Main The Logic of American Politics 9th Edition

The Logic of American Politics 9th Edition

, , ,
0 / 0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?
Why does the American political system work the way it does?

Find the answers in The Logic of American Politics. This best-selling text arms you with a toolkit of institutional design concepts―command, veto, agenda control, voting rules, and delegation―that help you recognize how the American political system was designed and why it works the way it does. The authors build your critical thinking through a simple yet powerful idea: politics is about solving collective action problems.

Thoroughly updated to account for the most recent events and data, the Ninth Edition explores the increase in political polarization, the growing emotional involvement people have to politics, Americans’ reactions to changing demographics, the partisan politics of judicial selection, and the changing nature of presidential leadership. Revised to include the 2018 election results and analysis, this edition provides you with the tools you need to make sense of today’s government.
CQ Press
ISBN 10:
ISBN 13:
PDF, 20.21 MB
Download (pdf, 20.21 MB)
Conversion to is in progress
Conversion to is failed

Most frequent terms


To post a review, please sign in or sign up
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.

Hybrid Image Processing Methods for Medical Image Examination

PDF, 28.22 MB
5.0 / 0

Automotive Systems: Principles and Practice

PDF, 55.21 MB
0 / 5.0
The Logic of American Politics
Ninth Edition

To Dianne, Marty, Kate, and Jeff
The following dedication to James Madison is from the oldest American
government textbook we have found: William Alexander Duer’s Outlines of
the Constitutional Jurisprudence of the United States, published in 1833.
To you, Sir, as the surviving member of the august assembly that
framed the Constitution, and of the illustrious triumvirate who, in
vindicating it from the objections of its first assailants, succeeded
in recommending it to the adoption of their country; to you, who,
in discharging the highest duties of its administration, proved the
stability and excellence of the Constitution, in war as well as in
peace, and determined the experiment in favor of republican
institutions and the right of self-government; to you, who in your
retirement, raised a warning voice against those heresies in the
construction of that Constitution which for a moment threatened
to impair it; to you, Sir, as alone amongst the earliest and the
latest of its defenders,—this brief exposition of the organization
and principles of the National Government, intended especially
for the instruction of our American youth, is most respectfully,
and, in reference to your public services, most properly inscribed.
Columbia College, N.Y.
August 1st, 1833.

The Logic of American Politics
Ninth Edition
Samuel Kernell
University of California, San Diego
Gary C. Jacobson
University of California, San Diego
Thad Kousser
University of California, San Diego
Lynn Vavreck
University of California, Los Angeles

CQ Press
An Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc.
2455 Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, California 91320
SAGE Publications Ltd.
1 Oliver’s Yard
55 City Road
London EC1Y 1SP
United Kingdom
SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd.
B 1/I 1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area
Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 044
SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte. Ltd.
18 Cross Street #10-10/11/12
China Square Central
Singapore 048423

Copyright © 2020 b; y CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc. CQ
Press is a registered trademark of Congressional Quarterly Inc.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted by U.S. copyright law, no part of
this work may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or

stored in a database or retrieval system, without permission in writing from
the publisher.
All third party trademarks referenced or depicted herein are included solely
for the purpose of illustration and are the property of their respective
owners. Reference to these trademarks in no way indicates any relationship
with, or endorsement by, the trademark owner.
Printed in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Kernell, Samuel, 1945- author.
Title: The logic of American politics / Samuel Kernell, Gary C. Jacobson, Thad Kousser, Lynn
Description: 9th edition. | Thousand Oaks, California : CQ Press/SAGE, 2020. | Includes
bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018055112 | ISBN 9781544322995 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: United States—Politics and government—Textbooks.
Classification: LCC JK276 .K47 2020 | DDC 320.47301—dc23
LC record available at
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Executive Publisher: Monica Eckman
Acquisitions Editor: Lauren Schultz
Content Development Editor: Anna Villarruel
Editorial Assistant: Sam Rosenberg
Production Editor: Tracy Buyan
Copy Editor: Mark Bast
Typesetter: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.
Proofreader: Sue Schon
Indexer: Maria Sosnowski

Cover Designer: Anthony Paular
Marketing Manager: Erica DeLuca

Brief Contents
1. Preface
2. A Note to Students
3. Chapter 1 • The Logic of American Politics
4. Part I. The Nationalization of Politics
1. Chapter 2 • The Constitution
2. Chapter 3 • Federalism
3. Chapter 4 • Civil Rights
4. Chapter 5 • Civil Liberties
5. Part II. The Institutions of Government
1. Chapter 6 • Congress
2. Chapter 7 • The Presidency
3. Chapter 8 • The Bureaucracy
4. Chapter 9 • The Federal Judiciary
6. Part III. The Public’s Influence on National Policy
1. Chapter 10 • Public Opinion
2. Chapter 11 • Voting, Campaigns, and Elections
3. Chapter 12 • Political Parties
4. Chapter 13 • Interest Groups
5. Chapter 14 • Media
7. Part IV. Conclusion
1. Chapter 15 • Is There a Logic to American Policy?
8. Reference Material
9. Glossary
10. Notes
11. Index
12. About the Authors

Detailed Contents
A Note to Students
Chapter 1 • The Logic of American Politics
The Importance of Institutional Design
Constitutions and Governments
Authority versus Power
Institutional Durability
The Political System’s Logic
Collective Action Problems
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Logic of Politics: Hobbes on Monarchs
The Costs of Collective Action
Transaction Costs
Conformity Costs
Representative Government
The Work of Government
Politics to Policy: Fire Protection: From a Private to a Public
Collective Action and America’s Constitution
Nota Bene
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Part I: The Nationalization of Politics
Chapter 2 • The Constitution
The Road to Independence
A Legacy of Self-Governance
Dismantling Home Rule
The Continental Congresses
The Declaration of Independence
America’s First Constitution: The Articles of Confederation
The Confederation at War
The Confederation’s Troubled Peace

Drafting a New Constitution
Philosophical Influences
Getting Down to Business
The Virginia and New Jersey Plans
The Great Compromise
Designing the Executive Branch
Logic of Politics: Checks and Balances in the Constitution
Designing the Judicial Branch
Substantive Issues
Politics to Policy: Why Women Were Left Out of the
Amending the Constitution
Strategy and Choice: Logrolling a Constitution
The Fight for Ratification
The Federalist and Antifederalist Debate
The Influence of The Federalist
The Theory Underlying the Constitution
Federalist No. 10
Federalist No. 51
Designing Institutions for Collective Action: The Framers’
Tool Kit
Agenda Control
Voting Rules
Assessing the Constitution’s Performance in Today’s
American Politics
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 3 • Federalism
American-Style Federalism
Evolving Definitions of Federalism
Federalism and the Constitution
Transformation of the Senate
Constitutional Provisions Governing Federalism

Interpreting the Constitution’s Provisions
Strategy and Choice: Chris Christie and an Ambitious
Governor’s Dilemma
The Paths to Nationalization
Historic Transfers of Policy to Washington
Nationalization—The Solution to States’ Collective
Politics to Policy: Free Federal Dollars? No Thanks, I’ll
Take Political Currency Instead
The Political Logic of Nationalization
Strategy and Choice: Maryland Declares Its Political
Independence: Partisan Passage of the “Maryland Defense
Modern Federalism
The National Government’s Advantage in the Courts
Preemption Legislation
The Carrot: Federal Grants to the States
Politics to Policy: States’ Rights Meet Reading, Writing, and
’Rithmetic: The Battle over the Common Core
The Stick: Unfunded Mandates
Evolving Federalism: A By-Product of National Policy
Politics to Policy: Who Pays for Government? Comparing
State and Federal Tax Burdens
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 4 • Civil Rights
What Are Civil Rights?
The Civil Rights of African Americans
The Politics of Black Civil Rights
The Height of Slavery: 1808–1865
Reconstruction: 1865–1877
Strategy and Choice: The Emancipation Proclamation
The Jim Crow Era and Segregation: 1877–1933
Democratic Party Sponsorship of Civil Rights: 1933–
Emergence of a Civil Rights Coalition: 1940s–1950s

The Civil Rights Movement: 1960s
Politics to Policy: The 1964 Civil Rights Act and Integration
of Public Schools
Current Civil Rights Policy
The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement
Equal Rights for Women: The Right to Vote
The Modern History of Women’s Rights
Rights for Hispanics
Gay Rights
Challenging Tyranny
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 5 • Civil Liberties
Nationalization of Civil Liberties
The Bill of Rights Checks Majority Rule
Writing Rights and Liberties into the Constitution
The First Ten Amendments
Incorporation via the Fourteenth Amendment
Judicial Interpretation
Major versus Peripheral Rights
Freedom of Speech
Political Protest
Disturbing Speech
Sexually Explicit Expression
Politics to Policy: The Legacy of Brandenberg
Politics to Policy: Corporate Free Speech
Freedom of the Press
Freedom of Religion
School Prayer and Bible Reading
Free Exercise
Gun Rights
Criminal Rights
Fourth Amendment: Illegal Searches and Seizures
Fifth Amendment: Self-Incrimination

Sixth Amendment: Right to Counsel and Impartial Jury
of Peers
Eighth Amendment: “Cruel and Unusual” Punishment
Childbearing Choices
Privacy on the Internet
Civil Liberties as Public Policy
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Part II: The Institutions of Government
Chapter 6 • Congress
Congress in the Constitution
Powers of Congress
The Electoral System
Congressional Districts
Strategy and Choice: The Republican Gerrymander in 2012
Unequal Representation in the Senate
Congress and Electoral Politics
Candidate-Centered versus Party-Centered Electoral
National Politics in Congressional Elections
Representation versus Responsibility
Who Serves in Congress?
Basic Problems of Legislative Organization
Need for Information
Coordination Problems
Resolving Conflicts
Collective Action
Transaction Costs
Time Pressures
Organizing Congress
The Parties
Increased Partisanship
The Committee Systems
Congressional Staff and Support Groups
Making Laws

