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1. Discuss what American democracy means to you. Which of the three branches of our federal government you consider to be the most democratic? Using your text as a source, construct an argument that logically connects your understanding of democracy to the branch you consider to be the most democratic. (You should have at least four valid points that are supported by quotes/ideas from the text.)
I view American democracy as a system that allows citizens to govern themselves, in the sense that we are able to vote for our representatives in government. The representative form of democracy that the U.S. has adopted gives citizens the opportunity to vote for elected officials that they feel will best represent them concerning policy issues that are important to them. Voting, whether operating on the basis of majority rules or the Electoral College, is one of the most widespread forms of civic engagement within American democracy because people are able to voice their opinions and concerns within their political party through the election of representatives. Since voting has been established as an important principle, I feel that the legislative branch of government is the most democratic because the House of Representatives and the Senate consist of the many members that constituents elect from each state and Congress is responsible for accurately representing those constituents when drafting and passing bills and laws. Once elected to Congress, the representatives have a responsibility to the people and must carry out their duties in accordance with the views of constituents in their states. “In the United States, people elect representatives to city councils, state legislatures, and Congress. These bodies make laws to govern their respective jurisdictions. They also pass measures to raise money, through the impositions of taxes on such things as income, property, and sales” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 12). This talks briefly about one of the many responsibilities of the legislative branch, and mentions the creations of laws within ‘respective jurisdictions’. Congresses major jurisdictional duties concern “the power to tax, maintain an army and a navy, and regulate trade and commerce” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 49). These responsibilities are significant to democracy because citizens are most concerned with laws, security and finances. What makes the legislative branch more democratic than the other branches is that Congress has more influential control over these major issues. “While legislation could be proposed by either chamber of Congress, it had to pass both chambers by a majority vote before being sent to the president to be signed into law, and all bills to raise revenue had to begin in the House of Representatives. Only those men elected by the voters to represent them could impose taxes upon them. There would be no more taxation without representation” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 49). Again and again the textbook references Congresses power to tax because finances are an important issue to the American people who want fair representation in order to ensure that they have a say in how their hard-earned money is used. The Framer’s tasked Congress with oversight and authority of these important issues because they recognized that such power should be controlled by the branch that the people have the most influence over. In Federalist 51, Hamilton made the argument that, “it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self- defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 685). The legislative branch was always intended to have the most influence in the American democratic system. 
2. Explain and discuss the role of parties in the American political system. Begin by briefly outlining the history of parties, next discuss the nature of modern political parties, and conclude by explaining the role of the modern party system in divided government and polarization.
In the American political system there are two major parties that represent differing ideologies about how the government should operate. The original split ideologies were that of the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists were in favor of a strong central government because they believed it “would be better for both national defense and economic growth” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 55). Whereas the “Anti-Federalists feared the power of the national government and believed state legislatures, with which they had more contact, could better protect their freedoms” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 55). The emergence of this split in political thinking surrounding the creation of American government has guided the two-party system that we still have today. Today those parties are known as the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The reason that the U.S. has consistently maintained only two major parties is because voters generally tend to align with one of the two ideologies and vote under the Democratic or Republican platform. However, some may feel that their political beliefs do not align with one of the two major parties but they still cast a vote for either one rather than a third party because in the American political system third parties do not have a fighting chance. “Political parties exist for the purpose of winning elections in order to influence public policy” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 340). Since voters want their vote to matter, they cast a ballot for a candidate they know has a chance at being elected to represent them. When the textbook discusses the nature of the winner-take-all system of voting in the U.S., it makes a good point about modern political parties and their power. “A political party that appeals to only a small percentage of voters will always lose to a party that is more popular” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 336). It is the mass appeal and popularity of major parties that get certain candidates elected over less powerful parties. The immense power and contrasting political beliefs of the two major parties pose a problem in some ways to how the government operates. The problem that the parties pose is in divided government. “Divided government occurs when one or more houses of the legislature are controlled by the party in opposition to the executive” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 352). Divided government threatens how a party can operate and also affects how the government functions. The book discusses how divided government makes campaign promises harder to fulfill and how it can also halt movement on passing laws or cause a shut-down altogether (Krutz, 2017, pg. 352). In this way, political parties conflicting beliefs threaten the unified government that America needs to best function in accomplishing goals and carrying out daily operations to ensure the freedoms and security of citizens. Divided government is influenced by increasing party polarization. Polarization refers to a wide split in ideologies through which, “Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly dissimilar from one another” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 354). Polarization has created factions within these political parties which has rendered Congress less effective (Krutz, 2017). Congress being less effective has similar consequences to the effects of divided government mentioned before, including government shut-down. 
3. Discuss the important agents of political socialization. Next, discuss the heuristics Americans use when deciding how to vote. Do you see any connection between political socialization and voting heuristics? Do you think this influences voter turnout? Explain.
From a very young age every person is exposed to political thinking or actions in some manner. “An agent of political socialization is a source of political information intended to help citizens understand how to act in their political system and how to make decisions on political matters” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 203). A few of the major agents of political socialization include: family, school, religious institutions and the media. Family and school are the most prominent and influential socializers that people are exposed to and learn about politics from. An example of political socialization from family would be, “children who accompany their parents on Election Day in November are exposed to the act of voting and concept of civic duty, which is the performance of actions that benefit the country or community’ (Krutz, 2017, pg. 203). Political socialization impacts future actions and thinking about political parties, laws and policies, attitudes toward candidates and the entire political system. These attitudes and thinking are perhaps shaped greater by socialization in school. A formal political education gives people the opportunity to form new beliefs that may not conform with their families. Another important effect of formal education is that it instills within children a sense of respect for government. Political socialization contributes toward diffuse support, or acceptance of government as legitimate, which keeps America steady even when the political or social system is unsteady. (Krutz, 2017, pg. 203). 
