POLS 304:    PUBLIC OPINION

 

Spring 2007

 

Professor: Dr. Barbara Burrell

 

Meeting time and place:   Tues/Thurs  2:0O-3:15 PM, DU459         

Office address/phone:   115 Zulauf, 753-7050, bburrell@niu.edu

 

Office Hours:  Wednesdays, 1-4:00 PM. Except 2nd Weds. of each month when office hours will be from 3-5:00 PM. I am also usually available on Wednesday mornings and I am around other days.

 

Course Objectives:

 

This course asks questions that are at the heart of making a democracy work.

§               What do citizens think about public issues? 

§               How do we know what public opinion is and 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? What do we mean by representation?

 

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 in making policy 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.

 

 

Required Texts:

 

Frank Newport, Polling Matters, 2004. Warner Books and the Gallup Press.

 

Jeffrey Stonecash and Mark Brewer, Split, 2006. CQ Press.

 

Robert Eisinger, The Evolution of Presidential Polling, 2003. Cambridge University Press

 

In addition, students are expected to follow the news on public opinion either through the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and/or the Washington Post or other online sources. Students should also regularly follow polls from such sites as: Gallup.com, Pollingreport.com, People-Press.com.

 

Readings available on Blackboard noted as BB

 

Course Schedule

 

This course schedule is tentative. We may move faster or slower depending on class participation.

I will keep you updated as to where you should be.

  

Week of Jan. 15th      Introduction and Course overview

Begin discussion of general ideas about Public Opinion

What were they thinking? The Federalists and Anti-Federalists

Readings: Charles Kesler, “Direct Democracy and Representation”  (BB)      

Gary Rosen, “James Madison and the Spirit of 1787” (BB)

Brutus “To the Citizens of the State of New York,” October 18, 1787 (BB)                                      James Madison, Federalist # 10 (available online)

Newport, Polling Matters, chapters 1-3         

 

Week of January 22nd   

Continue discussion of general ideas about public opinion in democratic societies                             

 

Assignment:    January 23 – Watch President Bush’s State of the Union address

What are some of the items on his agenda for 2007? What is he thinking?

How might we connect his agenda with public opinion? Does he invoke public opinion? Does he seem to try to lead public opinion?

Assignment due in class on January 25, Write a 1-2 page summary of his agenda items and what might be ways to gauge public opinion on these items. Look to see if there is anything in Gallup polls or media polls on public opinion on any of these topics.

Points:

 

Week of January 29th    The Art and Science of Polling

Readings: Newport, Polling Matters, chapters 4- 9, 11

 

Assignment: Due in class on February 1.  Find a public opinion poll in the national news media and answer the following questions: who conducted the poll, whom did they survey, how many people did they survey, what questions did they ask, what response categories did they give people to choose from what were their findings, when was the survey conducted? What is your assessment of this poll as a measure of public opinion Attach the survey report to your paper.     

 

Week of February 5th   Critique of Public Opinion Polling  Political Socialization, Trust in Government

                We will also construct the questions for your interview project this week.

            Readings:  Gallup Poll Social Series, Trust in Government, 2003 (BB)

                              Trust in Government Update, 2006 (BB)

 

Week of February 12th         Begin Public Opinion and Contemporary Issues

Readings: Everett Ladd and Charles Hadley, The Formation of the New Deal Party System (BB)

                 Stonecash and Brewer, Split, chapters 1-3

 

Assignment:  Examination of the demographic characteristics of the American public. Using Census data (www.census.gov), each student will have one characteristic, such as family income to determine its distribution based on the 2000 Census or later Census Bureau statistics for the United States and for the state of Illinois.  More details forthcoming in class.   Due: in class on the 13th, one page.                            

 

Week of February 19th :  Review and first examination

 

February 22nd – First examination

 

Week of February 26: continue Public Opinion and Contemporary Issues

            Among other things, we will look at racial issues in the spirit of Black History month

Reading:   Gallup Poll Social Audit: Black-White Relations in the United States, 2001 Update (BB)

Split, chapters 4, 5, 7, 8

 

Week of March 5 continue Public Opinion and Contemporary Issues

            Among other things, we will look at the gender gap in American politics and look at the public’s support for a woman for president (and a Black for president) in the spirit of Women’s History month

 

Week of March 12th  - Spring Break

 

Week of March 19th   Public Opinion and the Media

Assignment: “Are the media biased?” 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?  Give an example of how Fair.org believes there is a conservative bias and an example of Media research.org belief that the media are biased in a liberal direction. Write a 1-2 page description and critique of their approaches, providing examples.

 

Reading: Polling Matters, Chapter 10

 

Week of March 26th  -  Political Parties and Interest Groups as links between the people and the governors.

            Readings:  Split, Chapter 6

 

Week of April 2nd    Begin Public Opinion from the Government’s Perspective

Readings:  Robert Eisinger, The Evolution of Presidential Polling, chapters 1-3      

 

Assignment:    Who are our prospective presidential candidates in 2008 and what is on their minds? Why are they running for president and what is their message to the American public. Each student will have one candidate to investigate. Write and 1-2 page paper on what can you learn about his or her message and what would be his or her priorities as president s far as public policy is concerned? Assignment due: April 5th in class.

 

Week of April 9th: Continue the Government and the People

Readings: Eisinger, The Evolution of Presidential Polling, chapters 4-6

 

April 12th – No class, Midwest Political Science Association annual meeting

 

Week of 16th : Continue the Government and the People

Readings: Eisinger, The Evolution of Presidential Polling, chapters 7-9

 

Week of April 23rd Evaluating Public Opinion

            Term paper due: in class on April 26. We will discuss your findings

 

Week of April 30th   Conclusion and Summation

 

Week of May 7th  - Final Examination, Tuesday, May 8th, 2-3:50 PM

 

Term paper:  Students are required to 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. Aim for variety in the types of people you will interview. The interviews will be about the development of their political selves and their political ideology. We will develop an interview schedule of questions to be asked of these individuals in class. The paper should be at least ten pages in length (double-spaced, 12 point, Times New Roman font or smaller, one inch margins on each page).  The paper will be a description of your interviews, what you have learned about peoples’ political selves.  You must conclude with some reflection on the role of public opinion in a democracy.  This concluding section is very important to your paper. You should put some thought into it and it must be more than a paragraph long.   Grammar and spelling is very important.

 

Due in class: April 26th  I will not accept late papers. Complete your paper early enough so that printer problems are not an excuse for not turning in the paper on time.

 

We will participate in an a university writing assessment project. Your paper will be given to English Department graduate students for evaluation.  Their assessment should help you in your writing. 

 

Grades:

 

Each assignment is worth 4% of your course grade.

Assignment 1 – President Bush’s State of the Union address

Assignment 2 – Public Opinion Poll

Assignment 3 – Demographic analysis

Assignment 4 – Media analysis

Assignment 5 – Presidential Candidates

 

Total: 20% of course grade

 

First Examination  - 20% of course grade

Term Paper  - 30% of course grade

Final Examination – 25% of course grade

Attendance – 5% of course grade

 

Class Attendance:   Students are expected to attend class each class period, be on time, pay attention, participate in class and not leave early.  I determine when class ends.  I will take attendance.  If a student sleeps through class, his or her cell phone goes off or a student otherwise engages in disturbing behavior in class, he or she will be marked absent for that day.

 

In addition we may have very brief quizzes at the beginning of a reading assignment to stimulate keeping up with the readings.  These quizzes will be built into the overall course grade.

 

Grading Scale

90%-100%  -  A    80%-89%  -  B      70-79% -  C     60%-69%  -  D       Less than 60%  -  F

 

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.

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.