Essentials of American Politics

David McKay

First Edition • January 1, 2000 • 448 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813367552 • $51.00 USD$63.99 CAN

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Essentials of American Politics is an undergraduate text with a novel analytical and comparative focus. It takes as a central theme the increasing tension in American politics between a general philosophy of limited government and particular public demands for more and better government programs and services. While this has always been a feature of the American polity, recent events have brought it into sharp focus. Both a Republican Congress and Democratic president extol the virtues of less government but continue to grapple with demands for improved education, health care, transportation and almost every other area of social and economic life. All praise the virtues of lower taxation and at the same time promise improvements in the quality of public services. A similar tension applies in the courts, in state politics and indeed throughout the system. Recent successes such as a balanced budget have been achieved in part because the limited government philosophy has been on the ascendant and has won support from all shades of political opinion. But conflicts over the distributional questions of who gets what has hardly subsided.In few other democracies is this tension as well defined as in the United States and Essentials reminds readers of this fact through comparison with democratic processes in other countries, and in particular with European countries.

Essentials weaves this theme into a discussion of American national politics. Up to date and well organized chapters are devoted to beliefs and values, the Constitution, federalism, Congress, presidency, the federal bureaucracy, interest groups and the courts. Policy chapters include economic, social and foreign affairs. In all chapters the analytical approach explains to students some of the main controversies in American political science. At all times Essentials seeks to impart basic information on American politics in an analytical but stimulating manner.


  • Concise format of 17 chapters that cover institutions, behavior and policy arenas.
  • Theme of American’s general philosophy of limited government versus our particular demands for expanded government programs and services.
  • Rich, comparative examples (Britain, Canada, and Mexico versus U.S.) throughout the book’s narrative.

David McKay is Professor of Government at the University of Essex and Visiting Professor at the University of California Santa Barbara. He is the author of numerous books and articles on American and comparative politics, including, most recently, Federalism and European Union: A Political Economy Perspective (OUP, 1999).

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