Americans rely on a variety of heuristics, which are rules of thumb or instincts, when casting their vote for a particular candidate. People assess their own political beliefs and choose the party that best aligns with those beliefs. “Studies have shown that up to half of voters make decisions using their political party identification, or party ID, especially in races where information about candidates is scarce” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 217). This shows that party identification is a prominent heuristic Americans rely on when casting a ballot. That is not to say that there are not a myriad of other factors that contribute to heuristics, for instance race, gender, socio-economic status and affiliations with an interest group can all affect how a person votes (Krutz, 2017, pg. 218). An example of this might be that more women casted a vote for Hillary Clinton based on the fact that they wanted to see a female candidate in office since she would be able to better represent women. Since voting heuristics can come from many sources, there is a connection to a person’s political socialization. As mentioned before religious institutions can be an influential agent of political socialization. If a person attends church and the pastor or congregation expresses a stance favoring one candidate over another, a person might change their own opinion or beliefs which can then be translated into a heuristic for voting a certain way. In this regard, I would argue that agents of political socialization are a launchpad for voting heuristics because they have the power to change our stance on political matters. Using this same example, I think that an agent of political socialization can pressure you to vote by promoting that heuristic (instinct) for a person to want to take action in promoting a certain candidate through voting. I would say that all of these factors have the potential to boost voter turn-out, especially because heuristics allows people to examine qualities of candidates rather than just making factual informed decisions which require a lot more time and knowledge. 
4. In this course, we have discussed the institutions of our political system as well as the ideas and philosophies upon which these institutions are based. Discuss what specific elements of our political system (1) you have a better understanding of now and (2) your overall assessment of the American political system in terms of efficiency, democracy, and fairness.
Over the course of this semester, we have covered a lot of material most of which I had briefly learned in pervious classes but a lot of which I gained a better understanding of. A few different elements of our political system that I better understand now are: the importance of civic engagement, the electoral college, and the differences between civil rights and civil liberties. 
I have learned that civic engagement extends far beyond voting. People are able to engage in politics and political thinking in several ways. Being informed and following reliable news sources is a form of civic engagement. Another form of civic engagement is joining an interest group. The interest group doesn’t necessarily have to be political, but all groups have influence on politics in some way and may support or endorse certain political parties or candidates. Attending a campaign rally or a protest are both forms of civic engagement. “Civic engagement can increase the power of ordinary people to influence government actions” (Krutz, 2017, pg. 21). Change happens when people make any effort to get involved and participate in American democracy.
I understood the basics of the presidential elections before this course, but I have a greater scope of knowledge now. One major thing that I can better understand now is the Electoral College. The Electoral College is used in Presidential elections. After the public casts their votes, then the elected representatives for the Electoral College in each state cast their votes based off of the majority vote in their state. The candidate that receives the majority of the Electoral College votes wins the elections and becomes the president (Krutz, 2017). This process is particularly important to understand in instances like the most recent Presidential Election where Trump won the majority of the Electoral College votes even though Clinton won the public majority or popular vote. This course challenged me to think about the system we have in place and whether or not it should be different and how. Though there are many differing and controversial opinions on the topic, I think that the Electoral College has worked for America for hundreds of years and I don’t know if changing it would be the best thing. I think it is a fair system and obviously some years it will work in favor of the candidate you want to win and sometimes it will not.
Understanding civil rights and civil liberties and how they are different was challenging for me at first because they seemed to be similar. However, I have learned that they are indeed quite different in nature. Civil rights refer to the government’s equal protection of all people based on merit regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, age, etc. Civil rights violations normally occur with groups that have been historically denied the same rights and opportunities as others (Krutz, 2017, pg. 154). An example that we discussed at length in this course was the Native Hawaiian’s and how they were denied being recognized as a tribe, their land was removed from them, and they were previously unable to hold their own government as tribe. All of these attribute to a civil rights issue. The article, “With Obama’s help, native Hawaiians may establish their first unified government since the 1890’s” (Eilperin, 2016) helped me to understand what rights were being threatened. Since the Native Hawaiians were not granted formal recognition as a tribe, they were denied the access to establish a government-to-government relationship with the federal government until this new rule. This new rule can be seen as an affirmative action by the U.S. government because they recognize their prior maltreatment of the Native Hawaiians and denial of rights. Civil liberties differ from civil rights because they do not deal with equal treatment, but rather they are limits on the government’s power that protect individual freedoms from government intrusion (Krutz, 2017, pg. 108). The Bill of Rights deals with peoples individual freedoms and protect citizens from the governments unfair intrusion and exertion of power over those freedoms. For example, the fourth amendment secures citizens freedom to privacy of personal effects without probable cause for the government to search and seize (Krutz, 2017, pg. 129). Civil liberties are not guaranteed if a person’s words or actions break the law or threaten another person’s freedoms. 
I think that the American political system has room for improvement, but I also think that it has served our country well so far. I think that polarization poses a great threat to the efficiency of the U.S. government because if it continues to worsen it can cause a halt of policy or a government shut-down. I think that political parties need to remain unified so that they can be effective and use diligence in passings laws that are important to the people. I think that in terms of democracy, our winner-take-all elections system for representation should transition to proportional representation so that third party candidates have more of an opportunity to gain election. I think that with the stark contrast in political party ideologies, citizens should have the option to cast a vote for a third party and know that their vote still matters. 

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