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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 explores both the functioning of the US political system and some of the most compelling issues of the current American political debate. The main goal of this course is to understand the intimate connection between the institutional settings of the US (i.e. the US government) and the shaping of the American public debate (i.e. the US politics). In other words, the course aims to enable students to discern where and how particular policies are made, who the most influential opinion and decision makers are, and what forms of political participation are most likely to be effective in the United States. To make sense of the complex relationship between US government and politics, students will examine the main institutional actors and the principal rules of the American political machinery. In so doing, students will be engaged in thinking independently about the unique traits of the American democratic system, its peculiarities, and its inmost contradictions.

Accordingly, the course will be divided into two didactic units. Lectures will mostly focus on the structure and functioning of the US form of government: the Constitution and the distribution of power among the principal democratic institutions; the federal model and the relationships between the federal authorities and the state ones; the judicial system; the electoral procedures and the main political players of the democratic game, including parties, lobby groups, media, and public opinion.

The second part of the course will explore thoroughly the making of the public debate in the US, and it will explain how the main institutional actors position themselves within the broader American political landscape. This part of the course will be held in the form of tutorials, during which students will discuss different assigned topics through the use of a set of pre-circulated e-sources. These seminars will touch upon such current themes of American public debate as healthcare, social security, energy, environment, national economy, education, gender, race, equality, media, national security, foreign challenges, religion, and immigration, 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. If you are unable to attend a session, please inform your Tutorial-lecturer in advance. Being absent at more than one of the tutorial sessions will result in a lowering of your tutorial grade (40% of the end grade) with 1 point for each session missed after the first session. 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 Tutorial-lecturer.

Assessment method


  • Midterm Exam:
    Written examination with short open questions and multiple choice questions.

  • Final Exam:
    Annotated Word Cloud. The final exam consists in the selection of three to five keywords from the class as a whole and in a short (max 500 words per keyword) written explanation of how and why each of them is relevant to grasp the most critical aspects of U.S. politics and government. Rather than being a mere knowledge reproduction exercise, this exam will test students' critical thinking skills.


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 2023 – 2024.

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

  • T.J. Lowi, B. Ginsberg, K.A. Shepsle, S. Ansolabehere, American Government: Power and Purpose (New York: Norton, Core 16th Edition, 2021)


General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.



All other information.