DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
THESE PROJECTS GIVE YOU AN
OPPORTUNITY TO EARN EXTRA CREDIT.
THEY DO NOT GUARANTEE ANYTHING
I DO NOT PROMISE THAT YOU WILL
RECEIVE ANY POINTS NO MATTER HOW HARD
AND LONG YOU WORK.
ANY POINTS YOU EARN WILL BE BASED ON
MY EVALUATION OF WHAT YOU SUBMIT.
Deadline: May 10, 1996 by 12:00 in class
- These assignments encourage you to verify claims and counter-claims about government
and politics. Some of them ask you to examine aspects of my arguments; others require
investigation of commonly held beliefs. In every case, I hope that you learn something
important about American government.
- Pick one (and only one) of the choices below. Turn in a one- or two-page "report" that
has your name and student number clearly printed on each page. I will evaluate the
projects on 0 to 6 scale with any points you earn added to your final point total.
- Note: no matter how many hours you spend looking for information, you will earn
credit only to the extent that you answer the questions or demonstrate the points. I am
the sole and final judge.
- Choices: Pick one and only one.
- Welfare: listening to politicians and talk-radio hosts, one would think that federal
expenditures for welfare are among the biggest items in its budget. But exactly how
much do the government spend on welfare? You can look at the question a couple of
ways (pick one of the two):
- As a percent of the total 1996 (or 1994 or 1995) federal budget how much do
these programs receive: AFDC, WIC, and Food Stamps?
- What is the ratio of federal outlays for AFDC, WIC, and Food Stamps (in any of
these years) to expenditures for army aircraft or naval vessels.
- Welfare and the economy: Americans have become frustrated with the welfare system
because they believe it rewards laziness and immorality. Yet many economists think that
poverty and hence the need for public assistance results from little or no economic
growth. If they are right, we would expect welfare payments to track (correlate) with
indicators of unemployment and economic growth: the lower the growth or higher the
unemployment, the more people would need welfare. You could investigate this
possibility by making a graph or graphs (or tables) of the number of AFDC recipients
per capita and the rate of unemployment or economic growth from, say, 1960 to 1990.
(Look at the links in the "Social and Economic Data" section of the "Bridge to the
- Growth in government: Lots of people think that the federal bureaucracy is growing by
leaps and bounds. But has government in fact grown over the last 20 years? One way to
find out is to look at civilian federal employment. Looking only at raw number might be
misleading, right? Suppose, for instance, 100,000 individuals worked for Washington in
1970 whereas 200,000 do in 1996. That's double the 1960 number. But don't forget the
population has also increased in the last 26 years. So, the number of government
workers per American may actually have declined. Hence, it's possible that the federal
bureaucracy is growing in absolute numbers but is becoming a smaller and smaller part
- So, prepare a graph or table that shows the number of civilian federal employees
per capita in the period 1970 (say) to 1995.
- Taxation: We've also been told time and again that American's are over taxed. But I
presented some information that indicated citizens here pay less taxes than people in
other industrial democracies. It might be interesting to explore the issue further. For
example, an individual's total tax burden consist of obligations owed to local and state
governments as well as to Washington. Hence, you might determine if the total tax
burden on Americans has increased in the last 25 to 30 years. You can do so by plotting
or graphing (or making a table of) total (local, state, and national) taxes as a percent
of gross domestic product from 1964 to 1990.
- Public amenities: Both parties seem determined to reduce the size of government. At the
same time, the improvement in the quality of life produced by public services may be
stagnating. As an experiment, try finding out if public libraries (or museums) or
national park acreage has kept pace with population growth. Make a table or graph in
which you, for instance, show the number of acres devoted to national parks or the
number of volumes in libraries, per capita, has increased, decreased, or stayed roughly
constant in the last 20 to 30 years. If you find a downward trend, I would think that,
even if government is getting bigger, the country still needs investment in public
- Turnout in elections: I presented graphs in class that illustrated the decline in voting
turnout that has occurred over the last 100 years. But those figures only showed the
"aggregate" trends; that is, different races and social class were lumped together. There
is a major controversy, however, in political science about the composition of the voting
population. Some (I am one) think that the decrease in voting has been greatest among
people in the lower classes. So, for instance, overall turnout may have decreased by,
say, 10 percent since 1960, but among blue collar workers the decrease may be 20
percent. Why don't you find out by drawing a graph or preparing a table that compares
the turnout rates (from 1964 to 1994) of college graduates, high school graduates, and
those with less than 12 years of schooling? If I am correct, the decline should be
greatest in the last category. (Hint: find the Census Bureau's homepage, locate
population data, and look for voting and registration.)
- Campaign funds: From whom do candidates obtain campaign funds? As we noted in
class, most rely on individual contributors. But another important source is political
action committees, PACs. Does the heavy reliance on these organizations create
potential conflicts of interest? A good place to start looking for the answer is by listing
and grouping the PAC donations by type such as corporation (e.g., General Electric),
labor, environmental (e.g., Sierra Club), trade association (e.g Realtors, home builders),
professional (e.g., American Medical Association), ideological (e.g., GOPAC), and so
- Make a table that lists Senator Biden's or Congressman Castle's PAC
contributors by type and amount. It won't be possible to include every single
donor, but you can find lists (search the web) and sample contributors to make an
estimate. The table would contain, for instance, business PACs $50,000,
"ideological" PACs $2,000, and so on and so forth. (I have a link to the Federal
Election Commission, which may be a good source. Also, check "Vote Smart." It
- You are asked to work on your own. Why? Partly because the course honor code
demands that your work be yours and yours alone. Equally important, a college
education should at a minimum equip someone to find and interpret information by
oneself. These projects ask you to do precisely that, use the internet, my web site, and
other sources to locate data and use them to make inferences about politics and
- Given the nature of the questions and topics it will do no good to call the
Department of Political Science or the library looking for answers. You have to
work on your own.
- You will have to search the internet for the answers. A good place to start would be the
"Useful Sources of Information" section of my page. Note that many links connect to
still other sources so, in the spirit of the web, you should be able to crawl from one site
to another until you find the information you need.
- Since this is extra credit and since it's the end of the semester, I can supply only limited
help. I want you to attempt to find the information on your own. I've already "tried"
some of these projects so I know that they can be completed with a modest amount of
effort. (An afternoon browsing the net should be ample; then you will need a couple of
hours to prepare the tables or graphs.)
- Ground rules:
- Pick one and only one topic. Since I will evaluate only the first paper you turn in, it will
do no good to submit more than one.
- Make sure the title and number of your choice are clearly labeled.
- Deadline: May 10, 1996 by 12:00 in class. This deadline is set in stone. So please plan
ahead. Computers frequently crash and the network is always overburdened at this time
of year. Consequently, you have to plan ahead. Please don't ask for exceptions.
- Neatness is critical! Type your responses, including tables. If you have to draw graphs
by hand make sure that they are correctly labeled and drawn according to appropriate
scales. Proofread your material before handing it in.
- Sources of information must be cited exactly and completely. No credit if I can't
determine precisely where you obtained your information.
- Tip: one way easy way to spot people who are working together is common mistakes or
answers. Since there is so much latitude in these choices, no two people should have
exactly the same results.
- Good luck and try to learn something.
Go to American government page
Go to Useful sources of information page
Go to H. T. Reynolds page
H. T. Reynolds, April 30, 1996