In this class we spend a lot of time reading about and listening about and thinking about states in general. That includes thinking about the comparative method and how to compare and contrast states in meaningful ways that tell us something about the causes of their differences. We also spend some time looking specifically at Florida, which makes sense since our college is located in Florida and many of you either currently call the state home, or have done so in the past. In this assignment I would like to give you an opportunity to learn more about a state of your choosing, and then we will use the comparative method to ascertain differences between your chosen state and Florida and then try to explain the causes of those differences. The total paper should be between 2300 to 2800 words. That is nine to eleven pages or so if you are double-spacing and using standard fonts, but it’s the word count that matters. This is a substantial assignment; for many of you it might be the longest paper you have yet written in college. The good news is that it’s a very structured assignment, and if you instead think of it as three smaller papers (see below) it is not nearly so intimidating!
Components of the Paper
There are essentially three components to this paper. Feel free to structure your paper in this order or in any other way you see fit:
1) Description of the government structure and politics of the state you have chosen.
2) Compare and contrast that state with the government and politics of Florida.
3) Explain why you think those differences exist – what are the root causes of them?
Section 1 – Description of Chosen State
This section is going to comprise the bulk of your paper. I would like you to describe for the reader (that’s me, in case you didn’t know) the following about your chosen state: how does it divide power among its three branches? Does it seem to have a particularly powerful governor or legislature? How does the legislature work? Are there term limits? How long do people serve for? Who holds the real power in the state? What is the partisan breakdown of the state? Does one party seem to win more often than another? What is the political culture of the state? How does its history seem to affect its current politics? Who are the major interest groups or economic sectors that power the economy of the state? What are the big issues currently in state politics there?
I would expect this part of the paper to be about two-thirds of the length of the paper in total and it’s mostly descriptive. I’m not really asking you to analyze much here. You’re gathering the information you’ll need for the next two sections.
Section 2 – Comparison with Florida
In this section of the paper I would like you compare your state with Florida on a number of dimensions: demographics, economics, government structure, political culture, important interest groups, and party balance. You’re not necessarily trying to explain the differences yet (that will be Section 3), but since there’s some overlap it’s also totally okay if you combined the two sections.
Section 3 – Explanation of Differences
In this section of the paper I would like you to hypothesize about the sources of the differences you found in Section 2. What might explain why your chosen state and Florida are different on these dimensions? Is it political culture? History? Geography? Demography? Climate? For this section I am grading you based on the plausibility of your analysis, along with the quality of any evidence you present for it.
Number of Sources
I am asked pretty much every semester some version of the question “how many sources does my paper need to have?” This is a weird question to me, since the honest answer is “how ever many you need to write a good paper”, but I get why students ask it. A little guidance is always a good thing. Let me say this, then. It would be very hard to do well on this paper with less than five academic sources (i.e. not Wikipedia, Investopedia, and other encyclopedic sources). You probably will want more than that, but at a minimum I’d be aiming for that. Once you hit five sources that doesn’t mean you are done doing research – if three of your sources are all about one part of the paper then you’re going to need more in total to write a compelling paper.
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