Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to the vast literature devoted to public opinion. In the next 12 weeks, we will survey the major theoretical approaches and empirical research in the field of political behavior (though we will only tangentially discuss political participation and voting). For the most part we will focus on American public opinion, though some of the work we will read is comparative in nature.

Each seminar will center on a critical analysis of the assigned readings for the week. Although I hope that much of our class time will be spent in group discussion, I will typically open with a commentary on the week's readings. At the end of each seminar I will introduce the next week’s readings – describing them briefly and suggesting issues for you to think about.

Each week, one-half of the class will be required to write a short essay responding to the week's readings, no longer than one single-spaced page. These essays should try to engage a number of the week’s readings, by, for example, doing one or more of the following: juxtaposing and commenting on alternative explanations or approaches to a substantive topic; criticizing the methodologies used and proposing other strategies of research; criticizing the conceptualization and/or measurement of a  particular construct; analyzing the implications of a set of findings; suggesting new questions or hypotheses for research; developing similarities and contrasts with arguments or research found in the readings from previous weeks. More generally, these papers should contain an argument, not a summary or description of the readings. These papers should be turned in to me no later than noon on the Monday before the scheduled Tuesday meeting. I will comment on them and turn them back at the end of Tuesday’s session. These essays will serve as the starting point for our discussion.


Your grade will depend on your performance on these papers (25%), your participation in class discussions (quality of participation weighted by volume of participation, another 25%), and a term paper due at the end of the term (50%). This paper may take several forms: a standard literature review on a topic of your choosing; a report of original empirical research; even a first run at a dissertation prospectus. I will provide more details about this paper later in the term.