GOVT. 157: Politics, Opinion and Participation
Professor: Kimberly Nalder, Ph.D.
Office: Tahoe 3121
Office Hours: W 4:30-5:30, F 1-2 and by appointment
One of the most crucial concepts in political science is that of public opinion and its role in representative democracies. This course will explore the normative and theoretical rationales for studying public opinion in the political arena. Through readings, lecture, a research project and hands-on research analysis, students should emerge from this class with a better understanding of the origins and nature of public opinion, the methods and pitfalls of measuring and reporting it, and the utility of public opinion for political elites. We will place special emphasis on current events and the meaning of public opinion in the electoral context. In addition, this course will help students learn to critically evaluate public opinion polls in terms of methodology, scope, and validity. This course will emphasize critical thinking, research writing, current event analysis, social science methodology, and vigorous discussion.
The course will cover several fascinating and important questions:
1. Why does public opinion matter in a representative democracy?
2. How is public opinion measured?
3. How do individuals form opinions and how are these opinions aggregated?
4. Can public opinion be manipulated? How? By whom?
5. What is the relationship between public opinion and governance?
6. How can we be critical consumers of polling data?
7. Where does “public opinion” come from?
8. How can diverse opinions be reflected in the public sphere?
There are two textbooks required for this course:
Fowler, Floyd J. , Survey Research Methods, 4th Edition, 2008. ISBN: 978-1412958417
highly recommend subscribing to a major daily newspaper, such as The New
York Times or The Washington Post.
The Sacramento Bee is also acceptable, since it will have superior
Course Requirements and Grading
There will be a brief
quiz every other week, posted on
There is one exam for this course – a comprehensive open-note final on Wednesday, May 19 from 3-5. The exam is open note, but not open book. For this reason, I encourage you to take careful lecture notes and to also take reading notes. The exam will require you to apply information you have learned during the semester, and to show that you have absorbed the content.
The paper for this class will take the form of a proposal to submit questions to a national academic survey (GSS). You will be required to write valid survey questions and justify your topic in terms of previous research and current interest. It will require a good working knowledge of survey research methods and public opinion literature, and will serve as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your mastery of the material for the class. Any paper turned in with serious grammar or spelling problems or seriously lacking in length or quality will be returned to you for a re-write with an automatic point deduction. No credit will be given until the paper meets minimal college-level paper standards. A detailed paper assignment sheet will be available on the course web page. The paper is due on Monday, April 26. Questions are due Monday, April 5. Late papers will lose 5% per day (including weekends). A paper is considered late if it is turned in after the start of class on the due date. No exceptions. Only hard copy versions of the paper count!
This course will include some smaller scale homework assignments as well as some in-class projects. These assignments are designed to help you learn the material more thoroughly.
Attendance is expected, and your participation is appreciated. As an academic community, we can all learn from each other. Your input and insight is a valuable part of the learning experience for the entire class. Please come to class prepared to get involved and engaged – this will not be a passive-learning class.
Quizzes total 350 35%
Participation and attendance 100 10%
In-class and homework 100 10%
Paper 200 20%
Final 250 25%
Attendance: Mandatory. Should you miss an in-class activity or be absent more than twice, your grade will suffer. Being in class is vital to your learning. If you miss 8 or more class sessions, you will automatically get an F in the class.
No Make-Up . There will be no make-up exams offered unless you bring documentation of severe illness or a death in the family. In the case of quizzes, you have multiple days to complete them, so there should be very few valid reasons for doing so. I do not give incompletes. You know the deadlines now. Prepare accordingly.
Cheating and/or plagiarism: At the risk of being clichéd, you only cheat yourself when you cheat in class. Just do the work. The penalties will adhere to University Policy, but at the minimum will result in an F for the exam or assignment in question. The relevant university policy can be accessed at: http://www.csus.edu/admbus/umanual/UMA00150.htm
Turn off Beeping Things. Please remember to turn off your cell phones, laptop sounds, etc. No texting or e-mailing during class! If you just MUST chat with someone, please do it outside of class. Our sessions are for learning. I reserve the right to ban laptops in class if a problem develops. If your use of electronics becomes disruptive, you may be asked to leave the classroom.
Please be respectful and do not text or e-mail during class.
Class Disruptions: It is important that the learning environment be free of distractions and disruptions. Any student who creates a disturbance or otherwise prohibits the class from proceeding smoothly will be ejected from the class. Further penalties will be imposed if the behavior recurs. The University policy can be viewed here: http://www.csus.edu/admbus/umanual/UMD03250.htm
Courtesy. Please be respectful of other’s opinions during discussions. Rest assured that everyone will get a chance to express themselves. Please sit near the door if you have to leave early for any reason.
Completion. If you fail to turn in a paper, you cannot pass the class, even if your point total would be sufficient.
This year, the State of
Section I: Where do opinions come from? How are they formed?
C&O Chapter 1
· Feb 1/3 Political Psychology/ Cognition/ Opinion Formation
C&O Chapter 4
Quiz 1 posted Thursday
· Feb. 8/10 Political Socialization: Ideology/ Party Identification
C&O Chapter 2
**Monday is a Campus Furlough Day – no class**
C&O Chapter 5
Quiz 2 posted Thursday
Section II: How is public opinion measured?
· Feb. 22/24 Measuring Public Opinion: Polling
Fowler 1 and 2
Quiz 3 posted Thursday
· March 8/10 Survey Design and Methods
Fowler 4 and 6
**Furlough Day on Wednesday – no class (work on questions)**
Fowler 7 and 10
Quiz 4 posted Thursday
*********March 29, 31 Spring Break*********
C&O Chapter 7
Quiz 5 posted Thursday
*Questions due Monday*
Section III: What are the patterns?
· April 12/14 Group Difference in Opinion Holding and Democratic Stability
C&O Chapters 8 and 9
· April 19/21 Elections and Public Opinion
Lascher, Edward, Hagen and Rochlin, "Gun Behind the Door" Journal of Politics 1996 58:760-775
(need to search for it in the library database)
Quiz 6 posted Thursday
· April 26/28 The Influence of Media
C&O Chapter 3
*Paper Due Monday*
Section IV: How is public opinion used in a Democracy?
· May 3/5 Trust and Support
C&O Chapter 10
Quiz 7 posted Thursday
C&O Chapter 12
**Furlough Day on Wednesday – no class (final study groups)**
******Final Exam: Wednesday, May 19, 3:00-5:00 ******