An American Perspective on Political Campaigns

Course content

Course Description 


The course will examine the operations and tactics of modern political campaigns in the United States and explore the effects - positive and negative - that the campaigns have on the surrounding citizenry. 


In order to reflect how the election of Donald Trump upended some assumptions about effective campaigning and reconfirmed others, the syllabus will be (further) adjusted to include relevant material published between now and the beginning of the spring semester. 


The students will be graded based on oral exams. The course language will be English.


The course will cover

  • An overview of how political campaigning has evolved historically in the United States
  • The primary system and the Electoral College system
  • The influence of the winner-take-all system
  • Voter behavior patterns and causes
  • Voter segmentation and targeting
  • On-the-ground campaigning and volunteer operations
  • Candidate positioning
  • Campaign finance
  • The role of parties
  • Comparative excerpts from classic campaign literature
  • The increasing role played by Big Data
  • The ways in which the rise of round-the-clock news coverage and the rapidly growing reach of social media have influenced and continue to influence campaigning
  • Real-life examples of effective campaigns, negative campaigning, campaign ads, televised debates, controversial campaign strategies and methods, voter manipulation and voter disenfranchisement 





!! The structure of this course will be blended !! 


Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS



The course is scheduled tuesdays from 15-17.

Learning outcome


Upon completion of the class, students will have gained an understanding of the dynamics of political campaigning in the context of the American political system. As the course is empirical in nature, students will be familiar with the development of campaigns at the national level, with American federal law guiding campaigns, as well as with the historical background and public debate surrounding them. 



Upon completion of the class, students will we able to identify key elements to a successful political campaign, they will be able to devise a strategy for how to prioritize the resources of a political campaign, they will be able to understand the interplay of the core elements of a campaign, and they will appreciate the need for constant flexibility in running campaigns.



Students will be able to explain rationales behind different types of decisions made by campaigns, be able to explain the constrictions and rules that campaigns must comply with, and be able to argue how various elements may ultimately have or not had an impact on specific past campaigns.

Tentative syllabus


Core readings:


‘Campaigns and Elections’, John Sides, et. al., 2015, W.W. Norton


‘Game Change’, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, 2010, Harper Collins


‘The Victory Lab’, Sasha Issenberg, 2013, Broadway Books


The 2016 U.S. Election (collection of articles), Galston, Sides et. al., April 2017, Journal of Democracy


Various online material (details upon request)

Rudimentary knowledge of the United States is required (number of states, form of government etc.).

Keeping up to date with current events in the two major 2020 presidential elections campaigns throughout the semester is required.

The students should be able to explain themselves in English in writing as well as during an oral presentation/oral exam.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral exam with a synopsis
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28