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Unit outline_

USSC2602: US Politics: Elections, Presidents, Laws

Semester 1, 2020 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit introduces students to US political institutions and political culture. The unit will examine the electoral system and recent presidential elections as well as presidencies from 1960 onwards. It will explore US public policies in the area of race, welfare, and criminal justice and analyse how policy ideas and proposals come into law. It will also introduce the dominant ideologies in US politics. By the end of the unit students will have a comprehensive understanding of American Domestic politics.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit United States Studies Centre
Credit points 6
12 credit points at 1000 level in American Studies
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Shaun Ratcliff,
Lecturer(s) Shaun Ratcliff,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Participation Participation
Rewards students who attend the weekly seminars, read, and join discussions
20% - Ongoing
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO4
In-semester test Week 10 exam
The exam encourages students to develop an understanding of course material
35% Week 10 1.5 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO4 LO3
Assignment Research Essay
Provides students with a chance to explore a topic in-depth.
45% Week 14 (STUVAC) 2500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6

Assessment summary

Research Essay

The research essay will provide students with a chance to explore one of the key themes of the course in an in depth manner. The research and writing skills required to complete this task will both benefit students' academic training and provide a fair basis for assessing in their academic abilities.




The week 10 exam will encourage students to keep up with the weekly readings and lectures, and will reward those students who have a broad understanding of the material covered in the course


Seminar Participation


The participation mark aims to reward students who attend the weekly seminars, have read the readings, and participate in the class discussions. Oral skills are an important part of being an effective communicator and this component seeks to acknowledge this fact.


Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100



75 - 84



65 - 74



50 - 64



0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.


For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

5% per day.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 American Political Culture. Exceptional or just Different? Seminar (2 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 02 American Political Culture: Individualism, Religion and Regionalism Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 03 The Political System (1, The Legislature) Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 04 Week 4: The Political System (2, The Executive and Judiciary) Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 05 Week 5: Political Parties, Elections and the Media Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 06 The Politics of Race Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 07 Inequality, Poverty, Welfare and Crime Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 08 American Ideologies and Political Movements (1, Liberalism and the Left) Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 09 American Ideologies and Political Movements (2, Conservatism and the Right) Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 10 Exam and essay workshop Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 11 Past Presidents and Elections (1, Kennedy to Reagan) Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 12 Past Presidents and Elections (2, The Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies) Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 13 Obama, 2016, Trump and the Future Seminar (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6

Attendance and class requirements

COVID-19 Announcement:

This unit will now be taught online. Zoom will replace regularly scheduled class time and / or consultations. Recordings will be made available to students and accessibility needs will be considered. 

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Communication - oral and written
  • LO2. Research skills
  • LO3. Problem solving and decision making
  • LO4. Conceptual and analytical skills
  • LO5. Information skills
  • LO6. More specifically students who complete this course should have a basic knowledge of America and American Politics

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

This unit has been offered for a number of years and the UoS coordinators have continually worked to improve the quality of teaching materials, learning activities and forms of assessment based on student feedback.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.