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Chapter 14 Politics and Government

Social Issues in the News

“Student Leaders Vote to Oppose 21-Only,” the headline said. In September 2010, the student government at the University of Iowa voted 16–9 to endorse the repeal of a bar ordinance in Iowa City. Adopted by the City Council the previous spring, the ordinance bans people younger than 21 from the city’s bars after 10:00 p.m.; before the ordinance was adopted, 19- and 20-year-olds were allowed in the bars. Although the ordinance was meant to reduce underage drinking, student leaders argued that it instead made it more likely that students would end up at house parties where they would “engage in substantially heavier binge drinking and are left vulnerable to not only their own mistakes but the mistakes of others.” A university sophomore agreed with this analysis: “I think if you are underage, there isn’t much else for you to do. And there is the safety issue.” Another sophomore applauded the student government vote. “I think it is very important students take a stand,” he said. “This represents that the entire UI student body is against the ordinance.” (Morelli, 2010)Morelli, B. A. (2010, September 15). Student leaders vote to oppose 21-only. Iowa City Press-Citizen. Retrieved from http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20100915/NEWS20100901/29150313/Student-leaders-vote-to-oppose-20100921-only

The University of Iowa student government’s vote on a bar ordinance is just one illustration, though perhaps not on the most momentous issue, of democracy in action. Voting and elections are certainly a defining feature of the United States and other democracies, but voting remains only a dream in much of the world. And although the United States is one of the world’s leading democracies, many people fail to vote and otherwise participate in the political process. When the 20th century ended little more than a decade ago, Americans everywhere paused to reflect on its most significant events, including two World Wars, the Great Depression, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and the unleashing of the nuclear age. We thought about these and other events not only because they were historically important but also because they told us something about our society and the changes the last century brought. In all these events, our political system played a fundamental role.

This chapter discusses what sociologists and other social scientists say about politics and government. We will examine the dimensions of power and authority, the types of political systems, politics and political participation in the United States, and major aspects of war and terrorism, two violent phenomena in which governments are intricately involved whether or not they wish to be. The chapter ends with some sociological suggestions on how to achieve the Constitution’s goal of “a more perfect union.”