AP Field Exams | Department of Political Science

AP Field Exams

Sample American Politics Field Exams

  1. What is meant by party responsibility? Trace the development of this concept in political science and evaluate the conclusions that have been drawn regarding this concept. Be certain to include an evaluation of the premises of major authors that you cite. Also include recent tests of their premises and their conclusions.
  2. Discuss the works of Truman, Olson, Lowi, and Salisbury. Focus on the theoretical contributions of each writer and cite recent empirical tests of their work. Which writer made the greatest contribution to our understanding of American politics? Why did you choose him rather than the other writers?
  3. You have been asked by the U.S. Department of State to choose four books that ambassadors to the United States should read in order to understand our government. What books would you choose? Justify your answer, at least in part, by how well these books have stood up to empirical testing of their hypotheses.
  4. Why does Congress have committees? Compare and contrast at least three theories of committees. Which one is most correct, and why? How could the one that you selected be improved?
  5. What topic in the study of American politics do you see as the most important and understudied issue confronting scholars, and how would you proceed to fill that void? Be sure to give attention to the following: 1) How would you state the central puzzle(s) associated with this topic? 2) What do you see as the most promising theoretical approaches or arguments you might use to elucidate this puzzle? 3) What research strategies would you utilize? 4) What results would you expect to find? 5) How would your work inform or alter our current understanding of American politics? Ground this answer as extensively as possible in the appropriate literature that does exist.
  6. The interactions between political institutions have become a major theme in research in American politics. Explain how the Courts, Congress and President have been studied and in what ways that research has successfully explained these interactions, or failed to explain these interactions. Are there areas of future research that have not been explored or are under-explored? How can scholars address these shortcomings? NB: if you answer the divided government question later, don't deal with it here.
  7. Discuss two or three recent (post-1990, roughly) works that are likely to become true classics in the American politics literature. Be sure to address what it is that would make a work a classic, what led up to each work, and what has, so far, flowed from it.
  8. Two chapters in the recent volume, Thinking about Political Psychology, address the question, "Is Political Psychology Sufficiently Psychological?" Political science is a discipline that has encouraged increasing specialization, where more and more scholars borrow heavily from psychology, economics, sociology, and anthropology. While such borrowing can invigorate a discipline, there is danger that political science could become nothing more than a collection of applied game theorists or social psychologists both unable to talk to one another and unable to make an intellectual contribution that is a unique product of political science. By providing illustrative examples from American politics, discuss whether, on balance, this specialization is producing a stronger or weaker political science. In answering this question, be sure to consider what political scientists must do to make a unique contribution to scholarship both through answering questions that other disciplines could not answer or creating scholarship from which other disciplines can benefit.
  9. A number of prominent scholars of American political institutions (e.g., Mayhew, Edwards, Sundquist, Epstein and O'Halloran, Charles Jones, Thurber, Krehbiel, and Binder) have addressed the implications of divided government. Summarize some of their major findings and conclusions. Discuss the implications of this work for our understandings of conditional party government and other theories of the role of political parties in the constitutional system. Briefly discuss the implications of this literature for our recent return to unified government.
  10. Scholars of the presidency face a crossroads: some focus their research questions on the basic personal and organizational characteristics of individual presidents (the N of 1 crowd), while others focus their research questions on the presidency as an institution and generalize across various presidencies (the N or 2 to 43 crowd). What are the implications of this methodological division across scholars of the presidency? What kinds of things can we learn from the different approaches? Provide substantive examples where appropriate to illustrate your points.
  11. Judicial studies in recent years have been dominated by Supreme Court decision-making debates in recent years. These debates offer a multitude of approaches to understanding Supreme Court decision-making. Explain and compare these approaches. Is there or can there be a unifying theory of judicial decision-making?
  12. Some people have argued that a necessary condition for rational behavior in a democratic society is that the public is able to think about political issues in a coherent and consistent manner. How has the literature in political science addressed the rationality of mass public opinion? What work in this literature provides the most promising basis for future research?
  13. Voting is a central aspect of any democratic society. Trace the development of the literature in American politics about the process by which voters make decisions. Do the conclusions from this literature provide much comfort about the process by which we select our leaders? How do the conclusions from this literature help us understand candidate behavior in elections? The influence of campaigns upon the outcomes of elections?
  14. Why does Congress organize itself as it currently does? Paying special attention to committees, discuss three or more theories of legislative organization, being sure to distinguish their assumptions, their predictions, and what sorts of evidence if any, would be confirmatory and discomfirmatory for each. Finally, what do we need to do next in analyzing congressional organization, and why?
  15. Parties scholars in the United States have long debated the strength of parties in America. Review the arguments for party decline and party resurgence, focusing on how this literature evaluates the roles that parties play in the United States, and discuss how we can best evaluate the "true" strength and value of parties in the United States.