Introducing Legislation
Assignment to Committee
Reporting a Bill
Logic of Politics: Congressional Investigations
Scheduling Debate
Debate and Amendment
Strategy and Choice: The Origin and Evolution of the Senate
The Vote
Reconciling Differences
To the President
A Bias against Action
Evaluating Congress
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 7 • The Presidency
The Historical Presidency
The Era of Cabinet Government
Parties and Elections
Strategy and Choice: Lincoln and His Cabinet
The Modern Presidency
The President as Commander in Chief and Head of
The President as Chief Executive
The President as Legislator
Logic of Politics: The Veto Game
Going Public
The Institutional Presidency
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 8 • The Bureaucracy
The Development of the Federal Bureaucracy
Modest Beginnings: The Dilemma of Delegation

The Federalist Years: A Reliance on Respectability
Democratization of the Civil Service: The Spoils
Civil Service Reform
An Expanding Government
The Cabinet
Noncabinet Agencies
Bureaucracy in Action
Logic of Politics: Insulating the Fed
Logic of Politics: The Deep State Writes an Op-Ed
Bureaucratic Culture and Autonomy
Politics to Policy: Can You Just Get Rid of Bureaucracy?
The “Abolish ICE” Movement
Bureaucrats as Politicians
Bureaucratic Infighting
Who Controls the Bureaucracy?
Methods of Congressional Control
The President and the Bureaucracy
The Courts and the Bureaucracy
Iron Triangles, Captured Agencies, and Issue Networks
Strategy and Choice: A Fight with a Bureaucrat Goes Global
Bureaucratic Reform: A Hardy Perennial
The Logic of Red Tape
The Bureaucratic Reward System
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 9 • The Federal Judiciary
Setting the Stage for Judicial Review
Three Eras of the Court’s Judicial Review
Nation versus State
Regulating the National Economy
The Rise of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
A Fourth Era? Reasserting Judicial Review and a
Return to States’ Rights
The Structure of the Federal Judiciary

Politics to Policy: Chief Justice Roberts Stands Alone and
Puts His Stamp on the Roberts Court
Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts
The Supreme Court’s Delegation
The Limits of Internal Control
Judicial Decision-Making
Selecting Cases
Doctrine: Policymaking by the Court
Deciding Doctrine
Politics to Policy: Judicial Activism
The Supreme Court’s Place in the Separation of Powers
Absence of Judicial Enforcement
Constitutional and Statutory Control
Department of Justice
Judicial Recruitment
Does a Politicized Judiciary Alter Separation of Powers?
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Part III: The Public’s Influence on National Policy
Chapter 10 • Public Opinion
What Is Public Opinion?
Measuring Public Opinion
The Origins of Public Opinion
Acquiring Opinions
Strategy and Choice: Framing Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and
Marco Rubio
Is Public Opinion Meaningful?
Stability of Aggregate Public Opinion
Opinion Leadership
The Content of Public Opinion
Consensus on the System

Politicians: A Suspect Class
Public Opinion on Issues
Politics to Policy: Public Opinion and Welfare Reform
Effects of Background on Public Opinion
Race and Ethnicity
Income and Education
Other Demographic Divisions
Public Opinion: A Vital Component of American Politics
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 11 • Voting, Campaigns, and Elections
The Logic of Elections
The Right to Vote
Wider Suffrage for Men
Suffrage for Women
Suffrage for African Americans and Young Americans
Who Uses the Right to Vote?
Individual Factors Affecting Turnout
Institutional Factors Affecting Turnout
Strategy and Choice: Personal Politics: Mobilization
How Do Voters Decide?
Past Performance and Incumbency
Assessing the Issues and Policy Options
Voter Cues and Shortcuts
The Power of Party Identification
Election Campaigns
The Basic Necessities: Candidates and Messages
Strategy and Choice: To Run or Not to Run
The Other Necessity: Campaign Money
Politics to Policy: Soft Money Finds a New Home
The Logic of Elections Revisited
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions

Chapter 12 • Political Parties
The Constitution’s Unwanted Offspring
Incentives for Party Building
Basic Features of the Party System
Logic of Politics: Third-Party Blues
Development and Evolution of the Party Systems
The First Party System: The Origin of American Parties
The Second Party System: Organizational Innovation
The Third Party System: Entrepreneurial Politics
The Fourth Party System: Republican Ascendancy
The Fifth Party System: The New Deal Coalition
Revival of the Parties: A Sixth Party System?
Partisanship Endures
Party Differences
Changes in the Party Coalitions
Modern Party Organizations
Expediency Persists
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 13 • Interest Groups
The Logic of Lobbying
The Origins of Interest Group Politics in the United States
The Pluralist Defense of Interest Groups
Politics to Policy: High School Students Turned Gun Control
Lobbyists: An Interest Group Born from a Mass Shooting
Vows #NeverAgain
The Problem of Collective Action
Logic of Politics: The Political Power of Small Numbers
Contemporary Interest Groups
Why Have Interest Groups Proliferated?
Fragmentation and Specialization
What Do Interest Groups Do?
Insider Tactics: Trafficking in Information and
Cultivating Access
Strategy and Choice: Why Spend Millions on Lobbying?
Because It Is Worth Billions

Outsider Tactics: Altering the Political Forces
Strategy and Choice: Lobbying with a Social Network
Electoral Politics and Political Action Committees
Logic of Politics: Labor Unions, Free Riding, and the Fees
that Fund Political Power
Interest Group Politics: Controversial and Thriving
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Chapter 14 • Media
Development of the News Business
The Economics of Early Newspapers
Rise of the Penny Press
Emergence of Radio and Television
The Digital Revolution: Internet and Mobile
Strategy and Choice: Wi-Fi Brings Sectors Together to Solve
Coordination Problems
A Tragedy of the Commons: Broadcast Technology
Introduces Regulation
An Ever-Changing News Media
Legacy News as a Consumer Product: How the News Gets
Legacy News Producers: Reporters and Their News
Strategy and Choice: The Military’s Media Strategy
How Legacy News Is Produced: Content and Form
How News on Social Media Is Generated
Limits on the Media
Demand for and Effects of News
Where People Get Their News
How the Media Influence Citizens
News Media as the “Fourth Branch”
Politician–Press Relations Then and Now
Strategy and Choice: The Shrinking Presidential Sound Bite:
A Tweet!
Key Terms

Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Part IV: Conclusion
Chapter 15 • Is There a Logic to American Policy?
Free Riding and Health Care
The Obstacles to Taking Domestic Action to Stop Global
Climate Change
High-Stakes Maneuvering: Why We Tiptoe up to, but Have
Not Fallen off, the Fiscal Cliff
Logic of Politics: #Grubergate and the Perils of Making Free
Riders Pay Up
The Prisoner’s Dilemma of Entitlement Reform
The Success and Failure of Collective Action: A Tale of Two
Tax Reforms
Logic of Politics: The Structure of Government and AntiTobacco Laws
Strategy and Choice: Saying No to Getting to Yes: Why an
Immigration Deal Has Proven Elusive
Key Terms
Suggested Readings
Review Questions
Reference Material
About the Authors

Donald Trump’s election and his first two years in office seem only to point
out the illogic of American politics. Since writing this book’s last edition,
shortly after the 2016 election, America’s politics has been in continuous
tumult. The question we confront as we take the Trump presidency into
account asks, does Donald Trump’s election and first two years in office
break the mold, requiring us to rethink Logic ’s approach to the systematic
forces and processes that govern the play of politics in Washington and
across the nation? Perhaps not. The tumultuous events might represent the
proverbial “exception that proves the rule.” If the latter, Trump’s election
and presidency would allow us to glean new insights into American politics
in other political actors’ responses to Trump’s unconventional behavior.
Answering this question lies at the heart of this revision.
Obviously, assessment of the extraordinary 2016 election and the 2018
midterms are major topics of Chapter 11 ’s coverage of voting and
elections, and sizing up Trump’s first two years in office occupies much of
the attention of Chapter 7 on the presidency. In both we seek to square the
Trump years with the stable systematic forces at work in both arenas. But
this question pervades every other chapter as well. We close Chapter 2
(“The Constitution”) by considering the proliferation of contentious
separation of powers issues that in some instances preceded the Trump
presidency but that his policies have made more salient and problematic.
Chapter 3 ’s coverage of federalism introduces the Democratic and
Republican cadres of state attorneys general signed on to lawsuits
challenging or supporting administration policies according to their partisan
alignment with the president. Chapter 4 reports on the ongoing tribulations
over the still unresolved Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
policy affecting several hundred thousand children brought into the country
illegally. With Republicans controlling both chambers of the 115th
Congress and Trump in the White House, the Republicans were poised to
fulfill their dream of repealing Obamacare; Chapter 6 explains why they
could not.

We learn in Chapter 8 just how extensive presidents’ administrative
authority is, in chronicling President Trump’s directions to administration
officials to roll back the Obama administration’s extensive formal and
informal regulations of businesses and state administration of federal
programs. Chapter 9 finds the federal judiciary giving new meaning to
activism in which an increasing number of district judges in the states
weigh in on national policy by issuing national injunctions, again lining up
consistently with the preferences of the party of the president who
appointed them. Chapter 10 takes a close look at public opinion, paying
particular attention to issues on which it has changed over the last several
decades but also to issues on which opinion has been remarkably stable.
Chapter 12 notes how intense opposition to Trump and his Republican
partners energized Democratic partisans in 2018, especially women,
producing a dramatic upsurge in activism, unprecedented levels of
campaign spending, the highest midterm turnout in more than a century, and
a Democratic House majority.
Chapter 13 shows how students from Parkland, Florida, adopted and
refreshed the techniques of interest group influence to put pressure on
President Trump and Congress to make progress to reduce gun violence.
Chapter 14 addresses the ever-changing role of the media in American
politics. In this edition, we separate media into legacy media, digital-only
media, and social media and discuss how the news is produced and
consumed for each type. We also examine the role of fake news—all while
addressing the threat to democracy that comes when the president refers to
legacy news outlets as “fake news” and labels media “the enemy of the
people.” And in Chapter 15 , we use the logic of collective action to
explain why President Trump’s tax reform of 2017 succeeded in passing,
whereas prior efforts by President Obama and by Republican leaders in
Congress had failed.
One of the themes of The Logic of American Politics is that, alongside the
outsized personalities that inhabit Washington, D.C., and the idiosyncratic
events that appear to drive it, systematic forces remain at work. The book’s
goal is to help students understand these forces and to see how they shape
the choices of political leaders today. We want to help readers discern the
rationale embedded in the extraordinary and complex array of American

