GV917-7-FY-CO:
Public Opinion and Political Behaviour

The details
2020/21
Government
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Postgraduate: Level 7
Current
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
30
05 June 2020

 

Requisites for this module
(none)
(none)
(none)
(none)

 

(none)

Key module for

MA L20712 Public Opinion and Political Behaviour,
MA L207EB Public Opinion and Political Behaviour,
MA L207EK Public Opinion and Political Behaviour,
MSC L20712 Public Opinion and Political Behaviour,
MSC L207EB Public Opinion and Political Behaviour,
MSC L207EK Public Opinion and Political Behaviour

Module description

The aim of this module is to introduce students to the latest theoretical debates about the nature, significance, measurement and analysis of public opinion. In addition it aims to provide them with the background knowledge and practical skills needed to undertake surveys of public opinion. These are required by anyone seeking employment in polling and market research industry or who wishes to conduct further research in the fields of political attitudes and behaviour.

The course examines three broad issues:

How do we Understand Public Opinion?
* How do citizens acquire information and convert it into opinions?
* Given that it is rational for individuals not to invest too much in acquiring political knowledge, how do they manage to learn what they know?
* Can politicians and the media influence public opinion and if so, how?

How do we measure Public Opinion?
* Polls and surveys. How do the public understand opinion questions in surveys and how can we go about measuring this?
* Sampling Theory. How do we select representative samples in order to understand what the public really thinks?
* Measurement and Scaling. How do we measure opinion accurately? What types of measurement scales are available to help us do this?

How do we analyse Public Opinion?
* Correlation and Regression methods. Bivariate and multivariate regression, and path analysis.
* Factor analysis and Data reduction techniques. Principal components and principal factor analysis, latent versus manifest opinion measures and measurement error.

Module aims

The aim of this module is to introduce students to the latest theoretical debates about the nature, significance, measurement and analysis of public opinion. In addition it aims to provide them with the background knowledge and practical skills needed to undertake surveys of public opinion. These are required by anyone seeking employment in polling and market research industry or who wishes to conduct further research in the fields of political attitudes and behaviour.

The course examines three broad issues:

How do we Understand Public Opinion?
• How do citizens acquire information and convert it into opinions?
• Given that it is rational for individuals not to invest too much in acquiring political knowledge, how do they manage to learn what they know?
• Can politicians and the media influence public opinion and if so, how?

How do we measure Public Opinion?
• Polls and surveys. How do the public understand opinion questions in surveys and how can we go about measuring this?
• Sampling Theory. How do we select representative samples in order to understand what the public really thinks?
• Measurement and Scaling. How do we measure opinion accurately? What types of measurement scales are available to help us do this?

How do we analyse Public Opinion?
• Correlation and Regression methods. Bivariate and multivariate regression, and path analysis.
• Factor analysis and Data reduction techniques. Principal components and principal factor analysis, latent versus manifest opinion measures and measurement error.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students should have a good working knowledge of

• The latest theoretical debates about the nature and dynamics of public opinion
• An understanding of the processes of opinion formation, the nature of public reasoning about political issues and interpersonal influences on opinion including the role of the mass media
• A sound understanding of the techniques used to measure opinion within a variety of settings
• A working knowledge of the statistical theory required to select representative samples of the population
• An understanding of the main multivariate techniques used to analyse public opinion data including data reduction techniques and regression analysis

Module information

Module Aims
The aim of this module is to introduce students to the latest theoretical debates about the nature, significance, measurement and analysis of public opinion. In addition it aims to provide them with the background knowledge and practical skills needed to undertake surveys of public opinion. These are required by anyone seeking employment in polling and market research industry or who wishes to conduct further research in the fields of political attitudes and behaviour.

The course examines three broad issues:

How do we Understand Public Opinion?
* How do citizens acquire information and convert it into opinions?
* Given that it is rational for individuals not to invest too much in acquiring political knowledge, how do they manage to learn what they know?
* Can politicians and the media influence public opinion and if so, how?

How do we measure Public Opinion?
* Polls and surveys. How do the public understand opinion questions in surveys and how can we go about measuring this?
* Sampling Theory. How do we select representative samples in order to understand what the public really thinks?
* Measurement and Scaling. How do we measure opinion accurately? What types of measurement scales are available to help us do this?

How do we analyse Public Opinion?
* Correlation and Regression methods. Bivariate and multivariate regression, and path analysis.
* Factor analysis and Data reduction techniques. Principal components and principal factor analysis, latent versus manifest opinion measures and measurement error.

