POLS 304: Polling and Public Opinion

Fall 2009

Monday 6:30-9:15

Hoffman Estates Campus


Dr. Matt Streb

Office: Zulauf Hall 407

E-Mail Address: mstreb@niu.edu

Office Hours:  T and R, 2:00-3:00; W, 8:30-11:30


Course Description: It is nearly impossible to pick up a newspaper, watch TV, or surf the Web and not come across some sort of poll.  We poll everything, from how well we think the president is doing to who we believe will win the Super Bowl.  In this course, we will study those polls.  How are they conducted?  What, if anything, do they tell us?  What are potential problems with polls?  How accurate are they? 

In addition to polling, we will analyze public opinion.  In a representative democracy, public opinion would seem to play a major role in our government.  Should it?  How informed is the average American?  Do Americans have opinions on many issues?  How are opinions formed?  How stable are preferences?  Where does the American public stand on economic issues, social issues, and foreign policy?  To answer all of these questions, we will draw heavily on recent political polls.


Grading:  Four possible grades will be given over the course of the semester. 


Exams:  You will have a midterm exam (October 12th) and a final exam (December 7th).  Each exam will comprise either 45% or 30% of your final grade.  The exams will be comprised of some combination of multiple choice, short answer, short essay, and identification terms.  The final will not be cumulative and will cover only the material discussed after the second midterm.  You must bring a bluebook with you to take your exam. 


Paper:  Additionally, you will have the option of writing a 10-12-page paper dealing with an aspect of polling or public opinion that is approved by me.  If you choose to write the paper, it will constitute 30% of your final grade; each exam will then count 30% as well. 

You must let me know if you want to take the paper option by October 26th.  You will not be allowed to take the paper option if you do not tell me that you want to write a paper by this date.  In order to let me know your intention of writing the paper, you will be required to write a strong, one-paragraph explanation of your paper topic, including a clear thesis statement.  The paper topic is due November 2nd.  Again, if you do not hand in a paper topic by the 2nd, you will not be allowed to write a paper.  Students are also required to meet with me to discuss their topic before handing in their thesis statement.  I will not accept your paper topic if you have not discussed it with me beforehand.   The paper is due on November 30th.  I WILL NOT ACCEPT LATE PAPERS.  If you do not hand in the paper at the beginning of class on November 30th, then each exam will count 45% of your final grade. 

Some things to keep in mind when writing your paper:

  • Unless you are downloading a journal article or accessing a newspaper or news magazine article electronically, the Internet is not to be used for research.  You should err on the side of using books and journal articles.  Do not use Wikipedia!!  If you have any questions, please see me.
  • Students often ask me how many sources should be used in the paper.  I do not have a set number that you must meet, but a well-researched paper will probably cite roughly 10-12 sources.  You must include a “Works Cited” page with your paper.  If a work is listed on the “Works Cited” page, then it must actually be cited in your text. 
  • PROOFREAD YOUR PAPERS!!!  You will be graded based on the persuasiveness of your argument, but also on how well the paper is written.  Students whose papers are replete with typos, grammatical mistakes, and awkward sentences will receive a substantial grade reduction.  You should read your paper several times before handing it in.   
  • The paper cannot be written in a night.  The paper will take a significant amount of research.  You do not want to put it off to the last minute.  Start thinking about your papers now!! 
  • I will not accept any paper that is not stapled or does not have page numbers starting on the first page of the text.  Additionally, papers should be written using 12 pt Times Roman font and margins should be set at the default.  Please do not hand in your paper in a folder or with a plastic cover.  Instead, papers should be stapled.     
  • In addition to handing in a hard copy of their paper, students must submit their papers through SafeAssign via Blackboard by the paper’s due date.  Any student who fails to do so will not receive credit for the paper.     


Participation:  The remaining 10% of your grade will be based on class participation and attendance.  Half of your participation grade will be determined by your class attendance.  The way I calculate the attendance grade is simple.  I divide the number of classes you attended by the total number of class periods (not including the two exams).  For example, if you missed 2 of the 12 classes, the attendance portion of your participation grade would be an 83.3% (10/12). 

