|AP Free Response Analysis
Questions, Answers, & Trends
1) At least one graph, chart, quote, or cartoon has shown up on 8 of the 10 AP exams I have seen.
Yes – 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009
No – 2005, 2007
2) Recurring topics (how many times it has appeared in some shape or form on the 10 AP
exams – year or years that it appeared)
- Congress (13)
War making powers, how limited presidential power due to War Powers
Resolution (1 – 2007)
President is Commander in Chief – in charge of the armed forces
Also proposes budget for Pentagon
Appoints heads of the federal bureaucracy (Secr of Defense)
Appoints ambassadors (Ambassador Crocker in Iraq)
Congress: Senate must approve treaties with 2/3rd vote
Control over appropriations & budget
Senate approves presidential appointments (“advice and consent
War Powers Act gives them special powers
As related to Federal Agencies and the Bureaucracy (Iron Triangles) (1 –
Special Interest Groups - Executive Agency
How do Congressional Committees influence Special Interest
Groups? Create laws that help or go against the policy
stances of interest groups, create laws that limit their ability to influence Congressmen (i.e. gift limits, campaign contributions, how quickly members of the government can be lobbyists)
How do Congressional Committees influence Executive Agencies?
Determine their budgets (can add or get rid of programs),
create or adjust laws that provide the power to executive agencies, re-organize the bureaucracy, approve appointments to the heads of the agencies, have oversight over the executive agencies
How do Interest Groups influence Congressional Committees?
Specialization – they are professional that provide
expertise and information on topics that relate to their mission, Lobbying, Campaign contributions
How do Interest Groups influence Executive Agencies?
Specialization – they are professional that provide
expertise and information on topics that relate to their mission, Lobbying, offer lucrative jobs for staffers to leave after working cooperatively with them when in the bureaucracy.
How do Executive Agencies influence Congressional Committees?
Specialization – have the experts that help create policy and influence budgetary process, The success of an agency is needed for the success of a Congressional Committee (FNMA)
How do Executive Agencies influence Interest Groups?
Can create policies that directly affect the policy stances of Interest Groups, Can limit interest groups by creating new policies that affect how quickly members of the bureaucracy can transition to the private sector.
As related to Federal Agencies and the Bureaucracy (Oversight) (1 – 1999)
Congress is EFFECTIVE in overseeing the Bureaucracy by:
1) General Accounting Office. The General Accounting Office is
a non-partisan staff agency that “helps Congress perform its oversight functions by reviewing the activities of the … [bureaucratic agencies]…by investigating the efficiency and effectiveness of policy implementation.” (text) It also sets standards for accounting, provides legal opinion, and settles claims against the government. In simple terms, the GAO reviews the costs of programs to determine if they are exceeding what was previously budgeted by Congress and it also determines the effectiveness of the programs. For example, the GAO evaluated the costs and quality of the Veteran Affairs’ (VA) disability system and it found glaring problems in accounting and implementation of the program.
2) Hearings. Congressional committees and their respective sub-
committees hold hearings in regard to creating the budgets for, writing laws that affect, and for overseeing the actions of executive agencies. In each of these hearings, the legislative entity has influence over the executive agency and can affect changes in its operations. Specifically in regard to oversight, the committee will bring in key members of the agency, often times the heads of that agency, to get greater clarity on a situation. Recently, Tim Geitner, the Secretary of the Treasury, was called to testify in front of the House Committee on Financial Services to explain the actions taken by the Treasury to help rectify the nation’s current financial crisis in April 2009.
Congress is INEFFECTIVE in overseeing the bureaucracy because:
1) Not as much publicity in oversight hearings. Frequently doesn’t
make the news (which is what politicians want to get re-elected). The hearings that get the most attention are the ones that occur after a problem has been uncovered by someone else, typically the media. By this point in time, the damage has already been done. Ex. House Committee on Financial Services questioned former Secretary of the Treasury Paulson (Bush’s Secretary) about the collapse of the lending market and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.
