Strategic Political Communication Syllabus

Syllabus: Strategic Political Communication Fall 2017

DRAFT v.1 – Updated 8/1/17

“The world is still in want of clear-headed citizens, tempered by historical perspective,

disciplined by rational thinking and moral compass, who speak well and write plainly.”

Lee Pelton, President of Emerson College



Short essays: 10% each, total of 40% (details below)
Final Exam: 25% (details below)
Major Paper: 25% (details below)
Participation and attendance: 10%
I will take attendance every class. Every unexcused absence will cost you 1% of your participation grade. Excused absences need to be approved in advance or sufficiently defended after the fact.

In addition to showing up, you are expected to meaningfully participate in the class discussions. This means doing and thinking about the readings, paying attention to the political world around you and thinking about it in terms of the course. You should have ideas and opinions and be able to defend them as critical ideas to be explored, not puppies to be protected. You should also be prepared to speak to your issue in every class. You will not be rewarded for just talking a lot.


Each student will be asked to select an issue to track over the course of the semester. Three of your short papers and your final research paper will focus on this issue. You should be prepared to talk about your issue in every class period.


No late papers will be accepted.

You will have four short essays and a final paper. The first short essay is a reflection on ethics, the other three focus on the issue you are tracking this semester. The final paper is a strategy for advancing the issue you choose. The details of the papers are in the schedule below and will be discussed in class.

Your short essays may be no more than two pages, double spaced. Extreme efforts to shrink fonts or extend margins to make an essay fit in two pages will be punished. I will stop reading the essay at the bottom of page two and grade you on what I have read. Your short essays should be emailed to me by the start of the class period in which they are due.  Each short essay is worth 10% of your final grade (a total of 40%).

Your final paper should roughly be between 12 – 18 pages. Do not stretch a good 10 page paper to hit an artificial minimum, and do not cut short a great 25 page paper. Final papers are due in hard copy to me by the start of the final class of the semester. The paper is worth 25% of your final grade.

No Late Papers Will Be Accepted. If I do not accept a paper you receive a 0 on it.


You will have a take home final exam. The exam will be emailed out after the last class session and will be due at the end of the scheduled final exam period for the class. The exam is worth 25% of your final grade.



On Writing Well by William Zinsser – Available in most decent bookstores and online

Everything else is listed in the schedule below

You can expect additional readings to be emailed throughout the semester

Helpful online resources:

The Goodman Center – and Free Range Thinking –

Hatch for Good –

Frameworks Institute –

Organizing: People, Power, Change (Ganz) and the Organizing Handbook –

The Campaign Workshop –


You have several ethical responsibilities in this course.  This is a small group, in a small space, for several hours at a time.  For this adventure to work for all of us, each of us needs to do the readings and think about them.  We must respect each other’s positions on the readings, and honor intellectual experiments (the “what if….” positions); that means people should be willing and able to change their minds, to defend their positions, and challenge the positions of others.  Critically, one should never confuse an argument with the person making the argument – positions are not people. This means you should not attack people, only their claims and you should do so based on reasoning.  Similarly, you should defend your positions as if they were ideas to be kicked around, not children to be protected.

Cheating and plagiarizing are not acceptable.  They will be punished to the greatest extent permitted by The George Washington University policy.  All exams, papers, and other work products are to be completed in conformance with The George Washington University Code of Academic Integrity.


Aug 29            Introduction.

Aug 31            The course in an hour – lecture

Read: “Stop Raising Awareness Already” Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand Stanford Social Innovation Review Spring 2017

Sept 5              The role of strategic political communication in a democracy

Read: Protagoras by Plato

Sept 7              The role of strategic political communication in democracy, cont.

Read: “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell 

Sept 12            FIRST ESSAY DUE: What ethical responsibilities do you have, if any, to our political process when engaging in strategic political communication?

Discuss Essays

No Late Papers Will Be Accepted

Sept 14            Campaign Logistics

Discuss strategic campaign planning – the structure into which good thinking goes.

Read: “Planning to Win” and “Smart Chart 3.0” from Spitefire Strategies (the other tools are also worth perusing)

“We Will Not Conform Action Plan” from Freedom Works

“Developing Strategy” Chapter Four of the Midwest Academy book

Sept 19            Narrative

Discuss human beings as story-telling “sense makers”

Read: Academic piece on narrative TBD

“A Tale of Two Fundraisers” Free Range Thinking April 2016

Chapter nine of “Organizing: People, Power, Change” (pp. 9-14)

Sept 21            Second Paper Due – No Late Papers Will Be Accepted

The current communications state of your issue. What topic will you be following this fall? What is the political and communication status of the issue?

