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Politics: North America


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
Limited places are also open for exchange students.
Please note: this course takes place in The Hague. Traveling between University buildings from Leiden to The Hague may take about 45 minutes.


This course offers an introduction to politics in North America with a focus on political institutions and democracy. We will explore the philosophical ideas and historical roots underpinning U.S. politics to gain knowledge of the origins and development of America’s political traditions and political culture. We will explore constitutional structures, electoral arrangements, and political parties, with a view to assessing the scope and effectiveness of democracy. We will also consider the structure and behavior of formal government institutions, such as the Congress, the presidency, and the Courts, and the influence of the media and informal political actors on American politics and political conversations.

While the course concentrates on contemporary issues, a historical overview furnishes essential context to help explain American political debates and issues. We will also examine the relationship between American political development and themes such as race, class, and gender, and issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, economic (in)equality, polarization, and congressional gridlock.

Course objectives

  • Students get an overview of the historical and contemporary political developments / dynamics in their chosen area and deepen their existing knowledge and understanding of different political systems, political institutions, political processes and actors in the different regions / countries of the region, using the concepts acquired during the course Politics.

  • Students get acquainted with academic debates on selected topics in the specific region.

  • Students learn how to write a literature review (2,500 words).

  • Students critically engage with advanced academic texts (summarise, analyse, and critically reflect on the validity of the arguments made in these texts).

  • Students apply theories, concepts and research techniques relevant to the field of comparative politics.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Lectures are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. Weekly lectures will cover issues both inside and outside the readings.


Tutorials are held once every three weeks, with the exception of the midterm exam week. Attending all tutorial sessions is compulsory. For this reason, if you are unable to attend a session, it is required that you inform your tutor in advance. Please note that being absent at any tutorial session may have a negative impact on the grade of the assignment due for that particular tutorial session. This is at the discretion of the tutor.

Assessment method


  • Midterm Exam:
    Written examination with short open questions and (up to) 50% multiple choice questions.

  • Final Exam:
    Written examination with short open questions and (up to) 50% multiple choice questions.


Partial grade Weighing
Tutorials 40%
Midterm Exam 30%
Final Exam 30%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note of the following:

  • The end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of Tutorial grade, Midterm Exam grade, and Final Exam grade.

  • The weighted average of the Midterm Exam grade and the Final Exam grade needs to be 5.5 or higher.

  • This means that failing Exam grades cannot be compensated with a high Tutorial grade.


If the end grade is insufficient (lower than a 6.0), or the weighted average of Midterm- and Final Exams is lower than 5.5, there is a possibility of retaking the full 60% of the exam material, replacing both the earlier Midterm- and Final Exam grades. No resit for the tutorial is possible.
Please note that if the Resit Exam grade is lower than 5.5, you will not pass the course, regardless of the tutorial grade.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2021 – 2022.

Exam review and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

  • Gillian Peele, Christopher J. Bailey, Jon Herbert, Bruce E. McCain, and B. Guy Peters, eds., Developments in American Politics, 8th ed. (London, UK: Palgrave, 2018).

  • Note: Make sure you purchase the 8th edition. The content varies in different editions.

  • Additional course readings are listed in the syllabus and can be accessed through Brightspace, or as indicated below.

  • Required readings for tutorials are also listed in the syllabus and can be accessed through Brightspace, or as otherwise indicated. Be sure to do the readings prior to the session for which they are assigned. Tutorial readings will serve a dual purpose: to deepen our understanding of a theme within American politics, and to familiarize ourselves with the assets and uses of a literature review.

  • Extra, non-mandatory readings are made available on Brightspace, for those who are interested.


  • Enrolment through uSis for Tutorials and Lectures is mandatory.

  • Students will be enrolled for Exams by the Administration Office, as long as they have a valid Tutorial enrolment.

  • General information about uSis is available on the website.



All other information.