FALL 2008                                               MW 10:00-10:50 — PUP 206                                    N. MILLER



This course examines the subject of U. S. Presidential selection from institutional, historical, and theoretical perspectives. We will first examine the problem of forecasting Presidential election outcomes and then take a look at the present bases of party support in Presidential politics. We then turn to examine the creation, evolution, and contemporary structure of the Presidential selection process and the strategic considerations that derive from this structure. Much of the course will focus on the design and evolution of the Electoral College, its contemporary function as a vote counting mechanism, and proposals for its reform or abolition. A variety of alternative institutions will be considered and compared with electoral methods in other countries and analyzed in light of concepts in the theory of voting and social choice. We will also consider the problem of multi-candidate elections, a problem that is relevant both to the major-party Presidential nominating process and to Presidential elections with significant third-party activity.

Readings Available in the Book Center

George C. Edwards, III, WHY THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE IS BAD FOR AMERICA (paperback, Yale University Press, 2005) [ISBN 0-300-10968-7]

Allan J. Lichtman, THE KEYS TO THE WHITE HOUSE: 2008 EDITION (paperback, Lexington Books, 2008) [ISBN 0-7425-6270-0]

Nelson W. Polsby, Aaron Wildasky, with David A. Hopkins, PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS, 12th ed. (paperback, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007) [ISBN 0-7425-5415-5]

Reading Available on the Web


Note: Used copies (e.g., from Amazon.com) of the hardcover version of WHY THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE IS BAD [ISBN 0-300-10060-4] may be cheaper than new copies of the paperback. Used copies of earlier editions of the other two books will be adequate substitutes for the current editions. Some instructor-authored and other readings will be made available through the course website (above) and/or distribution in class.

Expected Preparation for POLI 423

            The normal prerequisite for this course is POLI 323 (The Presidency) or POLI 325 (Political Parties and Elections) or junior standing. Students certainly should have familiarity with the basic institutions and processes of American politics (such as is provided by a standard introductory course in American Government and Politics, e.g., POLI 100). The course is open to non-Political Science majors without this course background, but such students are encouraged to consult with the instructor during the first week of classes.

Course Requirements:

(1)       Faithful attendance and constructive participation in class discussions.

(2)       A short-answer in-class Midterm Test.

(3)       A Midterm Take-Home Essay Exam.

(4)       A short-answer Final Examination (in the final exam period).

(5)       A research report focusing on a particular Presidential election, which will be presented in class (time permitting) and/or posted on the course webpage and also submitted in written form at the end of the semester. General guidelines are distributed with this syllabus and more detailed guidelines will be distributed later in the semester.

Make-up exams will be given only if your present a reasonable and timely excuse for not taking the exam at the regular time. Ordinarily, a “timely” excuse is one that reaches me prior to the regular exam time, and the make-up exam should be arranged and, if possible, completed prior to the next class meeting.

Course Grade:

Your course grade will be determined as follows:

            (a)       Midterm Test                                                  20%

            (b)       Midterm Take-Home Essay                           20%

            (c)       Final Exam                                                     30%

            (d)       Research Report                                             30%

Failure to complete any of these four requirements, or submission of a plagiarized take-home essay or research report will result in a grade of F for the course, regardless of other grades. Faithful class attendance, constructive class participation, and improvement over the semester can provide a small bonus, but no “extra credit” work will be accepted.

Academic Integrity

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC’s scholarly community in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal. To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult the UMBC Student Handbook, the UMBC Policies section of the UMBC Directory, or go to http://www.umbc.edu/integrity.


Office Hours and Messages

I will be available to students in this course in PUP 206 before and after class on most days to answer questions and deal with other problems. If you need to talk with me at more length or in private, my office is PUP 321 and my normal office hours for the Fall 2008 semester will be MW 2:30-3:30, with occasional modifications that I will try to announce in class, and with other times by arrangement. If it is important that you see me on a particular day (even during office hours), I recommend that you make a specific appointment. This can often be arranged before or after class. Otherwise, I can also be reached in any way listed below. (Communication by e-mail is encouraged for all purposes.)

            E-mail:                                                                       nmiller@umbc.edu

            Office phone (with 24-hour "voice mail")                    (410) 455-2187

            Political Science Department (to leave message)         (410) 455-2568

            Home (emergency only)                                             (410) 381-3605

If you contact me email, I will reply to whatever email address you use. However, if you ask about grades or other private information, you must use your UMBC email address. In any event, you should check your UMBC email on a regular basis.

Course Web Page:

There is a course web page at http://userpages.umbc.edu/~nmiller/POLI423/index.htm (or go to UMBC => Degrees and Programs => Political Science => Faculty => N. R. Miller => POLI 423), which can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection. (Note this is not a Blackboard site.) Backup copies of the syllabus, class handouts, PowerPoint slides used in class, and other course material will be posted here, as well as announcements and some required readings and supplementary documents In addition, this page will provide links to a variety of relevant websites. When students ask questions by email, I will answer individually by email but, when the question seems to be of general interest, I will also post my response on a “bulletin board” section of the web page, so that other students can also have ready access to it. All students are urged to check the course web page periodically.

Course Outline and Reading Assignments

During the first month of the semester, you should read the entire Polsby and Wildavsky textbook on Presidential Elections. Careful reading of this book will give you a solid foundation in the basic political science findings concerning public opinion, party identification, voting behavior, campaign finance, interest groups, political parties, and election campaigns needed to understand the present Presidential selection process — both the prenomination campaign that took place last Spring (and earlier) and the general election campaign that is now beginning. While I will certainly be willing and able to take time in class to discuss points that arise out of this book and to address any questions you have, I will not “go over” the book on a regular basis in class. Rather class time will be devoted largely to the topics as outlined below. Readings that do not come from the books listed above will be available through the course website, and some additional readings for the latter part of the course will be added later.


