Thursday, 19 September 2013

American voices: seeking opinions on key questions

I wrote last week that I'm looking for some Americans with opinions to take part in preparing the content for a course I'm teaching at the University of Reading  this year (it's pronounced 'Redding' - it's not a pretentious book-based learning establishment!). As I plough on preparing my lectures and seminars for the American Government course , the issues I'd like some American Voice comments on are emerging. At a high level, the immediate ones are:


  • How do you regard Congress?
  •  Does it represent your aims?
  •  How effective is it in delivering on its power of oversight?
  •  Is the balance right between Congress and the President?

The Presidency

  • Are you comfortable with the way the President uses his powers?
  • How would you score the current presidency out of 10 - and why?
  • Who is/was the USA's greatest president - and why?
  • Who's at the bottom of the Presidential poll for you - and why|
  • Do you believe presidential power is in decline? Why/why not?
  • Who will be the white House's next incumbent and why?
The Supreme Court

  • Do you believe Americans understand the role that the Supreme Court plays in government today?
  • Is the Court doing a good job? Why/why not?
  • Inverting Alexander Hamilton, some commentators regard the Supreme Court as the most dangerous and least democratic aspect of US government today. Is that a fair assessment? Why/why not?
Political Parties and elections

  • How effective do you feel the two party system is in US politics?
  • In your opinion, what unites and what divides each of the US' two main parties?
  • What do the Republicans need to do to regain the White House?
  • What do the Democrats need to do to retain the White House?
  • Why is there so often a disconnect between voting patterns at local/State/Congressional and presidential levels?
  • Can one party ever dominate across the US political spectrum?

  • What effect has sequestration had on your views on the current US political situation?
  • Do you believe the wrangling over healthcare reform has enhanced or damaged both the President and Congressional opponents?
  • What impact is Syria having on the standing of the President and Congress?
  • Have recent debates around gay marriage and also voting rights affected your view of the Supreme Court?

  • Why are so many Americans often so critical of 'big government'?
  • What role does the media play in US politics today?
  • Do you feel the media is a power for good in US politics? Why/why not?
  • Is social media affecting today's political scene - and if so, how?
Capital punishment

  • What's your view on the death penalty - is it right that the US retains the right to execute wrongdoers?
Gun control

  • What's your view on gun control?
  • Why is it such a contentious issue in US politics?
  • Will events such as Aurora, Newtown or the Navy Yard shootings have any effect politically?

  • Which interest groups have the greatest impact on US politics, and why?
  • Do interest groups enhance or detract from the US political scene - why and how?
Civil rights
  • Do you believe the US is now a fair and equitable society for all? Why/why not?
  • How much power and influence does religion have in US politics?
  • Is that power on the rise or decline?
  • Does its rise or decline matter?
America and the World
  • What effect, if any, do you feel that current US politics has on the standing of the nation in the world?
  • Does the rest of the world's view of the US actually matter? Why/why not?
Would you be willing to answer these questions and share your views with a bunch of Reading University second year undergrads?

No responses need to be attributed fully - I'm looking at something like 'Fred, a store owner from Florida said...' - just enough to give the students a sense of whose opinion they're hearing.

I'm very happy to take written responses to all or any of the questions - or, for the more daring, sound or even movie files.

Interested? If you'd like to find out more or are even tentatively interested in taking part, email me at and I can fill you in on the details

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