POLS 304: PUBLIC OPINION
Professor: Dr. Barbara Burrell
Meeting time and place:
Tues/Thurs 9:30-10:45, DU246
416 Zulauf, 753-7050
Tuesday, 11-12 noon, Weds, 1-4 PM in 416 Zulauf;
any other time, call me at my SSRI office or stop by.
This course asks questions that are at the heart of making a democracy work.
§ What do the people think about public issues?
§ How do we know what public opinion is?
§ Is there such a thing as public opinion?
§ Are the people capable of having opinions on public issues?
§ How do they make their opinions known to the governors in a republican democracy? How do opinions get linked to policy making?
§ Do leaders lead? Do they follow? Do they manipulate the public?
Political philosophers have differed in their beliefs about what role the people should have in public policy making, how much freedom public officials should have and the extent to which participation should be encouraged. At the end of this course you should be able to:
§ Describe the ways in which public opinion does or does not get translated into public policy.
§ Evaluate the ability of citizens to develop and articulate opinions on governmental matters.
§ Describe and evaluate public opinion polls as techniques to determine public opinion.
§ Critique various theories of the role of public opinion in democratic policy making.
Herbert Asher, Polling and the Public, What Every Citizen Should Know. 6th edition, CQ Press
Barbara Norrander and Clyde Wilcox, Understanding Public Opinion, 2nd edition, CQ Press.
In addition, students are expected to follow the news on public opinion and the election either through the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and/or the Washington Post or other online sources. Students should also regularly follow polls and stories on the election from such sites as: Gallup.com, National Journal.com/pubs/hotline, Pollingreport.com, People-Press.com.
Students are expect to create accounts on the Blackboard system (http://webcourses.niu.edu) as soon as possible. I will be using this site to post grades, Powerpoint presentations, notes, outlines, review questions, polls, and other materials relevant to the class. Go to the website above, create an account (using our “Z” number as your account login only, other accounts without the Z number will be removed periodically), click on the green “courses” tab, click “Browse Course Catalog,” and then search for “POLS. Then click “enroll” for this class (pols304_001_fa02). It is quite simple. Each time you enter Blackboard you will have a link to this class.
August 24th – Course Introduction
August 26th – “What is on the minds of the public in the 2004 election?”
Assignment: Find a news article in which the author writes about what is on the minds of the public. On one page, first summarize what the author indicates is on the people's minds. You can simply list the issues and the ways in which the people are concerned. Second, how did the author reach his or her conclusions? For example, was it the result of a national survey, in depth interviews with a group of people, random conversation, a thought piece?
Attach the article to your summary. Points: 5
August 31st – Political Socialization
Readings: Understanding Public Opinion, Chap. 8
Barbara Bardes and Robert Oldendick, “The Sources of Opinion” (electronic reserve)
September 2nd - John Kerry’s and George Bush’s nomination acceptance speeches
John Kerry's acceptance speech will be shown in class. You are required to watch George Bush's on TV in the evening.
September 7th - What do Democrats and Republicans stand for based on party platforms and acceptance speeches?
Assignment: In one-two pages, list the Democratic and Republican Party's issue positions and priorities based on the acceptance speeches of the parties' nominees for president and the parties' platforms. Platforms are available in Blackboard. Which of the following statements best describes the Democrats and Republicans and why?
1. The Democratic and Republican parties take opposing positions on a set of issues
2. The Democrats emphasize one set of issues while Republicans are concerned about a different set
3. The parties just talk in generalities and platitudes without offering specific public policy stands. Points: 10
September 9th-16th – Begin discussion of public opinion polls and class survey
Reading: Polling and the Public, What Every Citizen Should Know
14th – Assignment: Find a public opinion poll and answer the following questions: who conducted the poll, whom did they survey, what questions did they ask, what were their findings, when was the survey conducted? Attach the survey report to your paper. Points: 5
16th – quiz – ten multiple choice questions from chapters 1-4, Polling and the Public
September 21st-23rd - Public opinion and the government
Readings: Understanding Public Opinion, Chaps 12-14
September 26th - Review
September 28th – First exam, 40 points
September 30th – Preparation for class survey
First Presidential Debate
October 5th-7th – Conduct class survey of DeKalb County residents
Vice-Presidential Debate – October 5th
Second Presidential Debate – October 8
October 12th – Public Opinion and Economic Policy
Readings: Understanding Public Opinion, Chap 11
Third Presidential Debate – October 13
October 14h – Analysis and presentation of class survey
October 19th - Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Readings: Understanding Public Opinion, Chap. 7
Bardes and Oldendick, "How Americans Views Foreign and Defense Policies (electronic reserve)
October 21st – Public Opinion and Social Issues and Race
Readings: Understanding Public Opinion, Chaps 3-6
Bardes and Oldendick, “Americans Views on Racial Issues,” “Social Welfare Issues," and "Public Opinion on Highly Controversial Issues" (electronic reserve)
October 26th – Review for second exam
October 28th – Second examination points: 40
November 2nd – The Gender Gap in presidential elections
Readings: Understanding Public Opinion, Chap 1
November 4 - Review election results
November 9th-11th – Public Opinion and the Media
“Are the media biased?”