2) Not a high priority. There is only a finite amount of time for
Congressmen to accomplish everything that they need to do. There is less of a priority in doing oversight, instead congressmen spend much more time campaigning, raising money, credit claiming, working to get airtime from media sources. Because of (1) above, it is much less of a priority since it does not help politicians achieve the primary goal of getting themselves re-elected.
Bi-cameral structure (2 – 2006, 2009)
Why bi-cameral? (Two houses)
Compromise at the Constitutional Convention
Ct. Compromise (a.k.a. Compromise)
Merged different ideas from the NJ & Va. Plans
NJ Plan – equal representation
Va. Plan – representation based on population
Allows for different forms of representation
House – 2 year terms, smaller districts, directly elected,
closer to the people, more democratic. (More of a descriptive representation)
Senate – 6 year terms, entire state is the district, rotating
elections, were indirectly elected by the state legislatures (More substantive representation)
Allows for an extra level of checks and balances (in regard to
House: House Rules committee (limits debate,
amendments); sole power of Impeachment
Senate: filibuster (unlimited debate); trial during
impeachment proceedings; “advice & consent clause” (approves treaties, appointments)
Foreign policy powers (1 – 2004)
Ratify treaties – 2/3rd majority vote by the Senate
Declare War - Congress
Approve Ambassadors - Senate
Control Foreign trade through the Commerce clause – Congress
Controls size of the military
Controls budget allocation and appropriations for war endeavors
War Powers Act
Party Leadership in Congress & Congressional Committees (2 – 2003, 2010)
Speaker of the House (only one listed in the Constitution)
1) Appoint all committee chairs
2) Decide on all committee assignments (in regard to
3) Decide on the calendar (what bills get scheduled
Very powerful, House is more hierarchical, 3rd in line to president,
elected by the majority party members in the House.
House Majority Leader: Organizes party members, (ex. Tom DeLay –
House Majority Whip: Round up support for bills, get party members in
Senate Majority Leader: same responsibilities as the Speaker
Senate Majority Whip
Committee Chairmen: Leaders of the Standing committees
Typically selected by the seniority (less so in the Senate)
They can assign bills to the committee calendar and to specific
Assign sub-committee chairs
They can shelve a bill
(Every committee is comprised of a majority of members from the
majority party. Also, every chair is a member of the majority party)
As related to how influenced by Special Interest Groups (1 – 1999)
See above – Iron Triangles
Obstacles for Congress in relation to Campaign Finance Reform (1 – 2000)
Buckley v. Valeo – Supreme ruled that a part of the FECA 71/74 was
unconstitutional. Specifically, individuals can contribute as much as they want to their own campaigns & can not set a maximum expenditure of a campaign unless they take matching funds.
Supreme Court ruled a portion of the BCRA unconstitutional. Congress
can not prohibit minors from contributing to political campaigns.
As part of branch’s influence over fiscal policy (budget) (1 – 2000)
Fiscal policy – taxes and creating the budget
Congress and the CBO receive the president’s budgetary proposal from
the OMB. Congress ultimately all spending measures related to the budget and extra supplementary funding.
Congress also creates taxes. All taxes start in the House.
Ways and Means Committee – creates taxes
Appropriations Committee – all spending bills go thru these committees
As part of Checks & Balances with Executive over domestic policy (1 -2008)
Congress affects Domestic policy (policy within the nation) by:
- creating and passing budget resolutions: Budget is created and
ultimately signed by the Executive branch, but Congress and its committees are responsible for the creating the final version of all budgetary measures, Specifically, it is the Budget Committee and the respective standing committees that determine the fiscal policy for the nation. Also, thanks to the Congressional Budget and Impoundment and Control Act of 1974, the executive branch must spend the money allocated by the budget.
- passing laws that create, refine, or do away with programs:
Congress created programs like Medicare, Social Security, …through the passage of legislation and the executive branch will carry out its implementation
- Senate confirmation or rejection of cabinet secretaries:
- Congress’ Oversight of the Bureaucracy:
In regard to reapportionment, redistricting, and gerrymandering (1 – 2008)
Congressional reapportionment: The reallocation of the number of
representatives each state has in the House of Representatives. Occurs after the census that is required to take place by the Constitution every 10 years.
Why congressional reapportionment is important to states are:
Reapportionment increases or decreases the number of seats a state has
in the House/Congress (not the Senate).
More representatives mean that a state has more influence.
Reapportionment increases or decreases a state’s number of electoral
Congressional redistricting: The drawing/redrawing of House/congressional (not
Senate) district lines. This is done by the respective state legislatures
Gerrymandering: Redistricting in order to:
Specifically benefit one particular party,
To enhance political party strength/to minimize the strength of the
To protect incumbents/to discourage challengers.
To increase minority representation/to decrease minority representation.
To punish foes/to reward friends.
Ex. Texas utilized the process of gerrymandering in 2003. Tom DeLay, the
Republican House Majority leader, funneled money into the state legislature races in his home state of Texas. With this extra finances, coupled with the ideological environment of the late 1990’s and early 2000, Republicans became the majority in the Texas state legislature for the first time in 130 years. As a thank you for DeLay’s assistance, the Texas Republicans in the state legislature redrew the district lines to benefit their party. Before gerrymandering, the Democratically controlled districts outnumbered Republican districts 17 to 15. After the gerrymandering and the following Congressional election, the Republican districts outnumbered the Democratically controlled districts 21 to 11.
(2002 & 2005 were the only two tests that did not have a Congressional question
on them) (In other words, 80% of the time there is at least one essay related to Congress)
- Political Parties (12)
Fundamental goal & how work with interest groups (1 – 2006)
Goal: To get their members elected to government positions
Interest groups assist political parties by:
Providing Monetary contributions or PAC donations
Organization or mobilization of people (GOTV)
Endorsement or recruitment of candidates
Electioneering communication through 527 or 501(c)4 groups
(527 Committees – independent groups that attempt to influence an election, but money for these groups must be disclosed although contributions have no limits)
(501 (c) 4 groups are interest groups that also attempt to influence the political process, but donations to these groups are not required to be disclosed – the NRA, AARP, and MoveOn.org all 501 (c) 4 groups)
Third Parties, obstacles to victory, contributions (1 – 2004)
How affected as a result of divided government, decline in trust and confidence in
government (1 – 2004)
As a method of political participation (1 – 2003)
As a linkage institution, ways political parties connect citizens to the government
(1 – 2010)
Provides cues to voters
In closed primary systems, registration provides ability to vote in primary
Provides access to like-minded people (share information, access to
politicians that are similar to constituent)
As part of a question on how the majority party in each chamber of Congress
affects the leadership and legislative process (1 – 2003, 1 - 2010)
As part of question on Divided government (1 -2002)
How they helped and hindered minorities in achieving their political goals (1 –
As part of its influence on gerrymandering (1 – 2008)
As part of Supreme Court nominees’ previous experience (1 – 2000)
Regions they are dominant and why (1 – 2000)
(Appears on 70% of the tests, but mostly as part of a free response, NOT as an
entire question.) (40% of tests had 2 questions related to it.)
- knowledge of Specific Legislation (12)
War Powers Resolution (1 -2007)
Expands power of the Legislative Branch
Occurs during time of Watergate
President must notify Congress within 48 hours of sending troops into a
Within 60 days, president must get permission from Congress or a
declaration of war from Congress to allow troops to stay
Invoked in the multinational forces in Lebanon in the early 1980’s & in
November 1993, the Congress used its power to withdraw US troops from Somalia.
President George W. Bush asked for Congress to authorize military
action in Iraq as a tool to negotiate Saddam Hussein. Congress did NOT want military action, but gave permission to the president as a last resource. This satisfied the requirements of the War Powers Resolution.