political institutions and practices. To accomplish this goal, we analyze
political institutions and practices as (imperfect) solutions to problems
facing people who need to act collectively. We highlight recurring obstacles
to collective action in various contexts to illuminate the diverse institutional
means that American politicians have created to overcome them. These
obstacles include the conflict over values and interests, the difficulty of
aggregating individual preferences into collective decisions, the need for
coordination, and the threat of reneging implicit in every collective
undertaking. Stable political communities strengthen their capacity to act
collectively and reduce the costs of doing so by fashioning appropriate
institutions. These institutions feature majority and plurality rules and
procedures that convert votes into representation, delegate authority to
agents, and permit some institutional actors to propose courses of action
while allocating to others the right to veto proposals. Throughout the book
we emphasize the strategic dimension of political action, from the Framers’
tradeoffs in crafting the Constitution to the efforts of contemporary
officeholders to shape policy, so students can understand current institutions
as the products of political conflicts, as well as the venues for resolving
New challenges pose fresh problems for collective action for which current
institutions may seem inadequate. The institutions created to deal with the
challenges of collective action at one historical moment can continue to
shape politics long after those challenges have receded. Therefore, we pay a
good deal of attention to the historical development of political institutions,
a narrative that reveals politicians and citizens grappling intellectually, as
well as politically, with their collective action problems and discovering the
institutional means to resolve them.
This book is the product of our nearly forty years of teaching American
politics in a way that seeks to go beyond the basics. In addition to
introducing students to descriptive facts and fundamental principles, we
have sought to help them cultivate an ability to analyze and understand
American politics for themselves. Each of us is variously associated with
the rational choice school, yet over time our research and teaching have
benefited from many of its insights, especially those familiarly referred to
as “the new institutionalism.” We have found these insights helpful in

making sense of American politics in terms that students can grasp
intuitively. Having absorbed these ideas into our own scholarly thinking, we
employ them here to help students understand what the American political
system looks like and why it has assumed its present shape.

Our emphasis on the primacy of institutions extends well beyond collecting
and processing the preferences of citizens and politicians. In that
institutions may structure the choices available to voters and their leaders,
we view them as indispensable in explaining public opinion and the
strategic behavior of the political organizations that seek to influence and
mobilize these preferences. We therefore have adopted a somewhat
unorthodox structure for the book. We cover the rules of the game and the
formal institutions of government before discussing the “input” side of the
political process—public opinion, elections, parties, and interest groups—
because we emphasize the way rules and institutions structure the actions
and choices of citizens and politicians alike.
The introduction offers ideas and concepts employed throughout the text.
They can be classified under two broad categories: collective action
problems and institutional design concepts . Both sets of ideas have deeply
informed each chapter’s argument. Because this is an introduction to
American politics, rather than to political theory, we have intentionally
sublimated the analytic ideas in favor of enlisting them to explicate real
politics. Along with traditional concepts that remain indispensable to
understanding American politics—such as representation, majority rule, and
separation of powers—we introduce students to a number of ideas from
economics that political scientists have found increasingly useful for
exploring American politics. These include the focal points of coordination,
prisoner’s dilemma, free riding, tragedy of the commons, transaction costs,
principal–agent relations, and public goods.

Organization of the Book
The substantive chapters are arranged in four parts.

Part I covers the foundational elements of American politics: the
Constitution, federalism, civil rights, and civil liberties. The chapters that
cover these topics give students an understanding of the political origins
and development of the basic structure and rules of the national polity.
Part II examines the major formal institutions of national government:
Congress, the presidency, the bureaucracy, and the federal judiciary. These
chapters reveal how the politics and logic of their development have shaped
their current organizational features, practices, and relations with one
Part III analyzes the institutions that link citizens with government
officials, again in terms of their historical development, political logic, and
present-day operations. Chapters in this section are devoted to public
opinion; voting, campaigns, and elections; political parties; interest groups;
and the news media.
Part IV features a concluding chapter that evaluates American
policymaking through the lens of our collective action framework. Through
five vignettes that span policies from health care reform to global climate
change, this chapter uses the concepts covered throughout the book to yield
insights into the sources of policy problems, point to possible solutions, and
explain why agreement on those solutions is often difficult to achieve.
Equipped with this understanding of the logic of policymaking, students can
apply the same logic underlying these examples to other policy challenges,
from immigration reform to pork barrel spending and U.S. disputes with
other nations. Students come away from the chapter and the book as a
whole with the tools needed to think in new ways about how American
government works.

Instructional Features
The Logic of American Politics includes special features designed to engage
students’ attention and to help them think analytically about the subject.
Learning objectives and key thematic questions at the beginning of
each chapter preview important themes and set the tone for critical

Each chapter opens with a story from the real world of politics that
introduces one or more of the central issues to be explored in that
To help the student reader spot the collective action and institutional
design concepts when they occasionally break to the surface, we have
highlighted these passages in bright blue text.
In addition, important terms and concepts throughout the text appear in
boldface the first time they are defined. These key terms are listed at
the end of each chapter, with page references to their explanations, and
are defined in a glossary at the back of the book.
The Logic of Politics boxes explain the logical rationale or
implications of some institutional feature presented in the text.
Another set of boxes, Strategy and Choice , explores how politicians
use institutions and respond to the incentives that institutions provide
in pursuing their personal or constituencies’ interests.
In addition to examining the logic of the policymaking process in our
concluding chapter, we continue to cover public policy where it is
most relevant to the discussion, incorporating policy issues throughout
the book. Politics to Policy boxes explain how policies reflect the
underlying political rationale of the institutions that produce them.
To encourage students to continue their studies of American politics
beyond the pages of this volume, we have included annotated reading
lists at the end of each chapter.

Digital Resources
We know how important good resources can be in the teaching of American
government. Our goal has been to create resources that not only support but
also enhance the text’s themes and features. SAGE edge offers a robust
online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for
review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students
on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. SAGE edge content is open
access and available on demand. Learning and teaching have never been

SAGE coursepacks for instructors make it easy to import our quality
content into your school’s learning management system (LMS).* Intuitive
and simple to use, the coursepacks allow you to
Say NO to . . .
required access codes
learning a new system
Say YES to . . .
using only the content you want and need
high-quality assessment and multimedia exercises
* For use in Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace by Desire2Learn (D2L), and
Don’t use an LMS platform? No problem, you can still access many of
the online resources for your text via SAGE edge.
With SAGE coursepacks, you get the following:
Quality textbook content delivered directly into your LMS
An intuitive, simple format that makes it easy to integrate the
material into your course with minimal effort
Assessment tools that foster review, practice, and critical thinking,
including the following:
diagnostic chapter pretests and posttests that identify
opportunities for improvement, track student progress, and ensure
mastery of key learning objectives
test banks built on Bloom’s taxonomy that provide a diverse
range of test items with ExamView test generation
a test bank grading rubric to support the grading of essay and
short-answer questions
activity and quiz options that allow you to choose only the
assignments and tests you want
instructions on how to use and integrate the comprehensive
assessments and resources provided

Assignable data exercises in each chapter help students build
essential data literacy skills using interactive data visualization tools
from SAGE Stats and U.S. Political Stats . Drawing on key data
series ranging from demographic patterns to state budgets to voting
behavior, these exercises offer students a dynamic way to analyze realworld data and think critically about the numbers.
Assignable SAGE Premium Video (available via the interactive
eBook version, linked through SAGE coursepacks) tied to learning
objectives and curated exclusively for this text to bring concepts to
life, featuring the following:
corresponding multimedia assessment options that
automatically feed to your gradebook
a comprehensive, downloadable, easy-to-use media guide in the
coursepack for every video resource , listing the chapter to
which the video content is tied, matching learning objective(s), a
helpful description of the video content, and assessment questions
“Topics in American Government” videos that recap the
fundamentals of American politics in every chapter—from the
Bill of Rights to voter turnout to the powers of the presidency
Newsclips from the Associated Press that bring extra coverage
of current events into the book, connecting multiple, brief two- to
four-minute newsclips to core American government chapter
Editable, chapter-specific PowerPoint ® slides that offer flexibility
when creating multimedia lectures so you don’t have to start from
Sample course syllabi with suggested models for structuring your
course that give you options to customize your course to your exact
An instructor manual for each chapter, including a chapter summary,
learning objectives, discussion questions and ideas, and in-class
activities, to support your teaching
Integrated links to the interactive eBook that make it easy for
students to maximize their study time with this anywhere, anytime
mobile-friendly version of the text. It also offers access to more digital
tools and resources, including SAGE Premium Video.
All tables and figures from the textbook

SAGE edge for students enhances learning, is easy to use, and offers the
An open-access site that makes it easy for students to maximize their
study time, anywhere, anytime
eFlashcards that strengthen understanding of key terms and concepts
Quizzes that allow students to practice and assess how much they’ve
learned and where they need to focus their attention
Meaningful video and web links that facilitate student use of Internet
resources, further exploration of topics, and responses to critical
thinking questions

