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Series: Politics Today
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The book introduces the principles underpinning the US Constitution and, on the basis of this, surveys core federal institutions: Congress, the presidency, and the US Supreme Court and lower courts. The different chapters outline the defining features of each and introduce some of the core scholarly debates about their powers and performance. The book also considers processes of political participation through elections, parties, and organised interests. It looks, in particular, at the changing nature of voting behaviour, the reasons why electoral turnout levels are comparatively low, and the different reasons why Donald Trump secured the presidency in the 2016 contest. It also considers the character of the party system and claims that organised interests, particularly groups representing those at the highest ends of the income and wealth scales, play a disproportionate role in the US system. The book thereby offers a guide to debates about the democratic ‘health’ of the contemporary US. The final chapter places the study of US politics in a comparative and theoretical context. It suggests that comparative approaches are essential if political developments and processes are to be fully understood. It then considers the value of employing theoretical frameworks in the study of politics and explores the ways in which structural theories, approaches drawing upon representations of political culture, and rational choice perspectives can explain political outcomes.

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The Right and the Recession considers the ways in which conservative activists, groupings, parties and interests in the US and Britain responded to the financial crisis and the “Great Recession” that followed in its wake. The book looks at the tensions and stresses between different ideas, interests and institutions and the ways in which they shaped the character of political outcomes. In Britain, these processes opened the way for leading Conservatives to redefine their commitment to fiscal retrenchment and austerity. Whereas public expenditure reductions had been portrayed as a necessary response to earlier “overspending” they were increasingly represented as a way of securing a permanently “leaner” state. The book assesses the character of this shift in thinking as well as the viability of these efforts to shrink the state and the parallel attempts in the US to cut federal government spending through mechanisms such as the budget sequester.

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Series: Pocket Politics
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This book explores how a candidate who broke with almost every single norm governing candidate behaviour, appeared to eschew the professionalised forms of campaigning, and who had been more or less disowned by Republican elites, prove victorious? The focus is on Trump and his campaign; the account does not go beyond the November election and its immediate aftermath. The book argues that the Trump campaign, like earlier populist insurgencies, can be explained in part by considering some defining features of US political culture and, in particular, attitudes towards government. It explains the right-wing populism that has been a recurrent and ingrained feature of the political process over a long period. The book discusses structural characteristics of the American state that appear to be of particular significance in shaping attitudes, as well as some other ideas and frames brought to the forefront by the Trump campaign during the course of 2015 and 2016. It also considers the shifts and swings amongst voters and suggests that these, alongside ideas about the state and the 'entrepreneurial' efforts of the campaign, form part of the explanation for Trump's eventual victory. The book assesses Trump's ascendancy as a function of, and reaction to, the strategies and discourses pursued in the years preceding 2016 by Republican Party elites. 'Trumpism' and European forms of populism are still in some ways weakly embedded but they may intensify the battles and processes of group competition between different constituencies.

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This book considers the policy of the George W. Bush administration towards issues such as abortion, sex education, obscenity and same-sex marriage. It suggests that, although accounts have often emphasised the ties between George W. Bush and the Christian right, the administration's strategy was, at least until early 2005, largely directed towards the courting of middle-ground opinion. The study offers a detailed and comprehensive survey of policy making; assesses the political significance of moral concerns; evaluates the role of the Christian Right; and throws new light on George W. Bush's years in office and the character of his thinking.

Abstract only
Edward Ashbee

Chapter 1 considers the background to the writing of the US Constitution in 1787 and the compromises that had to be made. It surveys the Constitution’s defining principles. These include separated institutions sharing powers, checks and balances, and federalism, but also counter-majoritarianism and constraints upon popular sovereignty. The chapter then looks at the Constitution’s individual articles, the powers that are assigned to each branch of government, and the institutional structures that were established, such as the Electoral College. It also discusses the Bill of Rights (along with subsequent constitutional amendments), the nature of the rights that it established and the extent to which these were, or in many cases were not, extended to all citizens. The chapter concludes by outlining contemporary conservative and progressive critiques of the Constitution.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Abstract only
Edward Ashbee

Chapter 2 details the powers of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. These include the passage of legislation, oversight of the executive, the capacity to declare war, the ‘power of the purse’, and impeachment. The chapter compares the two chambers and notes the defining features of both, in particular the rules requiring super-majorities in the Senate. The chapter assesses the process of partisan polarisation from the 1970s onwards and the ways in which this has inhibited the passage of legislation and the confirmation of federal court judges and federal government officials. The chapter suggests that Congress faces challenges if considered as a legislature and in terms of its record in scrutinising the work of the executive branch but has been much more effective in its handling of individual and constituency grievances in the states and districts.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Edward Ashbee

The chapter surveys the powers assigned to the president by the Constitution and those de facto powers that have emerged over time. It argues that the president has, in particular, secured foreign and defence policy powers. This is in part because Congress is institutionally ill-fitted to take quick or proactive decisions. Although there were efforts to rein in the presidency in the wake of the Vietnam War and presidents have sought to secure Congressional backing for military action overseas, the White House still has substantial scope for unilateral action. Presidents are more constrained, however, if domestic policy issues are considered. Partisan polarisation has limited their capacity to construct coalitions in Congress and they have often had to fall back upon executive actions (most notably executive orders) which only offer some opportunities for reform and change. The chapter concludes by considering different presidencies and ways in which historical circumstances create regimes that have either constrained or empowered individual office-holders.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Edward Ashbee

It was established as early as 1803 that the US Supreme Court, created under Article III of the Constitution, had the power of judicial review, allowing it to strike down laws or provisions within them if they were deemed unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, judicial review was extended to state as well as federal laws. The chapter considers the variables shaping the nomination and confirmation of judges, the history of the Court and the approaches that judges have taken to the process of constitutional interpretation. Whereas those on the left have invoked the principle of a ‘living constitution’ and argue that judgements should be made on the basis of the US Constitution’s underlying principles and implications the conservative right has argued for narrower forms of interpretation or a search for the original intent of the Constitution’s authors. The Trump administration’s appointments to the Court shift it decisively towards the right.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Elections
Edward Ashbee

The chapter outlines the different stages involved in the process by which the US elects its presidents. It considers the primaries and caucuses as parties choose their nominees and assesses the claim that party elites have generally played a decisive role in determining the eventual victor. The chapter then surveys the character of the general election campaign that follows and the ways in which it is shaped by the Electoral College and leads to campaigns that focus on particular swing states. Alongside presidential elections, it also outlines Congressional election processes and stresses, in particular, the importance of incumbency in shaping election outcomes. The chapter concludes by assessing the variables shaping voting behaviour.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Parties and interest groups
Edward Ashbee

There has been considerable debate around claims that the established political parties are in decline. Certainly, they no longer undertake some of the core functions they were traditionally associated with. Nonetheless, the Republicans and Democrats are still largely unchallenged and there are almost insuperable barriers facing minor parties. Furthermore, the major parties continue to be very important sources of political identity and they co-ordinate processes of government between the executive and legislative branches. The chapter also assesses organised interests and considers the factors (such as the resources they command) that give particular interests extensive influence within the political system.

in US politics today (fourth edition)