            The second half of your participation grade will be determined by your actual participation in class, either by asking important questions or making pertinent comments.  To receive an A for the second half of the participation grade, a student would have to participate constructively in most classes.  Students who occasionally make constructive comments would receive a B.  Students who rarely ask questions or answer them would receive a C or D.  If I never hear your voice, you will receive an F! Comments that are not relevant to the ongoing discussion and off the point will not be rewarded. Remarks that are disruptive to the discussion, insensitive to others, or attempt to dominate the discussion will not be tolerated.   Do not take your participation grade for granted!    

Grading Scale:

93%-100%      A         90%-92.9%     A-        87.5%-89.9%  B+      

83%-87.4%     B         80%-82.9%     B-        77.5%-79.9%  C+      

73%-77.4%     C         70%-72.9%     C-        60%-69.9%     D        

Less than 60%   F


In rare instances, I will raise a final grade slightly if the student regularly attends class, participates, and shows progress.  I will only consider raising a student’s grade if s/he writes a paper. 


Required Course Materials:

Three books are required for this course:


·         Asher, Herbert.  2007.   Polling and the Public: What Every Citizen Should Know, 7th ed.  Washington, D.C.:  CQ Press.

·         Clawson, Rosalee A., and Zoe M. Oxley.  2008.  Public Opinion: Democratic Ideals, Democratic Practice.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

·         Fiorina, Morris P.  2006.  Culture War?  The Myth of a Polarized America, 2nd ed.  New York: Pearson Longman. 


These books are available at the NIU Bookstore.  Students are strongly encouraged to visit sites such as www.campusi.com to find cheaper, used versions of these books (although, students should not buy earlier editions of the Asher or Fiorina books since they have been updated substantially). 


Additionally, you will be required to read some articles that are posted on Blackboard (under “Course Information”).    


Finally, I will often post articles that are not currently assigned on Blackboard under “Announcements.”  These articles will deal primarily with current events relating to the issues we discuss in class.  We will not talk about all of them in class, but all are fair game for exams. 


Polling and Public Opinion Websites:

AAPOR                                  www.aapor.org/

CNN                                       www.cnn.com

Gallup                                     www.gallup.com

Harris                                      www.harrisinteractive.com

Pollingreport.com                    www.pollingreport.com

Pollster.com                            www.pollster.com

Reuters                                    www.reuters.com

Zogby                                      www.zogby.com

Course Policies:


1.  Attendance:  Simply put, you are expected to be here.  If you want to have any hope of passing the class or doing well, you will need to be in class.  I have met few people who have regularly missed my class and passed the course. 


2.  Be on time:  Class begins promptly at 6:30 p.m.  Please be in your seats and ready to go at 6:30 p.m.  Please set aside an appropriate amount of time for travel to be certain that you are in class on time.  If you must be late, please enter the class quietly and quickly and sit in the back. 


3.  Cell phones must be on vibrate!:  Because of February 14th, I will allow students to keep their cell phones on vibrate.  Unless the student has an extenuating circumstance (e.g., pregnant spouse, day care, etc.), under no circumstance should he/she answer the phone.  If you have an extenuating circumstance, please let me know.  Any student who is text messaging during class will be told to leave. 


4.  Makeup exams:  I will only give a makeup examination under extraordinary circumstances.  If such circumstances arise, please contact me as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam.  If you fail to contact me before the scheduled exam, you will receive a 0 for the exam.  Students may be asked to support requests for makeup exams with documentation.


5.  Late papers:  I do not accept late papers.  Any student who does not hand in a paper at the beginning of class on the day that the paper is due will not receive credit for the paper. 


6.  Incomplete requests:  Such petitions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances.  I reserve 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 professor’s discretion. 