Without the help and encouragement of department colleagues, friends,
students, and the editorial staff at CQ Press, this book never would have
been completed. The book also has benefited from the insightful and astute
comments of colleagues at other institutions who took time from their busy
schedules to review chapters. We are deeply obliged to everyone who has
helped us along the way. In particular, we wish to thank Lawrence Baum,
Lee Epstein, Rosalind Gold, Richard Hart, and Vickie Stangl for their
assistance in procuring data for tables and figures and clarifying historical
Our colleagues and students at the University of California, San Diego and
the University of California, Los Angeles have contributed to every aspect
of the book, often in ways they might not realize, for the way we think
about politics is permeated by the intellectual atmosphere they have created
and continue to sustain. Lee Dionne assisted us in revising those sections
covering the judiciary and case law; Derek Bonnett collected information
for updating the presidency chapter. We are indebted to Charisse Kiino,
who regularly summoned her nonpareil skills as a diplomat, critic,
dispatcher, coach, and booster, and Monica Eckman for her steady oversight
of the whole. Anna Villarruel diligently managed the book’s many gangling
features, including not only the manuscript and digital resources but, with
the able help of Sam Rosenberg, also photographs and cartoons, tables and
figures, and citations. Mark Bast cheerfully entered the ring with the

authors to wrestle the prose into submission, and Tracy Buyan coordinated
the editing and production processes. We also wish to thank Eric Garner,
who managed production; Amanda Simpson, who managed the
manufacturing; Anthony Paular, who designed the cover; and Erica DeLuca
and Jennifer Jones for brochures, advertisements, and displays for the
professional meetings.
The following are colleagues across the country who have read and
commented on the past four editions and given us an abundance of good
advice, much of which we took in writing this revision. Equally essential,
they kept us from making many embarrassing mistakes.
Roberta Adams, Salisbury University
Danny M. Adkison, Oklahoma State University
E. Scott Adler, University of Colorado
Scott H. Ainsworth, University of Georgia
Richard A. Almeida, Francis Marion University
Ellen Andersen, University of Vermont
Phillip J. Ardoin, Appalachian State University
Ross K. Baker, Rutgers University
Lawrence A. Baum, Ohio State University
Michelle Belco, University of Houston
William T. Bianco, Indiana University
Sarah Binder, Brookings Institution and George Washington
Rachel Bitecofer, University of Georgia
Ray Block, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse
Christopher Bonneau, University of Pittsburgh
Shenita Brazelton, Old Dominion University
Jeremy Buchman, Long Island University
Michael Burton, Ohio University
Suzanne Chod, North Central College
Rosalee Clawson, Purdue University
Christopher Austin Clemens, Texas A&M University
Ann H. Cohen, Hunter College of the City University of New York
Marty Cohen, James Madison University
Richard S. Conley, University of Florida

Michael Crespin, University of Georgia
Laura Mayate-DeAndreis, Modesto Junior College
Michelle D. Deardorff, Jackson State University
Katharine Destler, George Mason University
John Domino, Sam Houston State University
Keith Dougherty, University of Georgia
Justin Dyer, University of Missouri
Michael J. Faber, Texas State University
Jason Fichtner, Georgetown University
Richard S. Fleisher, Fordham University
John Freemuth, Boise State University
Yvonne Gastelum, San Diego State University
John B. Gilmour, College of William & Mary
Lawrence L. Giventer, California State University–Stanislaus
Brad Gomez, Florida State University
Craig Goodman, University of Houston–Victoria
Sanford Gordon, New York University
Andrew Green, Central College
Paul Gronke, Reed College
Edward B. Hasecke, Wittenberg University
Danny Hayes, George Washington University
Valerie Heitshusen, Georgetown University
Richard Herrera, Arizona State University
Marc Hetherington, Vanderbilt University
Leif Hoffman, Lewis-Clark State College
Brian D. Humes, Georgetown University
Jeffery Jenkins, University of Virginia
Joel W. Johnson, Colorado State University–Pueblo
Paul E. Johnson, University of Kansas
Timothy Johnson, University of Minnesota
Nicole Kalaf-Hughes, Bowling Green State University
Chris Koski, James Madison University
Doug Kuberski, Florida State College at Jacksonville
Timothy M. LaPira, James Madison University
Dan Lee, Michigan State University
Joel Lefkowitz, State University of New York–New Paltz
Brad Lockerbie, East Carolina University

Amy Lauren Lovecraft, University of Alaska–Fairbanks
Roger Lukoff, American University
Anthony Madonna, University of Georgia
Forrest A. Maltzman, George Washington University
Wendy Martinek, Binghamton University
John McAdams, Marquette University
Madhavi McCall, San Diego State University
Ian McDonald, Lewis & Clark College
Scott R. Meinke, Bucknell University
Rob Mellen Jr., Mississippi State University
John Mercurio, San Diego State University
Eric Miller, Blinn College, Bryan Campus
Will Miller, Ohio University
William J. Miller, Southeast Missouri State University
Richard Millsap, University of Texas at Arlington
Ashley Moraguez, University of North Carolina–Asheville
Tracy F. Munsil, Arizona Christian University
Timothy Nokken, Texas Tech University
Shannon O’Brien, University of Texas at Austin
Bruce I. Oppenheimer, Vanderbilt University
L. Marvin Overby, University of Missouri–Columbia
Carl Palmer, Illinois State University
Hong Min Park, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
Bryan Parsons, University of Tennessee at Martin
Justin Phillips, Columbia University
Andrew J. Polsky, Hunter College
Alexandra Reckendorf, Virginia Commonwealth University
Suzanne M. Robbins, George Mason University
Jason Roberts, University of Minnesota
Beth Rosenson, University of Florida
Mikhail Rybalko, Texas Tech University
Eric Schicker, University of California–Berkeley
Ronnee Schreiber, San Diego State University
Mark Shanahan, University of Reading
Charles Shipan, University of Michigan
David Shock, Kennesaw State University
James D. Slack, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Charles Anthony Smith, University of California–Irvine
Carl Snook, Southern Polytechnic State University
Tara Stricko-Neubauer, Kennesaw State University
Joseph Ura, Texas A&M University
Brian Vargus, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
Charles E. Walcott, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Hanes Walton Jr., University of Michigan
Wendy Watson, University of North Texas
Christopher Weible, University of Colorado–Denver
Patrick C. Wohlfarth, University of Maryland–College Park
Frederick Wood, Coastal Carolina University
Garry Young, George Washington University
Finally, our families. Dianne Kernell; Marty BlakeJacobson; Jeff Lewis;
and Kate, Will, and Kat Kousser also deserve our gratitude for putting up
with what occasionally seemed an interminable drain on our time and
attention. We are sure they are as delighted as we are to have this revision

A Note to Students
Plan of the Book
Our analysis of the logic of American politics begins in Chapter 1 with an
introduction to the analytical concepts we draw on throughout the text.
Although these concepts are straightforward and intuitive, we do not expect
you to understand them fully until they have been applied in later chapters.
The rest of the text is arranged in four main parts.
Part I looks at the foundational elements of the political system that are
especially relevant to understanding modern American politics. It begins
with the constitutional system (Chapter 2 , “The Constitution”) and then
moves on to the relations between the national government and the states
(Chapter 3 , “Federalism”); the evolution of civil rights and the definition of
citizenship (Chapter 4 , “Civil Rights”); and the establishment of civil
liberties, such as freedom of speech and religion (Chapter 5 , “Civil
Liberties”). A recurring theme of Part I is nationalization , the gradual shift
of authority from state and local governments to the national government.
Part II examines the four basic institutions of America’s national
government: Congress (Chapter 6 ), the presidency (Chapter 7 ), the
bureaucracy (Chapter 8 ), and the federal judiciary (Chapter 9 ). The
development of effective, resourceful institutions at the national level has
made it possible for modern-day politicians to tackle problems that in an
earlier time they would have been helpless to solve. We explain how all
four institutions have evolved along the paths initiated and confined by the
Constitution in response to the forces of nationalization and other social and
economic changes.
Part III surveys the institutions that keep citizens informed about what
their representatives are doing and enable them to influence their elected
officials through voting and other forms of participation. Chapter 10 ,
“Public Opinion,” explores the nature of modern political communication
by focusing on the ins and outs of mass public opinion. Chapter 11 ,

“Voting, Campaigns, and Elections,” examines the ways in which
candidates’ strategies and voters’ preferences interact at the polls to
produce national leaders and, on occasion, create mandates for policies. The
Constitution mentions neither political parties nor interest groups, and the
Framers were deeply suspicious of both. But they are vital to helping
citizens make sense of politics and pursue political goals effectively. In
Chapter 12 , “Political Parties,” and Chapter 13 , “Interest Groups,” we
explain how and why parties and interest groups have flourished as
intermediaries between citizens and government officials. President
Woodrow Wilson once aptly observed that “news is the atmosphere of
politics.” Chapter 14 looks at the news media both as channels of
communication from elected leaders to their constituents and as
independent sources of information about the leaders’ performance. The
chapter also considers the implications of the rise of the Internet in
coordinating the collective efforts of unorganized publics.
Part IV , which consists of Chapter 15 , concludes our inquiry by
evaluating American public policymaking through the lens of our collective
action framework to discern the logic of the policymaking process.

Special Features
This book contains several special features designed to help you grasp the
logic of American politics. Because these features, including the substantive
captions, play an integral role in the presentation and discussion, you should
read them with as much care as you do the text .
At the outset of each chapter are key questions that preview important
themes and, we hope, will pique your curiosity.
To help you more easily spot discussions of collective action problems
and institutional design concepts, important passages and analytic
points are highlighted in bright blue text.
Within each chapter, thematic boxes labeled Logic of Politics consider
more fully the logical rationale and implications of certain features of
government design introduced in the core text.
Another set of boxes, Strategy and Choice , focuses on the sometimes
imaginative ways politicians enlist institutions to advance their

agendas and their constituents’ goals.
A third set of thematic boxes, Politics to Policy , treats some of the
public policy issues that have sprung forth from the political process.
Additional boxes, tables, figures, photographs, and other visuals
clarify and enliven the text.
To encourage you to pursue more information on topics you find
particularly interesting, we have included annotated lists of suggested
readings at the end of each chapter.

How to Read the Graphs
A picture is worth a thousand words. You may think this book is too long as
it is, but it would be a lot longer if we couldn’t use figures and graphs to
show you important relationships. Figures tell stories, and if we have a
figure in a chapter it is because the story it tells is important to your
understanding or thinking about the concepts in the chapter. Don’t skip the
figures! They are an important element in really understanding what we’re
talking about.
Because figures are so important to learning, imagination, and discovery, it
is important you are comfortable interpreting them and feel at home looking
at data presented visually. Before we get started with substantive material,
we wanted to make sure you know how to evaluate the figures we use.
There are several types of figures. We use a few repeatedly:
Bar graphs show numbers that are independent of each other.
Examples might include things like the number of people who
preferred each of the presidential candidates in the last election.
Line graphs show you how numbers have changed over time . They
are used when you have data that are connected, and to show trends,
for example, average support for the president in each month of the
Cartesian graphs or scatter plots have numbers on both axes, which
therefore allow you to see how changes in one thing affect another .
For example, we may want to show how changes in consumer
sentiment are related to changes in presidential approval.

