17.265 | Spring 2007 | Undergraduate

Public Opinion and American Democracy


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

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 Papers 25%
Short Paper 10%
Long Paper 30%

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