POLS 304: American Public Opinion
Fall Semester 2008
Tuesday, ; Room DU 246
Dr. April Clark
Office: Zulauf 416
Office Hours: Monday and Tues or by appt.
Office phone: (815) 753-7058
examines the origins, content, and impact of American public opinion. We will
address four broad questions: How do American citizens think about politics
generally? What is public opinion on important matters of American political
life? What are the sources of these opinions and the political dispositions
underlying them? What are the consequences of these opinions for American
politics? In addressing these questions, specific topics of interest include
the role of the family and society in political learning, the myth a polarized
Students use critical thinking methods when examining and evaluating research findings and authors’ opinions, and when developing analytical essays and research papers. Through these activities students are encouraged to think about public opinion and political socialization in a critical and analytical way.
Class meets Tuesday evenings, from , during the 15-week
term – August 25 through
Erikson, R.S., & Tedin, K. L. (2007). American public opinion: Its origins, content, and impact. Updated
7th edition. Pearson/Longman:
Fiorina, M.P. (2006). Culture
war? The myth of a polarized
Sources indicated with an asterisk (*) are available through electronic reserve, with links to JSTOR available through NIU’s Library ‘Search our ejournals’ search engine. All articles can then be read online or printed out. To find these readings click on the library webpage’s located at http://www.ulib.niu.edu:3515/information/alphadb.cfm and scroll down to “JSTOR” and search for the title of the article in the window. The titles of the articles are given in the reading schedule below.
A few other required readings may be distributed in class as we move along.
Students will be evaluated based on four components:
Missed exams. If a medical need or emergency situation results in your missing assignments, please communicate with me. I am willing to be accommodating but communication and documentation is necessary.
Late papers. : I do not accept late papers. Papers must be turned in on time by the beginning of class November 11th. If you fail to do so at the beginning of class on the day that the paper is due, you will receive a 0 for the paper.
Handouts: Handouts are a privilege for those students who attend class on a regular basis. No student is entitled to supplemental materials simply because they are registered for the course.
Classroom Etiquette: Attendance at all class sessions is expected, and the instructor will check the attendance regularly. Students are allowed to miss a total of six hours or two class meetings during the semester. An additional absence may result in being dropped from the course. Active and informed participation in class discussion will significantly help students in borderline grade situations. Students are expected to arrive at class on time. Two tardy arrivals are equivalent to one class absence. Students are to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency. For instance, it is not acceptable for students to walk in and out of class to answer cell phones, take casual bathroom and smoking breaks, or attend to other personal matters. Please silence your cell phone prior to the start of each lecture. It is not acceptable to use an iPod, read a newspaper, use a laptop for anything other than taking class notes, or engage in other behavior that distracts one from the class proceedings once the session has begun. No one should talk while someone else is talking; this includes comments meant for a classmate rather than the entire group. Overall, classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.
Incomplete Requests: Such petitions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.
Honor Code: Any written work for this class will be checked electronically through on-line databases to assess the originality of the work.
Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: “students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and 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.” The above statement encompasses the purchase or use of papers that were written by others. Please note that the instructor retains copies of papers written in previous years. In short, students are advised to do their own work and learn the rules for proper quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.
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 for which they may require accommodations should notify the University's Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR). 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.
Exams and grading. Regrades on assignments are possible if you believe there was an error in grading. In order to have a reconsideration of your grade, you must provide a 1-page typewritten memo explaining where you feel the mistake in grading occurred, and I will take a look at it.
Course Grades will be distributed as follows:
Final Average Final Grade
90-100 % A
80-89 % B
Below 60% F
The following calendar lists the order of the topics and the date that we will cover them. Courses sometimes do not go as planned and you should be ready to diverge from this syllabus. Any significant changes will be clearly announced in class. You are responsible to stay up to date on course happenings. You should read the texts before coming to class, and try to get an early start on the term paper.
CLASS SCHEDULE: FALL 2008
Students will submit assignments in hard copy only
Week 1 August 26:
Readings / Discussions / Activities: Introduction, Expectations, Plan for the quarter
Discuss syllabus and class schedule
Public opinion in democratic societies
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 1
Fiorina: Chapter 1
Week 2 September 2:
Polling: The scientific assessment of public opinion
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 2
Fiorina: Chapter 2
Week 3 September 9:
Paper topic, research outline, and tentative reference list for term paper due at the beginning of class Tuesday, September9th
Microlevel opinion: The psychology of opinion-holding
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 3
A 50:50 nation? Red and blue state people are not that different and beyond red and blue states
Fiorina: Chapter 3 and 4
What’s your news IQ? Take a quiz and find out: http://pewresearch.org/newsiq/
Week 4 September 16:
Macrolevel opinion: The flow of political sentiment
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 4
Reconciling micro and macro
Fiorina: Chapter 9
you fit: http://typology.people-press.org/
Week 5 September 23:
Political socialization and political learning
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 5
Week 6 September 30:
Agents of political socialization
*Alford, John R., Carolyn L. Funk, and John R. Hibbing. “Are Political
Orientations Genetically Transmitted? APSR, 99 (May, 2005), 153-67.
*Andonlina, Molly, Krista Jenkins,
Cliff Zukin, and
Home, Lessons from School: Influences on Youth Civic Engagement,” PS, 36
(April, 2003), 275-80.
*Sears, David O., and Nicholas A. Valentino. "Politics Matters: Political Events
as Catalysts for Preadult Socialization." APSR, 91 (March, 1997), 45-65.
Gimpel, James G., J. Celeste Lay, and Jason E. Schuknecht (2003). “The Terrorist Attacks as Politically Socializing Events” (handout)
Week 7 October 7:
Agents of political socialization (continued)
POQ, 60 (Summer, 1996), 228-52.
and Generations,” Acta Politica 39 (2004), 342-79.
Week 8 October 14:
**********MIDTERM EXAM – TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14th**********
Group differences in political opinions
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 7
A closer look at abortion and homosexuality
Fiorina: Chapters 5 and 6
Week 9 October 21:
Group differences in political opinions (continued)
Racial and ethnic differences:
Allison (2002). “This Side of
Uhlaner, Carole Jean, and F. Chris Garcia (2002). “Latino Public Opinion” (handout)
Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream (2007). (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/483/muslim-americans)
A Portrait of "Generation Next": How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics (2007). (http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=300)
Week 10 October 28:
Public opinion and democratic stability
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 6
Week 11 November 4:
The news media and political opinions
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 8
Week 12 November 11:
Term paper due at the beginning of class – late papers are not accepted
Elections as instruments of popular control
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 9
Have electoral cleavages shifted?
Fiorina: Chapter 7
Week 13 November 18:
The public and its elected leaders
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 10
The 2004 election and beyond
Fiorina: Chapter 8
Week 14 November 25:
Public opinion and the performance of democracy
Erikson and Tedin: Chapter 11
How did it come to this and where do we go from here?
Fiorina: Chapter 10
Week 15 December 2:
Wrap up and review
**********FINAL EXAM – TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9TH: **********