Public Opinion and American Democracy >> Content Detail



Course Overview

Welcome to Public Opinion and American Democracy. This course will examine public opinion and assess its place in the American political system. The course will emphasize both how citizens' thinking about politics is shaped and the role of public opinion in political campaigns, elections, and government. While the course will focus on research on the current state of public opinion, throughout the course we will also discuss historical developments in opinion and its place in politics, including changes that arose with the development of polling and with the advent of television and other electronic media. We will also consider normative questions, including the role opinion should play in American democracy.

Requirements and Expectations

You are expected to attend every class session. You are further expected to come prepared to discuss the issues raised in the readings. Please read the assigned materials before class on the date they are listed.

To meet the purpose of the course, you will be expected to both consume and digest readings from scholarly and journalistic sources. You are also expected to be aware of current events, especially relating to American politics. I highly recommend that you subscribe to and read a national newspaper, such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

Each week, one-half of the class will be required to write a short essay responding to the week's readings, no longer than two single-spaced pages. Students will also be required to write two papers for the class. More details about these papers can be found in assignments .


Your grade will be determined as follows:


Participation (regular attendance and participation in class discussion is required)

Weekly Papers25%
Short Paper10%
Long Paper30%

I expect that all papers will be turned in on time: no exceptions; no excuses. In addition, plagiarism is entirely unacceptable. Should you turn in a plagiarized paper, appropriate University sanctions will be pursued. If you are unclear what constitutes plagiarism, please talk to me. Finally, grades for your paper will be based on both substance and style. The papers will be graded on the quality of thought and analysis, the research you do, and the quality of writing. Use proper grammar, appropriate language and (please, please, please) proofread and spell-check the final copy of you paper before turning it in.


The Meaning and Measurement of Public Opinion
1The Meaning of Public Opinion
2Measuring Public Opinion: Sampling and Collecting Data
3The Survey Interview and the Nature of the Survey Response
Democratic Competence
4Political Knowledge, Sophistication, and Democratic CompetenceShort paper due
5Ideology and the Organization of Opinion
Building from the Ground Up: Opinion Ingredients and the Foundations of Public Preferences
6Self Interest (or Symbolic Politics)
7Groups in American Politics: Us and Them
8Core Values
Society and Politics
9Framing, Priming, and Media Effects
10Collective Opinion and Representation
Public Opinion and Policy
11Public Opinion and Public Policy
12Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Final Reflections
13Conclusion - Public Opinion and American DemocracyLong paper due


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