Public Opinion: Nature and Measurement - PO956

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
7 20 (10) DR B Seyd







This module complements the core programme module ('Political Psychology') by providing students with a detailed introduction to the nature and study of public opinion. Opinion and attitudes are central to the choices that citizens make and to the way they behave, which in turn are core outcomes in politics. Yet the nature and formation of those attitudes are complex, and shaped by a range of individual and contextual factors, which are central subjects within psychology. This module therefore brings together perspectives from both political science and psychology, in helping students to understand how citizens form attitudes and opinions, the processes and considerations that underpin attitude formation, the factors and actors that influence these formative processes and the effect that citizens’ attitudes have on their behaviour. The module will also consider the principal ways in which we identify and measure public opinion. Underpinning the module will be the central question of whether the nature of citizens’ opinions are consistent with the assumptions and demands of modern democratic states.


Contact hours

11 two-hour lecture/seminars

Method of assessment

100% coursework (first Essay of = 3000 words (35%), second essay of = 3000 words (55%), individual class presentation (10%)

Indicative reading

James Kuklinski, ed, Citizens and Politics: Perspectives from Political Psychology, Cambridge (2008)
Richard Lau and David Redlawsk, How Voters Decide, Cambridge (2006)
Milton Lodge and Charles Taber, The Rationalizing Voter, Cambridge (2013)
Roger Tourangeau et al, The Psychology of Survey Response, Cambridge (2000)
John Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, Cambridge (1992)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will:
1.1 Understand and be able to critically evaluate key perspectives and debates on the nature and formation of public opinion.
1.2 Have a critical understanding of the way in which public attitudes may be said to be 'constructed', and of the principal factors that influence this construction.
1.3 Be able to evaluate the role of external agencies in shaping the information to which citizens are exposed, and the processes by which citizens internalise such information.
1.4 Have a critical understanding of academic debates over the informational and 'rational' content of public attitudes
1.5 Be able to evaluate academic arguments over how far citizens’ attitudes and behaviour are consistent with the requirements of democratic theory.

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