Political Science 320B
The Politics of Policy
Essay Assignment: A Case Study of Policymaking in Congress
Structure of the Paper
The following are general guidelines about length and organization. They are not rigid
Identify the focus and objectives of the paper. (What bill examined, what questions
answered.) You will make an argument about the forces or influences that shaped the
outcome. As an option, you may choose to spell out general theoretical issues (e.g.
competing views, particular expectations, or major questions about the influence of some
group or actor). State your thesis. Describe the parts of the paper.
Examples of possible theses: The debate and decision was dominated by the influence of
the Tea Party. OR It reflected expert views about the country’s long term financial
needs. OR It reflected a balanced struggle between opposing sets of interest groups. OR
It was the result of broad demands, prompted by reactions to a major scandal or calamity.
Length: about 1 page.
II. Overview of the Case
Present a concise summary of the issue and the events and outcome. Use chronological
order. This enables you to use an analytical organization in the next section.
Length: about 1 page.
III. Influences (and Performance): Make Argument and Present Evidence
Discuss political forces, groups, actors, or circumstances that shaped the outcome.
(Issues to be presented in coming classes. You have options about what matters to
consider. Organization can be chronological or sequential (one phase of the process, with
whatever you need to cover, and then the next) OR thematic (e.g. evidence on one
influence, for the entire process, and then the next influence).
Length: about 4 pages
1 Length: about 1 page
Recommended style (easiest) APA style, with embedded references. Use any citation
provided on any website, regardless of form. You may use any standard reference
system, as long as you do so reasonably consistently. [Confession: I don’t give a damn about the form of
the bibliography as long as you have the relevant information.]
Note: the headings above are generic. You should use headings for Parts II, III, and IV that are
specific to your topic and approach. E.g., Part II might be, “The Development of the No-
Classes-on-Fridays Act.” Part III might be, “The Influence of a Student Movement.” You
should not use a heading for the introduction.
Analyzing the Evidence
The central analytic task of your papers is to analyze some of the key influences on your bill.
You can choose actors to consider from among the following categories of actors: ideologues
(liberals or conservatives); organized interest groups (industries, labor unions, professional
organizations, farmers’ organizations, etc.); the general public (especially moderates or swing
voters); or independent experts. Focus on whatever actors appear to you to be most relevant for
explaining the bill.
All you are expected to do is to use the evidence that you actually find available, and make and
defend intelligent judgments about what that evidence does or does not tell us. It is just as
valuable and impressive to explain why you cannot assess the influence of some category of
actor, when the evidence is insufficient, as it is to make that assessment, when the evidence
does permit it.
Note: you should not focus on the influence of elected officials themselves, or the political
parties. They are the actual decision makers. We are interested here in who or what
influences them. (In a course on institutions, we would be more interested.) However, you will
need to describe the positions of the president and the two parties (or majorities of them)—as
part of showing how the decision was made.
Here are the main kinds of evidence that you can consider for any category of actor. In general,