Discuss essays

Sept 26            Power

Discuss power in policy decision making

Read: “Two Faces of Power” Peter Bachrach and Morton S. Baratz American Political Science Review Vol 56 No 4 Dec 1962 pp. 947-952

Sept 28            Power Mapping Exercise

Map the power in your issues

Read: Any power mapping tool or template you find online

Oct 3               Lobbying Policymakers

Discuss strategic political communication and lobbying elected officials

Read: “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy” Richard L. Hall and Alan V. Deardorff, American Political Science Review Vol. 100 No. 1 Feb. 2006 pp 69 – 84

“Partners in Advocacy: Lobbyists and Government Officials in Washington” Christine Mahoney and Frank R. Baumgartner Journal of Politics Vol. 77 No. 1 Dec. 16 2014 pp. 202-215

Oct 5               Lobbying Policymakers, case studies

Discuss case studies

Read: “Can Private Money Buy Public Science? Disease Group Lobbying and Federal Funding for Biomedical Research” Deepak Hegde and Bhaven Sampat Management Science Vol. 61 No. 10 Oct 2015 pp. 2281 – 2298

“More than 80 Percent of Patient Groups Accept Drug Industry Funds, Study Shows” Kate Thomas The New York Times March 1, 2017 

“Mickey Goes to Washington” Jeffrey H. Birnbaum Washington Post Magazine Feb 17, 2008 

Oct 10             NO CLASS – FALL BREAK

Oct 12             Issue framing

Read: “A Change of Mind or a Change of Focus: A theory of choice reversals in politics” by Bryan Jones, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory Vol. 4 No. 2 (April 1994) pp 144 – 177

“Win the Debate, Not Just the Case” Linda Greenhouse, The New York Times July 14, 2002

“Agenda Setting and the Albuquerque Clean Indoor Air Ordinance” James Farmer and Charles Kozel, American Journal of Health Education Vol. 36  No. 5, Sept/Oct 2005 p 313

Oct 17             Issue framing, cont.

Read: “Not For Profit Advocacy: Challenging Policy Images and Pursuing Policy Change” Shannon Vaughan and Shelly Arseneault Review of Policy Research Vol. 25 Issue 5, Sept 2, 2008 pp 411-428

Oct 19             Third Essay Due: No late papers will be accepted

How is your issue framed? What are the policy implications of that framing? How can it be framed differently for your side to win?

Discuss essays

Oct 24             Confirmation bias

Discuss why you were right all along            

Read: “Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs” Charles S. Taber and Milton Lodge  American Journal of Political Science Vol. 50 No. 3 July 2006 pp. 755-769

“How Your Brain Tricks You Into Thinking You’re the Reasonable One” Angela Chen The Verge Nov 23 2016

“Fact Checking Can Change Views? We Rate That as Mostly True” Brendan Nyhan, The Upshot Nov. 5 2016

Oct 26             Opposition Research

Discuss the importance of knowing your opponents

Read: “Every Step You Take, Every Move You Make” David Weigel Slate Jan 13 2014

“Political Operatives Find Demand for their Skills in the Business World” Patrick O’Connor The Wall Street Journal May 1 2016

Oct 31             Popular Culture and Political Persuasion

Discuss the impact of pop culture on public policy

Read: “Archie Bunker’s Bigotry: A Study in Selective Perception and Exposure” Neil Vidmar and Milton Rokeach Journal of Communication  Winter 1974

“The Simpsons, 24, and the Law: How Homer Simpson and Jack Bauer Influence Congressional Lawmaking and Judicial Reasoning” Steven Keslowitz  Cardozo Law Review Vol 29 No 6 2008

Nov 2              Pop Culture, cont.

Al Gore won an Oscar, so why is it so hot out?

Read: “The Designated Driver Campaign: Why it worked” Jay Winsten, HuffPost

“West Wing Babies” Julie Weiner Vanity Fair April 2012

 Nov 7              Social Media

 Discuss reach and impact of social media

Read: “What Makes Online Content Go Viral?” Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman Journal of Marketing Research

“Sharing beyond Slacktivism: the effect of socially observable prosocial media sharing on subsequent offline helping behavior” Daniel S. Lane and Sonya Dal Sin Information Communication and Society July 2017

Nov 9              Social Media Tactics

What experts think works

Read: M+R Toolshed social media tools (you can also read the fundraising tools, but we will not be discussing those)

Nov 14            Radio, TV, and Print

Discuss the impact of legacy media

Read: “The Great Divide: Campaign Media in the American Mind” Diana Mutz Deadalus Vol 141 No 4 2012

Nov 16            Legacy media cont.


Nov 21            Fourth Essay Due: No late papers will be accepted

Preview your final paper: Where will you take your issue and why?

Discuss essays

Nov 23            NO CLASS –THANKSGIVING

Nov 28                        TBD

Nov 30                        Report on Projects

Dec 5               FINAL PAPER DUE



Final Exam due at the end of the scheduled final exam period for the class

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.