The first step in reading any figure or graph is understanding what you are
looking at.
The place to start is with the axes. Graphs generally have two axes, the
lines that run across the bottom of the figure and typically up the left
The line along the bottom is called the horizontal or x-axis, and the
line up the side is called the vertical or y-axis. (An easy way to
remember which one is which is to think of the letter Y and it’s stem
extending down the vertical axis line.)
Both axes can contain either numbers or categories of things. They
generally start with the lowest value at the origin of the axes (the place
where both lines meet, the bottom left corner of the figure). The
numbers or categories typically increase (if they are cardinal in nature)
as you move to the right on the horizontal axis and up on the vertical
A good figure has labels on both axes to help the reader interpret the
data. A good figure also starts and ends at reasonable numbers.
Checking the axes is an important first step in reading a figure. They
answer the questions, what is the purpose of this figure, and how will it
show me the data?
The data in figures are often presented as lines, markers (like dots), or
bars. In scatter plots, which show the relationship between what is on
the horizontal and vertical axes, figures often contain a line across the
diagonal at forty-five degrees. This line is called the forty-five-degree
line. It is helpful especially if the axes of the figure take on the same
values. In this case, the forty-five-degree line represents the cases (the
dots) where the values on the horizontal axis match the values on the
vertical axis exactly . Dots on the line are exact matches. Dots off the
line are not—specifically, those above the line are cases in which
values are higher on the y-axis than on the x-axis, and dots below the
line are the opposite.
In addition to these important elements on the graph, the information
around the figure is also important. Good figures have a title that tells
you exactly what the story in the figure is. Figures should also give
you a time frame for the data they present and a note that tells you the
source of the data shown and when it was collected.

Practice interpreting a few graphs so you will be ready to think about the
figures in the chapters to come!

One More Thing
Politics, like every significant human endeavor, becomes more intriguing
the more deeply it is explored and understood. Our book aims to give you
not only a strong basic foundation for understanding political life in the
present-day United States but also a glimpse of how intellectually enjoyable
it can be to grapple with its puzzles and paradoxes.

1 The Logic of American Politics

President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act
(ESSA) in 2015, after both houses of Congress worked

together—for different reasons—to replace the unpopular
and flawed No Child Left Behind law. It serves as an
example of the compromises often required in government,
where no side can get exactly what it wants and through
collective effort must strive to find a mutually acceptable
policy. With the confirmation of President Trump’s
appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of the Department
of Education—an appointment opposed by every
Democratic senator (and a couple of Republicans)—the
prospect of cutting future education reform deals will be
more difficult.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Chapter Objectives
1.1 Summarize the importance of institutional design in governance.
1.2 Discuss the role of a constitution in establishing the rules and procedures that
government institutions must follow for collective agreement.
1.3 Identify different types of collective action problems.
1.4 Explain the costs of collective action.
1.5 Relate the different ways that representative government works.
1.6 Discuss the similarities and differences between private, public, and collective
1.7 Explain what motivated the Founders to try to solve collective action

“T his is a Christmas miracle,” a beaming President Obama proclaimed on
signing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015.
Flanked at the signing ceremony by congressional leaders from both
political parties, the president added, “We should do this more often.”
Indeed, in Washington’s present-day polarized politics, bipartisan
agreement on major policy is a rare sight. But ESSA—affecting 50 million
students and their teachers across 100,000 schools—passed with huge
majorities in both houses of Congress. What occurred differently that
allowed Congress and the president to break their normal gridlock and pass
this major law? Answering this question may or may not provide
Washington with a roadmap past gridlock. What it certainly offers students
of American politics, however, is insight into the process that leads
politicians who are ideologically and politically distant from one another to
settle on a policy that they (and their like-minded colleagues) prefer to
current policy.
The Every Student Succeeds Act represents a sweeping revision of the
fourteen-year-old No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. * That law,
championed by Republican president George W. Bush, sought to strengthen
K–12 education by holding laggard schools up to strict performance
standards. To qualify for indispensable federal grants under NCLB, schools
needed to track students’ performance with standardized tests. Schools in
the bottom 5 percent of test scores that failed to significantly improve
student performance would be overhauled and possibly closed.

* Welcome to the world of acronyms, where staff on Capitol Hill can be
heard saying such things as, “OMB sent over a SAP threatening SSA.”
Translation: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a
Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) in which President Obama
threatened to veto Republicans’ 2013 legislation, the Student Success Act
The goal of strengthening education was laudable, but Democrats and
Republicans in Congress had different reasons for supporting President
Bush’s initiative. Republicans were helping their president fulfill a
campaign promise to improve K–12 education across the nation. In
addition, NCLB gave them a way of preventing school districts from taking
and freely spending federal money without accountability—schools had to
demonstrate that they were using it to improve their programs. Democrats
were perhaps even more enthusiastic about the Republican president’s
initiative. They had long promoted federal aid in education, and
impoverished, minority students appeared to stand to gain the most from
close scrutiny of failing schools. To satisfy the objectives of accountability
and reform, both parties agreed to the creation of a standardized national
test of students’ verbal and math skills. * Each side quickly found
something it liked in NCLB and passed it promptly, at least when compared
with the normal lengthy vetting that accompanies most legislation that
creates new policy.
* This became the Common Core, one of the most controversial features of
Not long into the administration of NCLB, however, problems started
cropping up. The success envisioned in the law’s timelines for student
improvement in reading and math test scores failed to materialize, as was
bound to happen. NCLB mandated an ambitious 100 percent student
proficiency on these tests within 12 years (2014). Moreover, many center
city and rural schools that faced special challenges in educating their
students continued to fail—some miserably—in improving their students’
tests scores. According to critics, as pressures to meet Department of
Education performance deadlines approached, schools began concentrating
on student performance on standardized tests to the neglect of a broader,

quality education. A few teachers responded to the pressures with direct
action—coaching students on answers during tests and, afterward, even
correcting students’ answers. School districts and state agencies began
requesting deadline exemptions and extensions of deadlines to
accommodate their inability to meet NCLB’s stiff standards. † By 2015,
forty-three of the fifty states had received waivers.
† Federal mandates attached to financial aid are a standard practice whereby
Congress asserts a national policy without directly taking over
administration. We explore the “carrot/stick” properties of federal grants in
Chapter 3 .
Clearly, NCLB failed to live up to its aspirations. Democrats and
Republicans initially responded differently to this failure. Republicans
focused on the duress Washington’s “one size fits all” performance
standards presented to their states’ educational systems. Even though
NCLB had been their president’s initiative, many Republicans in Congress
chafed at the way it had dramatically shifted educational policy from local
control to Washington. In 2013 the Republican-majority House of
Representatives passed a bill that eliminated most of NCLB’s federal
oversight provisions, as well as the unreachable 2014 target date for 100
percent proficiency. States would be able to set achievement standards and
develop their own testing methods for measuring success and identifying
underachieving schools. President Obama, prodded by civil rights groups
who worried that the legislation would allow states to abandon efforts to
upgrade failing schools, threatened a veto of the bill, and it died in the
At the same time, numerous states were seeking waivers to NCLB’s
unrealistic test score goals. The Obama administration agreed to the
requested waivers, but only after a state agreed to institute teacher
evaluation procedures that took standardized test scores into account in
teacher retention and promotion. Teachers’ organizations—traditional
supporters of Democratic members of Congress—objected strenuously to
this sudden, externally imposed policy that upset many long-standing
contracts with local school districts. By 2015 Democrats and Republicans in

Congress each had their own compelling reasons to rewrite No Child Left
NCLB had become so unpopular that it forced Democrats and Republicans
to search for and settle on a new law that neither side embraced as ideal but
accepted as better than the status quo. Over the fall of 2015, bipartisan
teams in both chambers and, later, in conference committee negotiations
hammered out a compromise bill—the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Republicans won major concessions that allowed states to develop their
own student and teacher performance goals and tests. Moreover, the
Department of Education would no longer mandate changes in teacher
evaluation or dictate changes in failing schools. Democrats won a major
concession requiring states to continue some form of student testing and
results reporting to the Department of Education. With these instruments,
failing schools could still be identified and efforts to improve them
As this example shows, social choices inevitably breed conflict, especially
when they involve issues that affect the political parties’ core
constituencies. Through politics, people try to manage such conflicts.
Neither side may be thrilled by the results, but when politics succeeds, both
sides discover a course of action that satisfies them more than the status
quo. However, politics does not always end in success. Resources are too
scarce to satisfy the competing claimants, and values prove irreconcilable.
Even when the configuration of preferences might allow reconciliation, the
political process itself may impede lawmakers’ efforts to agree on a new
policy. (You will soon discover that this text is concerned with
understanding how America’s political institutions expedite or interfere
with citizens’ and their representatives’ ability to discover and pursue a
collectively agreed-to policy.) Finally, successful politics does not always
lead to happy endings. In the example of the ESSA, no one in either
political party expressed enthusiasm for the education package beyond “the
best deal we could get.”
In more formal terms, politics is the process through which individuals and
groups seek agreement on a course of common, or collective, * action—
even as they disagree on the intended goals of that action . Politics matters

because each party’s success in finding a solution requires the cooperation
of others who are looking to solve a different problem. When their goals
conflict, cooperation may be costly and difficult to achieve.
* This text concentrates on politics in the American national government,
but it also draws freely on examples from other settings because the logic
embedded in political processes is not confined to matters related to
government. Consequently, throughout the text we frequently refer to some
generic collectivity , whose members engage each other in reaching a
collective decision either to undertake some collective action or to produce
some collective good . We enlist these general terms whenever we offer a
definition, an observation, or a conclusion that has a general application.
Success at politics almost invariably requires bargaining and compromise.
Where the issues are simple and the participants know and trust one
another, bargaining may be all that is needed for the group to reach a
collective decision. Generally, success requires bargaining and ends in a
compromise , or a settlement in which each side concedes some
preferences to secure others.
Those who create government institutions (and the political scientists who
study them) tend to regard preferences as “givens”—individuals and
groups know what they want—that must be reconciled if they are to agree
to some common course of action. Preferences may reflect the individual’s
economic situation, religious values, ethnic identity, or some other valued
interest. We commonly associate preferences with some perception of selfinterest, but they need not be so restrictive. Millions of Americans oppose
capital punishment, but few of those who do so expect to benefit personally
from its ban.

