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sevenfourteen's avatar

How can I learn about politics?

Asked by sevenfourteen (2419points) January 17th, 2012

This is quite lengthy, sorry in advance

I don’t know very much about politics and I want to know what’s going on but I don’t know where to start. My ex knows a ton about the subject however he is always biased (which is fine but doesn’t help me). I want to get the facts and decide for myself so that when he is explaining it I can still have an opinion. I also want to know for myself because I want to be able to follow current events and at least know that when something happens I do have the knowledge on how it affects me.The problem is I’m also in grad school and barely have time to sleep never mind attempt to start learning about politics.

Basically what I want to start with is the history, background, rules and very basic things. I don’t know much about American Government either (despite taking 2 courses in an attempt to learn) so it might help if I understand that a little better to understand how the government is divided and what influence that puts on politics etc. If they aren’t as connected as I imagine them to be I do still want to know about government (and feel free to recommend things for that). My end goal is obviously to learn the issues and who stands where but I need to understand the foundation first.

I am open to all suggestions (books, websites, movies, your general knowledge) but PLEASE I want to STRONGLY state that I’m not looking for people to preach to me and/or criticize me for having the courage to admit that I don’t know anything despite being 22 and having a college degree. I welcome any and all unbiased discussion however you must understand that I will ask lots of questions because I know next to nothing.

Thank you.

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13 Answers

marinelife's avatar

If I were you, I would not start with the history. I would start with the next Presidential Election and branch off from there. Read about the major political parties, how they nominate a candidate, etc.

Start with learning about elections including primaries (and caucuses). Read the candidates web sites, and then go to to see how truthful they are being.

You can also learn about election finance including PACs (Political Action Committees).

I would start reading some background on Wikipedia.

Then you can work into the history. This way you will see politics playing about before you, which you may find engaging.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Watch The West Wing. It’s totally biased (though, to be truthful, there’s no unbiased way to learn about politics), but that’s not why I’m suggesting it. Rather, it does a good job of showing how politics works – why Senator so-and-so might be a more powerful figure than the president, how lobbies work their magic, the various angles to consider in each bill, etc. There might be a few terms tossed around that you don’t know, and if you’re watching it for info and not pleasure, you’ll want to Google those terms and really understand what’s going on. But it’s really a great source of information on how American politics work, and really helped me a crazy amount in understanding the 2008 election.

Also, watch the Sunday morning shows (This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC is my favorite, others include Meet the Press, Face the Nation, State of the Union, and Fox News Sunday). They give fairly well-rounded coverage to current political affairs, and some of them can be found online for free, should you (like me) find 7am an unholy hour to wake up just to watch a tv show.

tranquilsea's avatar

I love sites like and The Memory Hole (which sadly seems to be under construction).

As with anything I want to research I start at a point and work backwards and forwards. I usually end up with branches of research that spin off and sometimes I follow a branch and other times I’ll write it down to research later.

You can start with researching the history of the Conservative party (in your country the Republicans) and the Liberal Party (in your country the Democrats). Any time you find something interesting follow it and see what you find.

You can research social movements and how they came about as they are always tied to government in some way. Movements like women’s right to vote, union’s rights, and civil rights.

Research the birth of democracy in Greece and see just how free people really were. Ditto the Republic of Rome. Research monarchies and dictatorships. Research communism, capitalism, fascism and socialism. Read Das Kapital and The Wealth of Nations and even Mein Kampf.

Use Wikipedia as a starting point on all your research. For a funny start on many political topics use and then research the veracity of their articles.

But most importantly keep your eyes and ears open for anything interesting. Also realize that educating yourself is a lifetime pursuit.

sevenfourteen's avatar

Thank you all, this has definitely given me multiple and very diverse starting points. I feel like before it was so overwhelming and I wasn’t sure if I could actually succeed in understanding but these seem like good strategies to really learn.

@tranquilsea it definitely is which is why I enjoy picking large topics of things I don’t know about, however it is challenging sometimes to find the starting point.

fundevogel's avatar

I’m at my most informed when I keep up with The Young Turks podcast. It’s political commentary, and liberal, but they really dig into the issues and they’re not just talking heads. I subscribe to their itunes show but you can also see them on youtube and other places.

submariner's avatar

Maybe it would be easier if you narrow it down a bit and focus on what you are most interested in.

Do you want to know about the constitutional structure of the American government?

Do you want to know how elections are won and lost?

Do you want to know how power is exercised in American society both within governmental structures and outside of them?

Do you want to understand the competing philosophies or ideologies (current and/or historic)?


sevenfourteen's avatar

@submariner my hope would be to eventually touch on each of those a bit, I have no specific goal other than learning more than I know now so it’s really an anything kind of game.

laureth's avatar

This question also has some good answers.

Jaxk's avatar

I would start by reading the Constitution. It will provide the framework and put everything else in context.

laureth's avatar

@Jaxk – But reading about the causes of the American Revolution and the effects of the Articles of Confederation and the Federalist Papers put the Constitution into context. And then, reading about Parliament, the Enclosures, the French/Indian wars, the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell, Jamestown Company and the other colonies, will put that stuff into context. And so on, and so on…

mattbrowne's avatar

Start with history. In detail.

Jaxk's avatar

I would add ‘Ameritopia’ to the list. It is a fairly good description of what the founding fathers were thinking and the influence of some of the past philosophers had on them. It is written by Mark Levin so it will have some conservative bent. I haven’t finished it yet but it does provide a good foundation for why the framers did much of what they did.

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