Be familiar with the major agents of political socialization (family,school, community, peers etc.). This is most important in childhood, starting with the influence of the family, but it actually continues through life. Political awareness and involvement increases with a person's level of formal education and affluence.
During the past 25 years significant changes have occurred in public opinion and political behavior including (a) people becoming less trusting of government institutions and leaders (b) a drop in voter turnout (c) an increase in "ticket-splitting" among voters (d) an erosion of party loyalties, especially among young people (e) an increase in party competition in the South.
Be familiar with the role of the mass media (particularly television) in a democracy. Most Americans get their news from television.
Be familiar with the role of PAC's
PAC spending goes more to congress campaigns that to presidential campaign funds. PAC money also tends to favor incumbents. PAC contributions are limited by law. Corporate PAC's can contribute a maximum of $5,000 per election to a candidate.
Be familiar with media bias (ex. bias against incumbents, liberal or conservative bias among journalists and owners of major news media.
The media helps determine which issues the public thinks are important.
Horserace journalism focuses on day-to-day campaign activities, such as who's winning and losing, not on issues.
Be familiar with the techniques interest groups and corporate lobbyists use to influence the political (but not legal) process. The most effective lobbyists are those experienced with Washington politics and government organizations (ex. former members of Congress or the President's cabinet)
Interests groups link citizens to the political process , tend to focus on narrow issues, and are better able to articulate specific policies than political parties (ex. the NRA).
Lobby groups such as Labor unions may engage in strikes but not block access to a business, ignore a subpoena to appear before a congressional committee, disobey a court order or require their members to make political contributions.
Be familiar with the difference between elite and pluralist theories of politics.