POLS 304: Polling and Public Opinion

Spring 2006

Tuesday and Thursday, 9:30-10:45

DuSable 246


Dr. Matt Streb

Office: Zulauf Hall 412

E-Mail Address: mstreb@niu.edu

Office Hours:  W, 9-12; R, 1:30-3:30


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 the 2000 and 2004 elections as well as recent political polls.


Grading:  Four possible grades will be given over the course of the semester.  You will have a midterm exam (March 2nd) and a final exam (May 11th).  Each exam will comprise either 45% or 30% of your final grade.  The exams will be composed of an essay question, 5 identification terms, and 5 multiple-choice questions.  I will distribute review sheets to the class including possible identification terms or essay questions before each exam.  The final will not be cumulative and will cover only the material discussed after the midterm.

You will have the option of writing a 12-15-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 March 21st.  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 March 28th.  Again, if you do not hand in a paper topic by the 28th, 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 April 27th.  I WILL NOT ACCEPT LATE PAPERS.

Finally, you will also conduct an analysis of public opinion data and write up your results.  The assignment is worth 10% of your grade and is due on March 23rd.  It will be discussed in greater detail during class.

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.  2004.   Polling and the Public: What Every Citizen Should

Know, 6th ed.  Washington, DC:  CQ Press.

-Erikson, Robert S., and Kent Tedin.  2005.  American Public Opinion, 7th ed. 

New York: Pearson Longman. 

            -Genovese, Michael A., and Matthew J. Streb (eds.).  2004.  Polls and Politics:

The Dilemmas of Democracy.  Albany, NY:  SUNY Press.


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 Erikson and Tedin books since they have been updated substantially). 


Polling and Public Opinion Websites:

AAPOR                                   www.aapor.org/

CNN                                       www.cnn.com

Gallup                                      www.gallup.com

Harris                                       www.harrisinteractive.com

Los Angeles Times                   www.latimes.com/news/custom/timespoll/

MSNBC                                  www.msnbc.com

Pollingreport.com                     www.pollingreport.com

Reuters                         www.reuters.com

Washington Post                       www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/politics/polls/

Zogby                                      www.zogby.com


Course Policies:


1.  Attendance:  I do not require class attendance.  However, if you want to have any hope of passing the class or doing well, you will need to be here.  I have yet to see a person who has regularly missed my class pass the course. 


2.  Be on time:  Class begins promptly at 9:30.  Please be in your seats and ready to go at 9:30.  If you must be late, please enter the class quietly and quickly and sit in the back. 


3.  Turn the cell phones off!:  My policy is that if your cell phone goes off in class, I’m the one who answers it.  Unless you want me talking to your parents, siblings, or boyfriend/girlfriend, turn the cell phones off.


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 Assignments:  I do not accept late assignments.  If you fail to hand in your paper or public opinion assignment on time, you will receive a 0 for the assignment.  If an extraordinary situation arises that will keep you from handing in your paper or assignment on time, please contact me as soon as possible and before the scheduled assignment is due.  Being out of town does not constitute an “extraordinary situation.” 


6.  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.  Failure to honor these rules, regulations, and standards could result in a failing course grade and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.  Don’t plagiarize or cheat.  I will catch you!


7.  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 may be somewhat different than other classes you have had in the past.  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 include the definition and significance of the term.  These are the terms that will appear on your tests.  Making notecards after each class may seem like more work, 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 (they start to add up) before the exam, 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.

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, chp 1; Erikson and Tedin, chp 1; and Genovese and Streb, chp 1 by class on 1/19).


NOTE: * indicates reading is available on electronic reserve




1/17     T          Introduction to the Course


1/19     R          What Is Public Opinion and the History of Polling

Reading: Asher, chp 1; Erikson and Tedin, chp 1; Genovese and

Streb, chp 1


1/24     T          Constructing the Survey

                                    Reading:  A, chps 2-3; E&T, chp 2


1/26     R          Constructing the Survey, cont.


1/31     T          Choosing the Right Survey 

                                    Reading: A, chp 5


2/2       R          Implementing the Survey

                                    Reading: A, chps 4


2/7       T          Tour of the Public Opinion Lab (Meet at the POL on 3rd Street)


2/9       R          Types of Polls

                                    Reading:  A, chps 6-7; G&S, chps 6-8


2/14     T          Types of Polls, cont.


2/16     R          Estimating Turnout and Allocating the Undecideds


2/21     T          Analyzing Polls

                                    Reading:  A, chps 8-9; G&S, chp 5


2/23     R          How Do Politicians Use Polls?

                                    Reading:  G&S, chps 3-4


2/28     T          Midterm Review


3/2       R         MIDTERM (please bring a blank disk to class with you)


Public Opinion and Political Socialization


3/7       T          Analyzing Public Opinion Data


3/9       R          Analyzing Public Opinion Data, cont.


3/14 and 3/16              No Class.  Have a great Spring Break!


3/21     T          Are We Model Citizens?  

                                    Reading: Robinson*

Deadline to let me know if you are writing the paper


3/23     R          Political Socialization and Opinion Formation

                                    Reading: E&T, chp 5

                                    Public Opinion Analysis Due


3/28     T          Who Are the “Don’t Knows?”

                                    Reading:  E&T, chp 3

                                    Paper topic due


3/30     R          Macro Public Opinion                          

Reading: E&T, chp 4


4/4       T          Public Opinion on Issues of Race and Ethnicity

                                    Reading: E&T, chp 6


4/6       R          Public Opinion on Social Welfare and Economic Issues

                                    Reading:  Brewer*


4/11     T          Is There a Culture War in the United States?

                                    Reading:  Brooks*


4/13     R          Movie:  Constructing Public Opinion


4/18     T          Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

                                    Reading:  Bardes and Oldendick*


4/20     R         No class. MPSA Conference.


4/25     T          Group Differences in Public Opinion

                                    Reading: E&T, chp 7


4/27     R          The Media and Public Opinion

Reading: E&T, chps 8-9

Paper Due!


5/2       T          Public Opinion and Representation

                                    Reading: E&T, chps 10-11, G&S chp 2 and 9


5/4       R          Final Exam Review


5/11     R         Final Exam (10:00AM-11:50AM)


Public Opinion Data (Note: You must save the data—by right clicking—and then open from within SPSS).