7.  Contacting me:  The best way to get in touch with me is to come to my office hours.  If you cannot make my office hours, then please send me an email with several dates and times that you are available to meet and I will be happy to set something up.  If you send me an email, I will respond as quickly as possible.  However, I will only respond to emails that use capitalization and punctuation and are not replete with grammatical errors.  i will not rspnd 2 u if i recve a messge that look like this lol  


8.  Extra credit:  I do not give extra credit.


9.  Academic dishonesty:  In preparing for your work and meeting the requirements of this course, you are expected to adhere to all the rules, regulations, and standards set forth by the Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University, and the scholarly community.  This statement encompasses intentional and unintentional plagiarism; cheating on examinations; using, purchasing, or stealing others’ work; misusing library materials; and so forth.  The NIU Undergraduate Catalog states:

Good academic work must be based on honesty. 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 without identifying and acknowledging those 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. (Undergraduate Catalog)

Don’t plagiarize or cheat.  I will catch you!  If you are not sure what constitutes plagiarism, ask.  Ignorance will not be tolerated as an excuse.  If you are unaware of how to cite properly, visit http://polisci.niu.edu/polisci/audience/plagiarism.shtml.  


10.  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 (CARR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building.  CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors.  It is important that CARR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


How can I do well in this course?

This course is no more difficult than most other 300 level courses you have had, if you keep up with the work!!  It is essential that you are regularly in class, take good notes, do all of the readings, and spend some time reflecting on what you have read.  Because there is a significant amount of reading in the course, make sure you keep up with it.  Doing all of the assigned reading the night before the class will keep you from contributing much to the class.  More importantly, it will keep you from getting the most out of the course.  If you do not do the readings, you will not do well in this class. 

            Each class you will be introduced to “key terms.”  I highly recommend that you make notecards after class that includes the definition and significance of the term.  These are the terms that may appear on your tests.  Making notecards after each class may seem like more work now, but it will actually cut your work time in the end and allow you to write much stronger IDs.  Instead of preparing for the IDs before the exam (they start to add up), you will already have the IDs ready to go and can begin studying earlier.  Writing out the IDs after class will allow you to write higher quality IDs because the information will be fresh in your mind, and if you don’t understand something it will become apparent quickly.

            Also, I will post Powerpoint slides on Blackboard before each class period.  However, the slides are only a guide to where we are going in that day’s class.  Students who only rely on the Powerpoint slides and do not take detailed notes will not do well in the class. 

Finally, I strongly encourage students to visit me during my office hours if you have questions about the course material. 


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.


Course Outline:


NOTE: Readings should be completed for the day in which they are assigned (ex: Students should read Asher, chps 2-3; Streb, et al. by class on 9/14).

NOTE:  I reserve the right to change the course outline. 

NOTE: * indicates reading is available on blackboard  




8/31     Introduction to the Course/What Is Public Opinion and the History of Polling


Reading: Asher, chp 1; Clawson and Oxley, chp 1


9/7       No class.  Have a nice Labor Day!


9/14     Constructing the Survey


Reading:  Asher, chps 2-3; Streb, Burrell, Frederick, and Genovese*


9/21     Choosing and Implementing the Survey 


Reading: Asher, chps 4-5


9/28     Types of Polls


Reading:  Asher, pp. 141-158; Streb and Pinkus*


10/5     Estimating Turnout and Analyzing Poll Results


Reading:  Asher, pp. 158-176, chps 6, 8-9; Mellman*


10/12   MIDTERM


Opinion, Formation, Stability, and Change


10/19   Political Socialization/The Media as an Agent of Socialization


Reading: Clawson and Oxley, chps 2-3


10/26   Can Americans Think Ideologically?/Political Knowledge and the American



Reading:  Clawson and Oxley, chps 4-7; Robinson*


What Does the American Public Believe?


11/2     Attitudes toward Government/Civil Liberties  


Reading: Clawson and Oxley, chps 8 and 10; Streb and Clark*


11/9     Civil Rights/Economic Issues


Reading:  Clawson and Oxley, chp 9


11/16   Foreign Policy/Social Issues


            Reading:  Fiorina, Preface-chp 7


11/23   Is There a Culture War in the United States?/Presidential Approval and Party



Reading:  Fiorina, chps 8-10; Harper and Norrander*


11/30   Public Opinion and Representation


            Reading:  Clawson and Oxley, chp 11; Streb and Frederick*


12/7     Final Exam