During the Great Depression, when millions of Americans
were suddenly impoverished, many critics blamed
unfettered capitalism. The National Association of
Manufacturers, still a politically active industry association,
posted billboards like this one around the country to bolster
support for “private enterprise” by associating it with other
fundamental preferences.
Library of Congress
Reconciling disagreement over government action represents a fundamental
problem of politics. James Madison played a dominant role in drafting the
Constitution, and we repeatedly turn to him for guidance throughout this
book. In one of the most memorable and instructive statements justifying
the new Constitution to delegates at the state conventions who were
deciding whether to ratify it, he explained that the new government must be
devised to represent and reconcile society’s many diverse preferences that
are “sown into the nature of man”:

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning
government, and many other points . . . have, in turn, divided
mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and
rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other
than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this
propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where
no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and
fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly
passions and excite their most violent conflicts. *
* This passage is from Madison’s Federalist No. 10, published initially in
1787 as a newspaper editorial supporting the Constitution’s ratification. We
examine this truly exceptional essay in Chapter 2 . We encourage you to
read and study it; it is reprinted in its entirety in the appendix.
Certainly, Madison’s observation appears no less true today than when he
wrote it in 1787.

The Importance of Institutional Design
As participants and preferences in politics multiply and as issues become
more complex and divisive, unstructured negotiation rarely yields success.
It may simply require too much time and effort. It may require some
participants to surrender too much of what they value in order to win
concessions from the other side. In other words, a compromise solution
simply may not be present. And finally, and this is crucial, because here the
careful study of institutional design can make a difference, negotiation may
expose each side to too great a risk that the other will not live up to its
Fear of reneging may foster mutual suspicions and lead each side to
conclude that “politics” will not work. When this occurs, war may become
the preferred alternative. The conflict in the 1990s among Serbs, Croats,
and Muslims in Bosnia followed such a dynamic. The earlier collapse of
Yugoslavia’s communist government resurrected ancient enmities among
people who had lived peacefully as neighbors for decades. In the absence of

effective political institutions they could count on to manage potential
conflicts, ethnic and religious rivals became trapped in a spiral of mutual
suspicion, fear, and hostility. Without a set of rules prescribing a political
process for reaching and enforcing collective agreements, they were joining
militias and killing one another with shocking brutality within a year. Today
the former Yugoslav states are separate national governments striving to
build institutions that replace violence with politics.
Whether at war or simply at odds over the mundane matter of scheduling
employee coffee breaks, parties to a conflict benefit from prior agreement
on rules and procedures for negotiations. Indeed, this theme reappears
throughout this book: a stable community, whether a club or a nation-state,
endures by establishing rules and procedures for promoting successful
collective action. In January 1999, when the Senate turned to the
impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, the stage was set for an
escalation of the partisan rancor that had marred the same proceedings in
the House of Representatives. Yet the Senate managed to perform its
constitutional responsibility speedily and with a surprising degree of
decorum thanks to an early, closed-door meeting in which all one hundred
senators endorsed a resolution that laid out the trial’s ground rules. More
important, they agreed to give the chamber’s Democratic and Republican
leaders the right to reject any changes to these rules. Thus members on both
sides of the partisan divide could proceed toward a decision without fear
that the other side would resort to trickery to get the results it favored. That
the Senate would find a way to manage its disagreements is not surprising.
Its leaders take pride in finding collegial ways of containing the potential
conflicts that daily threaten to disrupt its business.
Reliance on rules and procedures designed to reconcile society’s competing
preferences is nothing new. In an era of arbitrary kings and aristocrats,
republican political theorists understood their value. In a 1656 treatise
exploring how institutions might be constructed to allow conflicting
interests to find solutions in a more egalitarian way, English political
theorist James Harrington described two young girls who were arguing
about how to share a single slice of cake. Suddenly one of the girls
proposed a rule: “‘Divide,’ said one to the other, ‘and I will choose; or let
me divide, and you shall choose.’” At this moment, Harrington stepped

away from his story and seemingly shouted to the reader, “My God! These
‘silly girls’ have discovered the secret of republican institutions.” * With
that ingenious rule, both girls were able to pursue their self-interest (the
largest possible slice of cake) and yet have the collective decision result in a
division both could happily live with. 1 This became, for Harrington, a
parable about the virtues of bicameralism —a legislature comprised of two
chambers with each holding a veto over the other.
* Actually, Harrington exclaimed, “Mon Dieu!” Note that the lowercase
“republican” refers to a form of government and not the (uppercase)
Republican Party. The same case distinction applies to “democratic” and the
Democratic Party. Both of these forms of government are examined later in
the chapter.
More than one hundred years after Harrington’s treatise, the Framers of the
Constitution spent the entire summer of 1787 in Philadelphia debating what
new rules and offices to create for their fledgling government. They were
guided by their best guesses about how the alternatives they were
contemplating would affect the interests of their states and the preferences
of their constituencies (see Chapter 2 ). The result of their efforts, the
Constitution, is a collection of rules fundamentally akin to the one
discovered by the girls in Harrington’s story. (Think about it: both the
House of Representatives and the Senate must agree to a bill before it can
be sent to the president to be signed into law.) The events in Philadelphia
remind us that however lofty the goal that gives rise to reform, institutional
design is a product of politics. As a result, institutions may confer
advantages on some interests over others. Indeed, sometimes one side,
enjoying a temporary advantage, will try to permanently implant its
preferences in difficult-to-change rules and procedures. The present-day
Department of Education, for example, arose from the former Department
of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1977 after newly elected president
Jimmy Carter proposed this split as a reward for early support from teacher
organizations that had long regarded a separate department as key to their
ability to win increased federal funding for schools and teacher training.
The history of this department bears out the wisdom of their strategy.
Republican Ronald Reagan followed Carter into the White House with the
full intention of returning the education bureaucracy to its former status.

But before long the cabinet secretary he appointed to dismantle the
department began championing it, as did many Republicans in Congress
whose committees oversaw the department’s activities and budgets. Nearly
four decades later, the Department of Education is entrenched in
Washington, and as we found in the introduction, national education policy
has become a central issue for politicians from both political parties.

Constitutions and Governments
All organizations are governed by rules and procedures for making and
implementing decisions. Within colleges and universities, the student
government, the faculty senate, staff associations, academic departments,
and, of course, the university itself follow rules and procedures when
transacting regular business. Although rules and procedures go by different
names (for example, constitution , bylaw , charter ), their purpose is the
same: to guide an organization’s members in making essentially political
decisions—that is, decisions in which the participants initially disagree
about what they would like the organization to do.
And what happens when the organization is a nation? Consider the
problems: the number of participants is great, the many unsettled issues are
complex, and each participant’s performance in living up to agreements
cannot be easily monitored. Yet even with their conflicts, entire populations
engage in politics every day. Their degree of success depends largely on
whether they have developed constitutions and governments that work.
The constitution of a nation establishes its governing institutions and the
set of rules and procedures these institutions must (and must not) follow to
reach and enforce collective agreements . A constitution may be a highly
formal legal document, such as that of the United States, or it may resemble
Britain’s unwritten constitution, an informal “understanding” based on
centuries of precedents and laws. A government , then, consists of these
institutions and the legally prescribed process for making and enforcing
collective agreements. Governments may assume various forms, including a
monarchy, a representative democracy, a theocracy (a government of
religious leaders), or a dictatorship.

Authority versus Power
The simple observation that governments are composed of institutions
actually says a great deal and implies even more. Government institutions
consist of offices that confer on their occupants specific authority and
responsibilities. Rules and procedures prescribe how an institution transacts
business and what authority relations will link offices together. Authority is
the acknowledged right to make a particular decision. Only the president
possesses the authority to nominate federal judges. However, a majority of
the Senate’s membership retains sole authority to confirm these
appointments and allow the nominees to take office.
Authority is distinguishable from power , a related but broader concept that
we employ throughout the book. Power refers to a politician’s actual
influence over others whose cooperation she needs in order to achieve her
political goals. An office’s authority is an important ingredient, conferring
influence—that is, power—to those who enlist it skillfully. For instance,
President Trump has the authority to instruct the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) to test alternative prototypes for a new and extended wall at
the U.S.-Mexican border. As of the fall of 2018, however, he did not have
the authority to spend the billions necessary to build the wall. This authority
rests with Congress. Whether Trump succeeds in achieving this major
campaign promise will rest on his ability to persuade Congress to give him
the necessary funds to build the wall. His success or failure in persuading
Congress to appropriate the money will be a measure of his power.
Another instructive example of the distinction between authority and power
comes from the same time in the Trump presidency. For months, the
president tweeted almost nightly his displeasure with Attorney General Jeff
Sessions. At one point, he even proclaimed, “I don’t have an Attorney
General, Very Sad.” So why did Trump continue to rant for months, even
calling Sessions a “wimp” and “ignorant” and a “Mr. Magoo” (a cartoon
bumpkin), instead of just firing him? Unquestionably, the Constitution gives
him the authority to do so. He might well have hesitated because
Republicans in Washington cautioned that firing Sessions might lead the
public and politicians to conclude that he was trying to cover up misdeeds
and that he deserved to be impeached. So, here the president has the

authority, but to use it might be so risky that one could say he lacked the
power to fire his subordinate.

Prototypes of President Donald Trump’s southern border wall
built near San Diego, California.

Institutional Durability
Institutions are by no means unchangeable, but they tend to be stable and
resist change for several reasons. First, with authority assigned to the office,
not to the individual holding the office, established institutions persist well
beyond the tenure of the individuals who occupy them. A university
remains the same institution even though all of its students, professors, and
administrators are eventually replaced. Institutions, therefore, contribute a
fundamental continuity and orderliness to collective action. Second, the
people affected by institutions make plans on the expectation that current
arrangements will remain. Imagine how senior college students would react
if, during their last semester, their college or university increased the

required course units for a degree. Or consider the anxiety the millions of
workers approaching retirement must feel whenever politicians in
Washington talk about changing Social Security. *
* In his 2005 State of the Union address President George W. Bush sought
to reassure the most anxious segment of the public approaching retirement
—specifically, those over age fifty-five—that his sweeping reform proposal
would not apply to them.
Sometimes institutions are altered to make them perform more efficiently or
to accomplish new collective goals. In 1970 an executive reorganization
plan consolidated components of five executive departments and agencies
into a single independent agency, the Environmental Protection Agency,
with a strong mandate and commensurate regulatory authority to protect the
environment. By coordinating their actions and centralizing authority, these
formerly dispersed agencies could more effectively monitor and regulate
polluting industries.

