Bittner teaches a variety of courses from year to year, across all levels. Descriptions for some courses and recent syllabi are below.
POSC1000: Introduction to Politics
Everybody from your grandma to your next door neighbor thinks they know something about politics. How much do you know? How do governments form? How do citizens get to express their opinions? Do politicians play a different role in different countries, or is politics the same everywhere? This course provides an introduction to politics, from how citizens think and act to the institutions that structure the way politics happens every day. We will focus on many different countries and political systems to gain a broader understanding of what politics is all about. After this, you can debate with grandma all day long.
Link to fall 2016 syllabus: 1000-w2017-syllabus
POSC3350: Public Opinion and Voting
Barack Obama is soaring in the polls. Two thirds of “rich” Americans think they’re poor. One quarter of Canadian Conservative supporters said they voted for Justin Trudeau because they don’t like Harper’s attitude. We read poll results in the news every day. Do we really believe them? Whose values are being reported, anyway? And why do people think they way they do? This course will look in-depth at public opinion: how it’s measured, its origins, and its impact on society and government. You will never see polling results the same way again.
Link to recent syllabus: posc-3350-syllabus-2017
POSC3355: Sex, Scandals, and Elections
Politics can be dirty. We’ve seen sex scandals (e.g. Lewinsky, Spitzer, Packwood, Craig, Foley, Weiner); Congressional & Judicial Scandals (e.g. House Banking Scandal, Abscam, Keating Five, Koreagate; Clarence Thomas Affair); and power scandals (e.g. Watergate) in the American context. The Canadian context is not scandal-free either (e.g. Sponsorship Scandal; Airbus Affair; Shawinigate; Robocall Scandal; Senate Scandal). Do scandals matter? What impact do scandals have on citizen trust? On candidates? On political campaigns? How does media coverage affect the impact of corruption and scandals?
This course considers the above and other questions related to political scandal and corruption in election campaigns. We will focus mainly on American elections and campaigns, and the course coincides with the 2016 American Election, providing a useful backdrop from which to assess literatures related to voters, public opinion, campaigns, and scandals. By the end of the course, students will be able to better navigate campaigns and elections, and in particular, will be able to marshal voting behavior literature and theoretical perspectives to understand the impact of past scandals and the potential impact of future scandals for voters & electoral democracy.
Link to fall 2016 syllabus: POSC3355syllabus2016
POSC4340: Women and Mass Politics: Behavior and Participation
For centuries women have been excluded from mainstream politics, and the legacy of this exclusion remains. To this day women are marginalized in our political system, missing from the highest administrative posts, and they continue to participate in lower numbers than men. This course explores women’s political behavior and participation, focusing primarily on the experiences of women in North America. We will look at women’s efforts to secure political rights from the mid-19th century onward, as well as assessing women’s attitudes towards politics, participation, and public policy. Over the course of the semester we will address systemic and institutional barriers to participation, as well as looking at the effects of women’s participation in politics, both in conventional institutional settings as well as non-conventional forms of activism. Women’s behavior is different from that of men, but it also varies across women. What are these differences? How does non-participation affect the translation of group and individual interests into policies? How big a problem is it if women don’t vote, don’t run for office, and don’t legislate? We will explore these and other normative questions.
Link to recent syllabus: Bittner43402015
POSC6000: Political Science Concepts
This seminar provides an overview of important theoretical and methodological issues in political analysis based on readings in philosophy of science, political behavior, rational choice, feminism, qualitative analysis, and post‑modernism, among other things. The subject matter of this seminar is applicable to all sub‑fields of the discipline. The course is meant to give a taste of some of the various debates, controversies, and issues in political analysis, as well as providing a general sense of the plurality of approaches that exist in the field as a whole. No two political scientists are the same, and the ways in which they choose to approach research questions are often very different. At the end of this course students should have a basic understanding of some (not all) of the different kinds of things that political scientists “do,” and should be able to situate themselves to some degree within the field. We all have preferences of our own, and all approaches have tradeoffs. When we consider a research question, it is important to think about the methodological and ontological tradeoffs involved with approaching the question from different angles. The tools gained in this course should be useful to all future research in political analysis.
Link to recent syllabus: to be updated
POSC6500: Political Behavior
The attitudes of voters are constantly being discussed and hashed out. Newspaper headlines are full of it, election campaigns focus on it, party leaders and their spin doctors constantly think about it, and all because we think it has an impact on elections and government decisions. But how much do we actually know about political behavior and public opinion? Where do the numbers come from? What types of questions are being asked? Can we really trust the information we’re given? This course takes a detailed look at political behavior from a number of different angles: from how we measure it, to how citizens answer questions, to what types of things affect opinion, to what kind of effect opinion has on governments. We will look at the issue of how much people actually “know” about the questions they’re answering, as well as the media’s influence in shaping opinion. Opinion is not set in stone, it’s not permanent. So how do we account for shifts? Answers to these questions will become clearer as we read through some of the original academic work by leading scholars from Canada, the United States, and Europe. One of the most interesting questions of all will be woven into all of our discussions: what is the impact of all of this on our understanding of democracy?
Link to recent syllabus: to be updated