Public Opinion: Nature and Measurement - POLI9560

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2022 to 2023
Spring Term 7 20 (10) Ben Seyd checkmark-circle


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, notably through surveys. 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

Total contact hours: 22
Private study hours: 178
Total study hours: 200


MSc in Political Psychology

Method of assessment

Essay 1, 3000 words, 40%
Essay 2, 3000 words, 60%

13.2 Reassessment methods: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Reading List (Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually)

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

The intended subject specific learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

8.1 Understand and critically evaluate key perspectives and debates on the nature and formation of public opinion.

8.2 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.

8.3 evaluate the role of external agencies in shaping the information to which citizens are exposed, and the processes by which citizens internalise such information.

8.4 Have a critical understanding of academic debates over the informational and 'rational' content of public attitudes

8.5 evaluate academic arguments over how far citizens' attitudes and behaviour are consistent with the requirements of democratic theory.

The intended generic learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

9.1 Have gained a critical understanding of relevant perspectives within the field of political psychology, and of the ways in which these perspectives inform the analysis and understanding of public opinion.

9.2 Have gained a critical understanding of the various theories and methods used in the psychological study of public opinion, and be able to use this understanding to evaluate the relative merits of different theoretical and methodological approaches.

9.3 identify and critically evaluate theories and empirical findings within the literature on political psychology, and to apply these evaluations in helping to address and resolve key political issues.

9.4 evaluate complex issues, and to express their ideas and conclusions effectively in oral and written form.

9.5 Manifest self-direction and originality in tackling issues, along with a critical awareness of their own understanding and skills and an ability to advance these.


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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