Assignment: Go the following two websites: www.mediaresearch.org and www.fair.org. The first is a conservative critic of the media and the second is a liberal critic of the media. How does each decide the media are biased? What is their research methodology? Write a one page critique of their approaches. Points: 5
November 16th – To poll or not to poll
Reading: Review, Polling and the Public, What Every Citizen Should Know, Chap 9
Benjamin Ginsberg, “Polling and the Creation of a Virtual Public” (electronic reserve)
Humphrey Taylor, “Polling, Good Government, and Democracy” in Public Perspective, Volume 11, #4, July/August 2000 pp. 33-36 (electronic reserve)
November 18th – Theories regarding the public and public opinion
Readings: The Federalist Papers #10, online at http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/federalist
Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume II, Part 1, chaps 1-4
November 23rd – Presidents and Public Opinion
Diane J. Heith “Staffing the White House Public Opinion Apparatus: 1969- 1988” (electronic reserve)
November 30th –Dec 2nd - Conclusion
Final Examination – Thursday, December 9th, 10-11:50.
Plagiarism Statement: "The attempt of any student to present as his or her own work that which he or she has not produced is regarded by the faculty and administration as a serious offense. Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work of another during an examination or turn in a paper or an assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else. Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university." Northern Illinois University Undergraduate Catalog.
Class Attendance: Students are expected to attend class each class period, be on time, pay attention, participate in class and not to leave early. See list of Do's and Don'ts in Blackboard.
Assignments and Course Grading:
I. Participation in Public Opinion Poll
We will conduct a public opinion poll regarding the midterm election with residents of DeKalb County. The poll will be conducted from October 5th through October 11th. It will be a telephone poll run at the Public Opinion Laboratory,
148 No. 3rd Street
. Everyone is expected to do at least 4 hours of calling. If you do 4 hours of calling, you should get the maximum 40 points for this exercise. We will construct the questionnaire in class.
II. Based on a semi-structured interview schedule that we will develop in class, you should conduct 8 interviews with a sample of citizens. You can select the 8 individuals on your own, however, they cannot include more than 2 fellow students and 2 members of your family. You could interview faculty or staff members at NIU, some residents of DeKalb or the community you live in, an employer, whatever. These interviews will differ from the poll in that they will be structured to be more in depth on the same topics.
Public Opinion Term Paper
This paper should compare and contrast what you have learned about how people think about politics and make voting decisions from the poll and from your structured interviews. You should present your in depth interview findings and integrate the results of the public opinion poll and relate them to what you have learned about the role of public opinion in a democracy and the role of public opinion in elections. 60 points
1. What's on the people's minds in the election?
2. Democratic and Republican Party differences
3. Public Opinion Poll
4. Are the media biased?
Class exercises points: 25
First Exam points: 35
Second Exam points: 40
Public Opinion Poll points: 50
Term Paper points: 60
Class attendance points: 30
Final Exam points: 60
Total points: 300
270-300 points = A
240-269 points = B
210-239 points = C
180-209 points = D
Below 209 = F
You may receive some extra credit for doing extra work on the public opinion poll. Extra work will include special assistance in designing the poll, calling more than 4 hours on the poll, coding the open end questions, presenting the results to the class.
Course fee: The $25 course fee covers the cost of using the Public Opinion Laboratory's telephone facility: telephone call costs, sample costs, notification letters to survey participants.
Undergraduate Writing Awards
The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28. All copies should have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name. Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.
Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.
Department of Political Science Web Site
Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu