About this courseSkip About this course
How do the three branches of government operate? How is power shared among Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court? What role is played by federal agencies that have no direct constitutional authority oftheir own?
In this part of our series on American Government, we will examine the separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the role of voters, political parties, and the broader federal bureaucracy. We’ll explore how “the people” affect the behavior of members of Congress, what constitutes success in a president’s domestic and foreign policies, and how much power an unelected judiciary should have in a democratic system.
What you'll learnSkip What you'll learn
- How Congressmembers are influenced by their constituencies
- What causes political polarization between Republicans and Democrats
- How Congress’s structure limits progress on significant issues
- How executive orders expand the powers of the presidency
- Why presidents are less constrained in foreign policy than in domestic policy
- How federal agencies promote and protect their programs
- The influence of politics on Supreme Court decisions
Week 1: Congress & Constituency
In this session, we will examine how their constituencies affect the behavior of members of Congress, including their influence on the type of bills that members are most likely to support. The 2014 farm bill will be used to highlight constituency influence.
Week 2: Congress & Party
This session will describe the role of parties in Congress and explain the developments that have contributed to party polarization within Congress. We’ll examine the 2013 government shutdown as a case study in party conflict. The session will also explain why Congress’s fragmented structure makes it difficult for Congress to take the lead on major national issues while making it perfectly suited to taking on scores of smaller issues at once.
Week 3: Presidents & Domestic Policy
This session will examine the factors that affect presidential success in the area of domestic policy. Several factors will be mentioned, but the focus will be the partisan makeup of Congress—whether a majority of its members are from the president’s party. The 1964 food stamp bill and the 1996 welfare bill will be used to illustrate the relationship between presidential success and Congress’s partisan makeup.
Week 4: Presidents & Foreign Policy
In this session, we’ll examine the president’s comparative advantages—for example, control over information—in the making of foreign policy. We’ll look particularly at the president’s war power and at executive agreements—treaty-like arrangements authorized solely by the president. President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 will serve as a case study.
Week 5: Federal Bureaucracy
In this session, we’ll examine the federal bureaucracy—its structure, staffing, and operation. We’ll also explore the challenge of holding the bureaucracy accountable for its actions. The Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet program will serve as a case study of bureaucratic politics.
Week 6: Judiciary & Supreme Court
This session will examine judicial power and the influence of politics on Supreme Court decisions. We will also consider the normative question of how much power an unelected judiciary should have in a democratic system. The primary case study in this session will be the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), which struck down an act of Congress prohibiting independent campaign expenditures by corporations and labor unions.
Meet your instructors
Pursue a Verified Certificate to highlight the knowledge and skills you gain$49.00
Official and Verified
Receive an instructor-signed certificate with the institution's logo to verify your achievement and increase your job prospects
Add the certificate to your CV or resume, or post it directly on LinkedIn
Give yourself an additional incentive to complete the course
Support our Mission
EdX, a non-profit, relies on verified certificates to help fund free education for everyone globally
“Excellent course! The topics are well structured, the instructor explains in a clear and comprehensive way.”—Eva Palackova
Frequently asked questions
Honor code statement
HarvardX requires individuals who enroll in its courses on edX to abide by the terms of the edX honor code. HarvardX will take appropriate corrective action in response to violations of the edX honor code, which may include dismissal from the HarvardX course; revocation of any certificates received for the HarvardX course; or other remedies as circumstances warrant. No refunds will be issued in the case of corrective action for such violations. Enrollees who are taking HarvardX courses as part of another program will also be governed by the academic policies of those programs.
By registering as an online learner in our open online courses, you are also participating in research intended to enhance HarvardX's instructional offerings as well as the quality of learning and related sciences worldwide. In the interest of research, you may be exposed to some variations in the course materials. HarvardX does not use learner data for any purpose beyond the University's stated missions of education and research. For purposes of research, we may share information we collect from online learning activities, including Personally Identifiable Information, with researchers beyond Harvard. However, your Personally Identifiable Information will only be shared as permitted by applicable law, will be limited to what is necessary to perform the research, and will be subject to an agreement to protect the data. We may also share with the public or third parties aggregated information that does not personally identify you. Similarly, any research findings will be reported at the aggregate level and will not expose your personal identity.
Harvard University and HarvardX are committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational and work environment in which no member of the community is excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination or harassment in our program. All members of the HarvardX community are expected to abide by Harvard policies on nondiscrimination, including sexual harassment, and the edX Terms of Service. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact email@example.com and/or report your experience through the edX contact form.