Campaign Finance Reform Acts (1971/74 FECA & 2002 BCRA) (1 – 2005)
Limits the possibility of corruption in raising money for campaigns
& increases transparency.
Created matching funding for primaries & general election\
Hard money maximum of $1000
Creates FEC – bi-partisan group to oversee & enforce
implementation of FECA
Hard money maximum applies to individuals contributing to own
campaign (Buckley v. Valeo rules this unconstitutional)
Limits amount spent by a campaign (Buckley v. Valeo rules this
unconstitutional. Only constitutional if accepted federal funding.)
Outlaws campaign contributions from businesses and unions
FECA laws lead to the creations of:
Soft Money – money for party building activities
BCRA (McCain-Feingold bill) of 2002
Outlaws Soft Money in federal elections
Raises hard money contributions to $2000 per person per election,
increasing $100 every other year. $5000 for PACS
Outlaws donations by minors (found unconstitutional)
Electioneering communication – money spent/advertising spent to
help one candidate or to hurt another without official permission of the campaign.
As part of First Amendment question, need to know laws that were parts of
each case (1 – 2007)
Establishment clause: NYS’ creation of a non-denominational prayer
Freedom of speech/press: Shield laws – reporters do not have to reveal
Freedom of religion – free exercise clause: Florida law that outlawed
animal sacrifice was deemed unconstitutional because it targeted Santeria. Oregon law that outlawed peyote was constitutional because it did not specifically target tribal religions.
As part of Federalism, how used to increase state power (Welfare Reform
Act of 1996) (1 – 2007)
Commerce Clause: federal government regulates interstate commerce.
Civil Rights Act of 1964: utilized commerce clause to protect
people based upon race, sex, ethnicity, national origin and religion in terms of hiring & firing
Americans with Disabilities with Act: Congress forced businesses
to change their structures (wheel chair ramps, handicap bathrooms). This is an unfunded mandate.
Welfare Reform Act of 1996: Passed by the Conservative Republicans in
Congress under the leadership of Newt Gingrich and signed by Bill Clinton. Required strong work requirements of welfare recipients, limited the amount of time that states could keep individuals on welfare rolls. Allowed states to create their own programs to attain the requirements & benchmarks established by the federal government.
As part of Federalism, how used to expand federal power (Americans with
Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Clean Air Act) (1 – 2005)
Americans with Disabilities Act: Unfunded mandate. Commerce clause
used to require the businesses of a state to comply with this federal legislation. Required, a company with more than 20 people must have handicap entrance and accessibility (ramps, elevators in multi-story businesses, handicap bathrooms). Sidewalks must also have handicap ramps.
Civil Rights Act of 1964: Commerce clause used to enforce. Outlaws
literacy test in federal elections; segregation in public places; the discrimination of race, sex, religion, national origin, and ethnic background in employment hiring & firing. Also, provision that required integration of public schools or it would result in a loss of federal funding.
Clean Air Act of 1990: George H. W. Bush, standing in front of Grand
Tetons – example of a media event. Unfunded mandate. Established national air quality standards, but required the states to administer them and appropriate funds. This re-newed and strengthened the 1970 Clean Air Act.
As part of Selective Incorporation question, need to know state laws that
were part of each case (1 – 2005)
Selective Incorporation: Applying the Bill of Rights to the states after
Gitlow v. NY in 1925 utilizing the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.
As part of federal mandates (2 – 2007, 2003)
Cross – cutting mandates: ex. Raising of drinking age to 21 otherwise
states lost transportation funding. (Money is tied to categorical grants)
As part of Federalism question, helping and hindering minorities (1 – 2002)
Voting Rights Act of 1965: Main purpose was to increase voting of blacks.
Outlaw literacy tests in state election. The Justice Dept was
allowed to utilize federal Marshalls to implement. Public servants were commissioned to register black voters. States that had historically disenfranchised minorities could not change their election laws without oversight from the federal government (ex. Georgia Voter ID, Texas’ redistricting)