GV4J3      Half Unit
Public Opinion, Political Psychology and Citizenship

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Thomas Leeper


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics and MSc in Political Science and Political Economy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


Students should have a familiarity with basic statistical concepts (e.g., means, proportions, linear regression).

Course content

The purpose of this course is to explore issues related to public opinion, including what opinions are and how they are formed, what factors do and do not influence opinion development and change, how opinions drive citizens' political thinking and behaviour, and what implications these psychological processes have for the role of public opinions in democratic government. Students will leave the course with a thorough theoretical understanding of political opinions, their origins, and their possible effects through exposure to philosophical perspectives, contemporary case studies, and a broad set of empirical research. The course will challenge assumptions about what democracy is and how it works, explore what it means to be a good citizen in a contemporary democracy, and provide students with insight into how democratic governments can and should respond to the public's views. The focus will be on how citizens form political opinions, think and reason about policy debates, and act on their opinions, especially outside of elections, across a broad array of country contexts.


20 hours of seminars in the LT.

There will be a reading week in LT 6 for one-to-one meetings and/or peer feedback sessions related to the summative assessments.

Formative coursework

1 “Short Essay”: Each week, 1-2 students will serve as discussion leaders for the seminar portion of the course. In preparation for this, they will write a short (2-3 page; max 1500 words) reflection paper that synthesizes course readings for that week and raises questions unanswered by the texts. Reflection papers will be shared with classmates via Moodle with the expectation that fellow students provide peer feedback during the seminar. Students will also receive written feedback from the instructor. These papers will help students to formulate and consider potential research topics for their final paper.

3 problem sets: Three times in the term, students will receive a short “problem set” that will require basic statistical analyses (cross-tabulation, correlations, etc.) building on methods of analysis discussed in lecture and using public opinion data provided by the instructor. The problem sets will be reviewed during subsequent lectures.

Indicative reading

Chong, Dennis and James N. Druckman. “Framing public opinion in competitive democracies.” American Political Science Review, 101(4):637–655, 2007.

Eagly, Alice H., and Shelly Chaiken. “Attitude structure and function.” In D.T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology, 269–322. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.

Herbst, Susan. Numbered Voices: How Opinion Polling Has Shaped American Politics. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1995.

Mansbridge, Jane J. “Rethinking representation.” American Political Science Review, 97(4):515–528, 2003.

Page, Benjamin I., Robert Y. Shapiro, and Glenn R. Dempsey. “What moves public opinion?” American Political Science Review, 81(1):23, 1987.

Riker, William H. Liberalism Against Populism: A Confrontation Between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice. Waveland Press, 1988.

Zaller, John. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.


Essay (100%, 5000 words).

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2014/15: Unavailable

Average class size 2014/15: Unavailable

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills