Debates within Political Psychology
1. Pick any one of the major theories of human nature discussed at the beginning of the course. Develop its contribution to political psychology. What phenomena does it most help to explain? What phenomena is it less effective in explaining?
2. A central debate within political psychology has always been the extent to which political actors are ?rational? or ?irrational.? Describe rational choice theory as a theory of political behavior. What are the main challenges to it from research in political psychology? In what respects does it hold up better? Where do you come out on this debate? Why?
3. Evaluate Houghton?s distinction between situations and dispositions as a clarifying theme in the study of political psychology. Where does it help the most? What other important distinctions might it obscure?
4. Where does political psychology make the strongest contribution to understanding political behavior? Where is it least effective? Why?
Part B: Applications of political psychology to specific political problems
1. One running debate in political psychology is the extent to which political elites can and do manipulate the general public, as opposed to the extent to which they must pander to the preferences of the mass public. Put another way, is the mass public mainly responsive to elite initiatives or are elites? actions strongly constrained by public opinion, in such areas as policy clashes (racial backlash, health reform) or even mass violence (genocide, war). Discuss this question critically, drawing broadly and specifically upon material from throughout the course.
2. The role of social class in Americans? political attitudes has long been debated. How has research and theory on this topic changed over time? What are the main schools of thought today? How are they similar and how do they differ? Be sensitive to possible regional and issue differences.
3. Several aspects of the course have dealt with debates over increased ideological and partisan polarization in American society. Relevant are both those who directly address polarization and aspects of political psychology that are more indirectly implicated (e.g., democratic competence, ideological thinking, the psychology of party identification). Develop this debate. Be specific about the sources you are drawing on. Where do you come out?
4. Just 48 years ago, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and a year later, both the Voting Rights Act and major immigration liberalization. To what extent, and how, have the roles of race/ethnicity and racism/prejudice in American politics changed since then? What parallels and differences exist between the historic conflict between blacks and whites and the consequences of the increased flow of new immigrants to the US?