The Political System’s Logic
The quality of democracy in modern America reflects the quality of its
governing institutions. Embedded in these institutions are certain core
values, such as the belief that those entrusted with important government
authority must periodically stand before the citizenry in elections. Balanced
against this ideal of popular rule is the equally fundamental belief that
government must protect certain individual liberties even when a majority
of the public insists otherwise. Throughout this text we find politicians and
citizens disagreeing on the precise meaning of these basic beliefs and values
as they are applied or redefined to fit modern society.
Also embedded in these institutions—initially by the Framers of the
Constitution and later by amendment and two centuries of precedents based
on past political practices—is a logic based on principles about how
members of a community should engage one another politically to identify
and pursue their common goals. Although the Framers did not use the
vocabulary of modern political science, they intuitively discerned this logic
and realized that they must apply it correctly if the “American Experiment”

were to succeed. * For us, too, this logic is essential for understanding the
behavior of America’s political institutions, the politicians who occupy
them, and the citizens who monitor politicians’ actions. To that end, the
concepts presented in the remainder of this chapter are the keys to “open
up” America’s political institutions and to reveal their underlying logic. We
begin with the problems (or one can think of them as puzzles) that confront
all attempts at collective action. Many institutional arrangements have been
devised over time to solve these problems. Those we examine here are
especially important to America’s political system, and the concepts
reappear as key issues throughout the book.
* They were, after all, contemporaries of Isaac Newton and found in his
theory of mechanics inspiration to search for similar natural laws to create a
well-functioning polity. With Britain’s monarchy the only real-world model
to guide them—and one they tended to judge more as a model of what to
avoid than to emulate—the Framers depended heavily on carefully reasoned
ideas, which took them to Newtonian physics. Consequently, the terms
force , counterweight , and balance were familiarly used during debates at
the Constitutional Convention and by both sides in the Constitution’s
subsequent ratification campaign.

Collective Action Problems
By virtue of their size and complexity, nations encounter special difficulties
in conducting political business. In those nations where citizens participate
in decisions through voting and other civic activities, still more complex
issues arise. Successful collective action challenges a group’s members to
figure out what they want to do and how to do it. The former involves
comparing preferences and finding a course of action that sufficient
numbers of participants agree is preferable to proposed alternatives or to
doing nothing. The latter concerns implementation—not just the nuts and
bolts of performing some task, but reassuring participants that everyone will
share the costs (such as taxes) and otherwise live up to agreements.
Even when members basically agree to solve a problem or achieve some
other collective goal, there is no guarantee that they will find a solution and
implement it. Two fundamental barriers—coordination problems and

prisoner’s dilemmas—may block effective collective action. Coordination
can be problematic at both stages of collective action—as members decide
to undertake a task and subsequently work together to achieve it.
Coordination in making a joint decision mostly involves members sharing
information about their preferences; coordination in undertaking a
collective effort involves effectively organizing everyone’s contribution. On
this second matter, coordination may become problematic when individual
members realize that the success of the collective enterprise will depend on
their contribution, which may be costly. For instance, individual members
may be asked to make a severe contribution such as going to war, and
despite their costly effort, the collective effort might fail.
This fundamental problem introduces a class of issues commonly referred
to as the prisoner’s dilemma . It refers to a variety of settings in which
individuals find themselves personally better off by pursuing their private
interests and undermining the collective effort even when they want it to
succeed. Prisoner’s dilemmas pervade all of politics, from neighbors
petitioning city hall for a stop sign to legislators collaborating to strike
budget deals in Congress. These dilemmas especially interest us because the
“solution”—that is, having everyone contribute to the collective
undertaking—depends heavily on providing the kinds of incentives to
individuals that governments are well suited to provide.

Whether in deciding what to do or how to do it, coordination is more
difficult for large than for small groups. Several friends can easily share
their preferences in great detail on how to spend the weekend together. Now
consider Republican voters in the spring of 2016 trying to decide who their
presidential nominee should be. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey in
early March found 30 percent favoring Donald Trump, with Ted Cruz, John
Kasich, and Marco Rubio following with 27, 22, and 20 percent support,
respectively. But this only scratched the surface of their preferences on what
they wanted their party to do. The survey followed up by pitting Trump
against each of the other candidates in a two-man race. In Figure 1.1 we
find that Trump loses each contest. A lot of Republican respondents to the
survey wanted anyone but Trump. Each candidate’s “true” supporters

teamed with the “anyone but Trump” respondents formed a clear majority.
But as primaries and caucuses continued through early June, the
coordination problem persisted. In the end, the “anyone but Trump”
Republicans never managed to coordinate on an alternative candidate.
Now consider how size affects the capacity of a group to coordinate in
achieving an agreed-to goal. Here, a classical music performance offers an
education in the costs of coordinating collective action. During a concert
the members of a string quartet coordinate their individual performances by
spending nearly as much time looking at one another as they do following
their music. Volume, tempo, and ornamentation must all be executed
precisely and in tandem. By the end of a successful concert, the effort
required is evident on the triumphant musicians’ perspiring faces. A
symphony orchestra, by contrast, achieves comparable coordination, despite
its greater numbers, by retaining one of its members to put aside the
musical instrument and take up the conductor’s baton. By focusing on the
conductor, orchestra members are able to coordinate their playing and
produce beautiful music. And at the end of the concert, the conductor is the
first one to mop a perspiring brow.

Figure 1.1 Republican Voters Trying to Coordinate in the
Selection of Their Party’s Nominee

Source: NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, March 3–6, 2016, N = 397
Republican primary voters nationwide.
Note: The percentages do not add up to 100 because a few respondents
refused to pick either candidate.
Large groups trying to reach a shared goal might emulate the symphony in
designating and following a leader. Members of the House of
Representatives and the Senate configure procedures to enable Congress to
decide policy for the hundreds of issues presented each session. But to
achieve the same objective, the 435-member House and the 100-member
Senate proceed differently, following a logic reflecting the size of their
organizations. The House delegates to a Rules Committee the responsibility
for scheduling the flow of legislation onto the floor and setting limits on
deliberations and amendments. This important committee becomes the
“leader” in setting the body’s agenda. The entire House cedes this authority
to a committee because coordination is vital if the chamber is to identify
and pass the most preferred legislation. By contrast, the smaller Senate has
found that it can achieve comparable levels of coordination without having
to surrender authority to a specialized committee. In the Senate, informal
discussions among members and party leaders suffice.
When the number of participants desiring to coordinate is very large—say, a
state’s voters—coordination may generally be unachievable. This explains
why a society’s collective decisions are generally delegated to a small group
of professionals, namely politicians , who intensively engage one another
in structured settings, namely government, to discover mutually attractive
collective decisions.
The challenges to successful coordination increase with size. For some
problems simple, self-enforcing rules—such as traffic staying to the right
side of the street—might be all that is required. For other kinds of collective
choices, institutions severely limit options, allowing like-minded
individuals to coordinate easily. Political party nominations offer voters an
obvious common choice.

Successful mass coordination occasionally arises even in the absence of
institutions channeling individuals’ choices. The 2012 presidential
primaries saw conservative Republican voters race en masse from one
candidate to another in search of an alternative—apparently any alternative
—to the moderate and eventual winner Mitt Romney. As displayed in
Figure 1.2 , four of Romney’s serious challengers for the nomination briefly
achieved front-runner status in the public opinion polls. On reaching the top
of the pile, each faltered and was quickly discarded by voters in favor of yet
another “anyone but Romney” nominee. Eventually, they all stumbled
badly, leaving Romney the only viable candidate still in the race. At this
point, conservative Republicans switched their mantra to “anyone but
Obama” and rallied behind their party’s nominee.
Among the several surprising outcomes in this chronology is the speed with
which Republican voters’ preferences switched from one candidate to
another. How, for example, did so many survey respondents manage to shift
from front-runner Rick Perry (after he forgot the names of several
government departments he promised to disband) to Herman Cain, who
until Perry’s debate fiasco had barely registered a blip in the polls? In such
instances a critical ingredient of success lies in identifying a common focal
point to help individuals target their energies toward a common purpose. A
focal point is some prominent cue that helps individuals recognize the
preferences of others with whom they want to cooperate. A strong debate
performance might win some supporters, but equally important, it might
identify to all the candidates who will attract the most support. Similarly, a
narrow victory in a state delegate caucus could signal which candidate all
like-minded voters should gather behind. Or endorsement by some accepted
authority—like the conservative Tea Party movement—could concentrate
support. Each of these kinds of focal point cues guided conservative
Republicans as they settled on an “anyone but Romney” alternative who,
shortly thereafter, displayed some fatal flaw that sent them searching for
another candidate.

