap paragraph. Use the evidence drawn from your research, citing specific examples to help support your claims. It might be helpful here to break the main body of your paper into different subsections to help keep the paper organized and provide clear distinctions between your arguments and evidence.
Section III: Conclusion (20 points)
In this section (about 1 page) you want to try to tie everything together. Briefly recap your main arguments and what evidence you uncovered over the course of your research. What lessons about Congress can be drawn from your paper? Try to be as specific as possible.
Important Notes: paper requirement
Your grade on this assignment will be determined by the strength of your analysis, quality of your research, and your ability to satisfy the requirements in each section described above.
For full credit on the quality of writing component, your paper should be well organized, with limited spelling and grammatical errors. It should also have strong transition sentences between sections and/or arguments and properly cite your sources, both in the main text of the paper and in a references page, using APA, Chicago, or APSA citation style guidelines.
The final paper is expected to be 8 double-spaced typed pages with 1-inch margins and 12-point font (please note that papers cannot be longer than 11 pages excluding the reference page). The paper must include a minimum of 10 sources. Use of online sources, including newspaper articles, is permitted, but at least six of your sources must be academic sources—books or peer reviewed articles. A reference page should be included at the back of your paper and does not count toward the page requirement.
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