Module 6: Public Policy

Getting Started
  1. Review the module introduction and outcomes to help you gain an understanding of the main topics and expectations.
  2. Work through each lesson in this module and complete the Check Your Knowledge activity.  You can take notes on each lesson by clicking on the “take notes” tab on the bottom right of your screen. You can take notes for each lesson and they will appear on your dashboard. Make sure you save your notes before continuing to another lesson or quiz.
  3. Complete the Module Quiz (located at the bottom of this page) with a minimum score of 80% once all lessons are finished in full.

Note: If you would like to learn more about this module’s topics, click the Module Toolbox or Module Glossary for additional and supplementary resources.

There are over 350 million people living in the United States. Each member of the House of Representatives represents approximately 700,000 people. Each U.S. senator represents an entire state — meaning the senators from the largest state, California, represent over 38 million people! Even the senators from the smallest state, Wyoming, represent over 500,000 people.

How can one person ever have an impact on the government? That is where linkage institutions come in. In this module, we are going to study the groups and organizations that people form, join, or work in that are large enough, powerful enough, or have enough public impact to influence government for their members.

These linkage institutions include political parties and special interest groups, as well as media and the Internet where people can have their messages heard by the masses. Elections and campaigns are also included in this arena, because nowhere do the people make their voices heard more stridently than when they go to the polls.

Political parties give people a voice; just be sure to research everything they stand for. The media broadcasts the issues they hear from you, and the masses listen. Special interest groups (SIGs) are usually single issue organizations representing people with that interest. Are you over the age of 50? AARP is the group for you! Are you concerned about the government limiting your right to own a gun? Join the NRA! Doctors join the AMA. Lawyers look to the ABA. Drug companies, food companies, people who want to legalize marijuana… there are SIGs for almost every issue.

Do you want to influence the government? Get involved, and magnify your voice through the linkage institutions that influence the American government!

After completing this Module, you should be able to:

  • Identify today’s political parties, explain their roles and purposes, and tell why they are important.
  • Evaluate whether the roles and functions of elections and campaigns are necessary and rightfully serving the U.S. system of democracy.
  • Demonstrate what are special interest groups, why people join them, and how they impact public policy in America.
  • Examine what media is, the role it plays in shaping public policy, and how it has changed over time.
  • Describe the impact the internet has on campaigns, elections, and public policy in America.

Lesson 1 – Political Parties

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  • party organization
    the formal structure of the political party and the active members responsible for coordinating party behavior and supporting party candidates
  • party-in-government
    party identifiers who have been elected to office and are responsible for fulfilling the party’s promises
  • precinct
    the lowest level of party organization, usually organized around neighborhoods
  • straight ticket
    selecting all candidates from the same party for all positions in an election
  • third party
    a political party formed as an alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties, also known as a minor party
  • two-party system
    a system in which two major parties win all, or almost all, elections

Lesson 2 – Campaigns and Elections

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  • caucus
    a form of candidate nomination that occurs in a town-hall style format rather than a day-longelection; usually reserved for presidential elections
  • closed primary
    an election in which only voters registered with a party may vote for that party’scandidates
  • delegates
    party members who are chosen to represent a particular candidate at the party’s state orNational level nominating convention
  • linkage institutions
    the groups, associations, and media that can begin to move an idea from the people to the government, linking the people to the public policy making process
  • open primary
    an election in which any registered voter may vote in any party’s primary or caucus
  • party platform
    the set of issues important to a political party and its party delegates
  • policy making cycle
    stages in which the needs, concerns, and wants of the people become issues for the government to act on and affect change
  • top-two primary
    (or jungle primary); a primary election in which the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, become the nominees for the general election

Lesson 3 – Special Interest Groups

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  • free-rider problem
    the tendency of people to contribute very little or nothing to the production of public goods with the belief that they will benefit regardless of paying, leading to under-provided or nonexistent public goods
  • material incentives
    substantive monetary or physical benefits given to group members to help overcome collective action problems
  • purposive incentives
    benefits to overcome collective action problems that appeal to people’s support of the issue or cause
  • solidary incentives
    benefits based on the concept that people like to associate with those who are similar to them

Lesson 4 – The Media and Politics

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  • framing
    the process of giving a news story a specific context or background
  • mass media
    communication that is consumed by a mass (or large) audience, through a variety of sources such as radio, television, theater, movies, newspapers, books, and the internet

Lesson 5 – The Internet and Politics

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