  1.        (August 27)                Introduction and Overview


  2.        (August 29)                NO CLASS (Instructor attending APSA conference)




  3.        (September 3)             Forecasting Presidential Elections: Polls vs. Fundamentals 

                        From Larry J. Sabato’s Cystal Ball:

Alan Abramowitz, Thomas E. Mann, and Larry J. Sabato, “The Myth of a Toss-Up Election” (July 24, 2008)

                                    James E. Campbell, “Response: Anybody’s Ball Game” (July 24, 2008)

                                    Alan Abramowitz, “ Ninety Days and Counting” (August 7, 2008)


  4.        (September 5)             Forecasting Presidential Elections: The Keys to the White House

                        Lichtman, Introduction and Chapters 1-2, 9-10


  5.        (September 8)             Trends in Party Support

                        From Larry J. Sabato’s Cystal Ball:

Alan I. Abramowitz, “This Is Not Your Father’s (or Mother’s) Democratic Party” (May 15, 2008)

Alan I. Abramowitz, “The Incredible Shrinking Republican Base” (May 1, 2008)


  6.        (September 10)          Red States/Blue States, Red/Voters/Blue Voters

Andrew Gelman et al., “Rich State, Poor State, Red State, Blue State: What’s the Matter with Connecticut,” Quarterly Journal of Political Science, March 2007



  7.        (September 12)                       How the Electoral College Works in Practice

                        Edwards, Chapter 1

                        Koza et al, Chapter 2 (preview)

Danny Adkinson and Christopher Elliot, “The Electoral College: A Misunderstood Institution,” PS: POLITICAL SCIENCE AND POLITICS, March 1997


  8.        (September 15)           How the Electoral College Is Evaluated

                        Koza, Chapter 1

                        Edwards, Forward (by Neal R. Peirce), Preface, and Chapter 1 (preview)

Judith Best, Testimony On Proposals For Electoral College Reform Before The House Judiciary Subcommittee On The Constitution, 1997

  9.        (September 17)           Alternatives to the Electoral College

                        Koza et al, Chapters 3 and 4


10.       (September 19)           The National Popular Vote Plan


                        Koza et al, Chapter 6




11.       (September 22)           What the Framers Did and Why?

                        Edwards, Chapter 1


12.       (September 24)           Rules for a Game Never Played

                        Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 68


13.       (September 26)           Party Formation and the Hazardous Game

                        Koza et al, Chapter 2, pp. 33-53


14.       (September 30)           The 12th Amendment and the Election of 1824

Robin Kolodny, “The Several Elections of 1824,” CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENCY, Fall 1996


15.       (October 1)                 Constitutional Foundations of Presidential Selection

                        Edwards, Chapter 1 (review)

                        Edwards, Appendix A

                        Koza et al, , pp. 53-94




16.       (October 3)                 Overview of Presidential Elections

                        Lichtman, Chapters 3-8 (begin)


17.       (October 6)                 Some Constitutionally Notable Presidential Elections

                        Lichtman, Chapters 3-8 (continue)


18.       (October 8)                 Analyzing the Popular Vote-Electoral Vote (PVEV) Relationship


19.       (October 10)               The Electoral Vote Swing Ratio


20.       (October 13)               Bias in the Electoral College and Election Reversals


21.       (October 15)               Apportionment vs. Distribution Effects




22.       (October 17)               Voting Weights vs. Voting Power

                        Edwards, Appendix B

                        N. R. Miller, “Voting Power in the U.S. Electoral College”


23.       (October 20)               Voting Power in the Electoral College and Its Alternatives


24.       (October 22)               Electoral College Deadlock

                        Edwards, Chapter 3 (begin)


25.       (October 24)               Electoral College Deadlock (cont.)

                        Edwards, Chapter 3 (complete)


26.       (October 27)               IN-CLASS MIDTERM TEST

                        Take-Home Essay Question distributed




27.       (October 29)               The Franchise and Voter Registration


28.       (October 31)               Voting Turnout


29.       (November 3)             Ballot Structure, Ballot Access, and Voting Technology

                        Take-Home Essay Exam due


30.       (November 5)             Post-Election Debriefing


31.       (November 7)             House Apportionment, Size, and Districting


32.       (November 10)           House Apportionment, Size, and Districting (cont.)




33.       (November 12)                       Single-Winner Elections and Duverger’s Law


34.       (November 14)           The Problem of Multi-Candidate Elections

N. R. Miller, “The 2002 French Presidential Election: Instant Runoff Voting, Monotonicity Failure, and Spoiler Effects”


35.       (November 17)           The American Party Systems


36.       (November 19)           The American Party Systems (cont.)




37.       (November 21)           The Nomination Problem: The Congressional Caucus (1796-1820) and the Party-Dominant System (1832-1908)


38.       (November 24)           The First Revolution in Presidential Nominations and the Mixed System (1912-1968)


39.       (November 26)           The Second Revolution in Presidential Nominations and the Candidate-Dominant System (1972-present)





40.       (December 1)              Student Presentations


41.       (December 3)              Student Presentations (cont.)


42.       (December 5)              Student Presentations (cont.)


43.       (December 8)              Student Presentations (cont.)

FINAL EXAM: Monday, December 15, 10:30AM-12:300PM in PUP 208

Thursday, December 18, by 5:00 PM in PUB 321 or 355 (Mailbox): Written Version of Research Report due