Figure 1.2 Republicans Pick a Presidential Nominee, 2012

Source: Data from, 2012 Republican
Presidential Nomination, accessed at
ential_nomination-1452.html#polls .
Internet-based social networks offer levels of focal point coordination
unimaginable in earlier decades. A remarkable example of nearly
spontaneously coordinated protest activity occurred in 2006, when a Los
Angeles union and church organized a protest march against anti-immigrant
legislation under consideration by the House of Representatives. The
organizers hoped to arouse twenty thousand participants, but after they
persuaded several Spanish-radio DJs to publicize the rally, over half a
million protesters showed up. The size of the turnout amazed everyone,
including the organizers, and the crowd quickly overwhelmed the police
force. Clearly, there was a pent-up demand needing only a cue as to when
and where everyone would show up.
Coordination problems essentially arise from uncertainty and insufficient
information and may prevent collective undertakings even when a great
majority agrees on a course of action, such as Republicans’ desire to win

back the presidency in 2012. We now turn to potentially more problematic
challenges to collective action—the problems of the prisoner’s dilemma.
Unlike a lack of coordination, where mutual ignorance prevents participants
from identifying and working together for a common goal, prisoner’s
dilemma problems find participants privately calculating that they would be
better off by not contributing to the collective action even when they
wholeheartedly agree with its purpose. Where coordination problems
frequently require no more than direction and information, prisoner’s
dilemmas generally necessitate monitoring and the threat of coercion.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Since it was first formally introduced in the late 1950s, the prisoner’s
dilemma has become one of the most widely used concepts in the social
sciences. A casual Google search generated over half a million hits on this
phrase, bringing up websites on subjects far afield from political science
and economics (where systematic consideration of the concept originated),
including psychiatry, evolutionary biology, and drama theory. The
prisoner’s dilemma depicts a specific tension in social relations, one long
intuitively understood by political thinkers. Solving this dilemma
fundamentally distinguishes political success and failure and is a
cornerstone of our inquiry. What precisely is the prisoner’s dilemma, and
why is it so important for the study of American politics?
The prisoner’s dilemma arises whenever individuals who ultimately would
benefit from cooperating with each other also have a powerful and
irresistible incentive to break the agreement and exploit the other side. Only
when each party is confident that the other will live up to an agreement can
they successfully break out of the dilemma and work to their mutual
advantage. A simple example of how this works is the original exercise that
gives the prisoner’s dilemma its name. In the movie stills from the 1941
drama I Wake Up Screaming (see photos), homicide detectives are
subjecting screen legends Victor Mature and Betty Grable to the prisoner’s
dilemma. Specifically, each murder suspect is being advised to confess and
testify against the other, in return for a lighter prison sentence. The diagram
on the next page maps out the likely prison term each faces. Deep down
Mature and Grable know that the police do not have enough evidence to

convict them of murder. All they have to do is stick to their story (i.e.,
cooperate), and, at worst, they may have to spend six months in jail on a
gun possession charge. If both were to confess, each would get a five-year
sentence. Each of them is offered a deal: in exchange for a full confession,
the “squealer” will get off scot-free, whereas the “fall guy” or “sucker” will
be convicted and likely receive a ten-year prison term. In the movie both
suspects are isolated in their cells for a few days, with the detectives hinting
that their partner is “singing like a canary.” As the days pass, each begins to
recognize the other’s character flaws and panics. If Mature squeals, Grable
realizes, she must also in order to avoid a ten-year stretch. If, however, she
has underestimated his virtues and he holds out, well, that would be
unfortunate, but she gains some solace in knowing that her lone confession
will be her “get-out-of-jail” card. Of course, Mature, stewing in his cell,
reaches the same conclusion. Why this movie presents a genuine dilemma
is that in this setting confessing offers the best outcome for each suspect,
regardless of what the other individual does. So, in the end, they both
confess and spend the next five years in the slammer. *
* For this reason police have traditionally objected to giving suspects early
access to lawyers, who might help the otherwise isolated prisoners
coordinate their plan. But this is a different story we return to in Chapter 5 .
By the way, the movie offers a happy ending.
Victor Mature
Stays Silent
Betty Grable


Stays silent 6 months, 6 months 10 years, no jail

No jail, 10 years

5 years, 5 years

(Grable’s sentence is listed first.)

Subjected to the classic prisoner’s dilemma interrogation,
Victor Mature and Betty Grable turn out to have nothing to
confess in the 1941 whodunit I Wake Up Screaming . Since
its introduction in the 1950s, thousands of articles have
enlisted this metaphor to explore the fundamental conflict
between what is rational behavior for each member of a
group and what is in the best interest of the group as a
20th Century Fox/Photofest
20th Century Fox/Photofest
So what does this dilemma have to do with American politics? Everything.
Every successful political exchange must tacitly solve the prisoner’s
dilemma. Exchanges occur because each side recognizes that it will be
better off with a collective outcome rather than with trying to act alone. Had
Mature and Grable somehow managed to stay silent, their cooperation
would have shaved all but six months from their five-year terms. And both
knew this. Yet neither could be sure the other confederate would stay silent.
To get something worthwhile, both sides must typically give up something
of value in return. The moral: unless participants in a collective decision

can trust each other to abide by their commitments, they will not achieve a
mutually profitable exchange.
How do the Matures and Grables shift the outcome from that quadrant,
where neither cooperates, to the one where they both do? One solution
involves making reneging and defection very expensive. In some settings
this can be achieved informally. For example, politicians who repeatedly
make campaign promises that they subsequently fail to act on lose
credibility with voters and become vulnerable to defeat in the next election.
Once in office, reneging on an agreement will quickly damage a politician’s
reputation, and others will refuse to deal with her in the future. Where
failure to live up to one’s agreements imposes costs down the road,
politicians will think twice before doing so.
Another common solution is to create institutions that help parties discover
opportunities to profit through cooperation and, most important, guarantee
that agreements are honored. Here government’s coercive authority is
useful. An anthropologist once reported that two tribes in a remote region of
New Guinea lived in a state of continual warfare, to the point that many
more men from both tribes had died in battle than from natural causes. The
anthropologist summed up their dilemma: “In the absence of any central
authority, they are condemned to fight forever . . . since for any group to
cease defending itself would be suicidal.” He added that these tribes might
“welcome pacification.” One day the distant government in Papua sent a
ranger armed with a handgun to establish territorial boundaries between the
tribes and rules governing their chance encounters. Suddenly, the decadeslong warfare ended. Each side believed the ranger with his single sidearm
presented sufficient force to punish any breaches (defection) of the peace
agreements, and the now-peaceful neighbors began to use politics—not war
—to solve their conflicts. 2 Members of a society must be able to engage
one another politically. Without confidence that agreements will be
enforced, the political process quickly unravels. Participants will balk at
undertaking mutual obligations they suspect their bargaining partners will
not honor.
In his 1651 treatise on the origin and purposes of government, Leviathan ,
political philosopher Thomas Hobbes examined the straits to which society

is reduced when its government is unable to enforce collective obligations
and agreements. (See the Logic of Politics box “Hobbes on Monarchs.”) In
a famous passage he warned that life would return to “a state of nature . . .
solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” 3 The mortality rate of New Guinea
tribesmen confirmed Hobbes’s insight. They were not naturally combative;
rather, these tribes simply could not trust each other. Thus enforcement
succeeded in encouraging cooperation, but not through flaunting
overwhelming force or imposing a solution on the contending parties. The
ranger’s presence simply rendered any party’s defection costlier than its
Hopefully, the relevance of the prisoner’s dilemma to American politics is
becoming clearer. Virtually every policy the government adopts represents a
successful resolution of this dilemma. Constituencies and their
representatives cooperate to achieve their separate goals—recall our
definition of politics earlier—because institutions have developed to help
diverse constituencies discover opportunities for mutual gain through
cooperation and, just as important, to deter them from reneging on their
agreements. Like the ranger with a handgun from Papua, America’s
political institutions foster collective action by solving the prisoner’s

Logic of Politics Hobbes on Monarchs
In 1651 Thomas Hobbes argued in Leviathan , one of the most important books in
political theory, that the English monarch was a necessary guarantor of collective
agreements. a He proposed that because the king and his offspring derived their wealth
directly from the population in taxes and labor, they would pursue the nation’s welfare
because it would enrich them as well. Even if the monarch were wicked and expropriated
too much of the nation’s wealth for himself, the citizenry was still better off with him
wielding power arbitrarily than if no one had enforcement authority. Restated in the
vocabulary of this text, Hobbes argued that monarchs offered a cost-effective means to
collective action.
a. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, or The matter, forme, & power of a commonwealth
ecclesiasticall and civill (1651; reprint, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958).

North Wind Picture Archives

There are failures, to be sure. Antitrust laws are designed to prevent
competitors in the marketplace from colluding to fix prices or restrain trade
in other ways, but they can have unintended consequences. For instance, in
2014 new oil production technologies combined with a slumping world
economy to suddenly create a worldwide oversupply of oil. Crude oil prices
plummeted to less than half their value of a couple of years earlier, leaving
the American oil industry in a predicament. Many drillers that had recently
taken on debt to expand production now found themselves contributing to
an oil glut. One obvious solution would be for everyone to cut back
production. And yet, unable to coordinate, they individually drilled harder
to service their debt in the face of depressed prices while hoping that their
competitors would cut back. 4
Other issues simply do not offer mutual gains through cooperation. One
party’s gain is the other’s loss, and politics may break down and give way
to force. National policy on rights to abortion frequently becomes just such
an issue where irreconcilable preferences seek to control policy. Chapter 4
recounts the most intractable issue of all in American political history—the
failure, despite repeated compromise attempts, to come up with a policy on
slavery’s extension into the territories during the 1850s. This issue was
resolved only by the deadliest war of its time.
Even when each side can envision opportunities for mutual gains, American
politics is far from failure proof. Everyone agrees that in several decades
the Social Security program will be unable to keep up current levels of

benefits long before the millennial generation approaches retirement. Both
Republicans and Democrats in Washington want to fix it, and from time to
time one side will gingerly make an overture to the other. But all of the
solutions are costly or otherwise unpopular, either requiring hefty new taxes
or curtailing benefits. Both political parties worry that as soon as they offer
a tough solution, the other side will exploit it to score points in the next
election. Until politicians figure out a way to cooperate and share the
blame, Social Security reform will remain the proverbial “third rail” of
politics: “Touch it and you are dead.” *
* The third rail metaphor refers to the third rail of subway tracks, the one
that carries the electricity.

Free-Rider Problem
A form of the prisoner’s dilemma that afflicts large groups is the free-rider
problem . Whenever an individual’s contribution to the success of the
collective effort is so small as to seem inconsequential, one will be tempted
to free ride—that is, to fail to contribute to the group’s undertaking while
enjoying the benefits of its success. Even those who enthusiastically support
the group’s goal realize that they can escape fulfilling their obligations.
When the motivation to free ride is a serious possibility, several outcomes
are possible.
First, it may stymie collective action altogether. Just knowing that the other
participants might free ride might at times even dissuade those ready to
pony up their share of money or effort from doing so. If many people react
this way—and many do—a