Objectives
By the end of the module students should have a good working knowledge of

* The latest theoretical debates about the nature and dynamics of public opinion
* An understanding of the processes of opinion formation, the nature of public reasoning about political issues and interpersonal influences on opinion including the role of the mass media
* A sound understanding of the techniques used to measure opinion within a variety of settings
* A working knowledge of the statistical theory required to select representative samples of the population
* An understanding of the main multivariate techniques used to analyse public opinion data including data reduction techniques and regression analysis

Key Skills

The seminar will engage students in interactive discussions and group study skills. It will foster critical thinking, problem solving, collaborative learning and oral communication. Essays will help develop the ability to organise facts and data and produce a logical, coherent and empirically supported argument. The seminars will also help to develop the capacity for critical judgement. The laboratory sessions will develop the skills needed for the quantitative analysis of polling data as well as information technology skills. They will also provide knowledge of the statistical methods and software needed for the analysis of surveys of public opinion. The key skills are:
* Communications – oral presentations; writing clearly and working to a deadline
* Collaboration – interacting with others in academic debates
* Information Technology – online searching, word processing, statistical analysis
* Problem solving – analysing quantitative and qualitative evidence, summarizing complex findings from surveys and identifying trends in data
* Numeracy – Data analytic and statistical skills, interpreting bivariate and multivariate models
* Work experience – students can opt to take a three week work placement with a polling agency, subject to availability.

Module Organisation
The course is based around two-hour seminars in the autumn term and at the start of the Spring term. This will be live streamed to students who are off campus. From week 19 in the spring term the class will move to Computer Lab N to work on topics relating to the statistical analysis of survey data.

In the first teaching week of the autumn term the tutor will lead the discussion, presenting theoretical ideas and research findings relevant to understanding the nature and dynamics of public opinion. Each subsequent week in the autumn term will involve presentations of key readings by individual students followed by a class discussion. The purpose of the presentations is to allow students to critically evaluate theoretical arguments and research findings relevant to understanding the nature of public opinion. In the spring term from week 19 the organisation of the course will change, with the tutor lecturing on statistical topics for the first hour followed by student participation in computer laboratory exercises in the second hour. These exercises are designed to give students practical skills in sampling theory and data analysis of the type needed to understand opinion data. The exercises use data from a variety of actual opinion surveys.

Students Should:
* Attend all lectures and classes after having done the required reading.
* Actively participate in the class discussion.
* Think about the readings and lecture notes before the class, and be ready to discuss them.
* Identify the key assumptions in the texts; map the structure of the argument; underline the conclusions. Ask yourself whether you agree with the text, whether you can identify weaknesses or gaps in the argument, and what could someone who disagrees with it argue against it.


* Learning about and discussing these texts is a communal endeavour and it helps you to learn and acquire skills. Further, part of what we want you to achieve is clear and confident oral presentation.
* Weekly reading and class participation is essential. The following questions are helpful to keep in mind while you do the readings
* What type of reading is this? Is it theoretical piece, literature review, or an empirical piece?

More generally when selecting a topic and writing an essay ask:
* What is the major research question motivating the essay?
* What are the key concepts and theoretical ideas addressed in the essay?
* What are the main arguments, propositions or hypotheses advanced in previous research on this topic?
* Do you have criticisms of previous research on this topic?
* What are the hypotheses you are addressing in the essay and what are their theoretical foundations and the causal mechanism underlying them?
* Are the logical arguments and evidence you are presenting sufficient to back the main claims you are making?
* What are the main implications of the findings for our broader understanding of public opinion and political behaviour?



Learning and teaching methods

The course is based around two-hour seminars in the autumn term and at the start of the Spring term. This will be live streamed to students who are off campus. From week 19 in the spring term the class will move to Computer Lab N to work on topics relating to the statistical analysis of survey data. In the first teaching week of the autumn term the tutor will lead the discussion, presenting theoretical ideas and research findings relevant to understanding the nature and dynamics of public opinion. Each subsequent week in the autumn term will involve presentations of key readings by individual students followed by a class discussion. The purpose of the presentations is to allow students to critically evaluate theoretical arguments and research findings relevant to understanding the nature of public opinion. In the spring term from week 19 the organisation of the course will change, with the tutor lecturing on statistical topics for the first hour followed by student participation in computer laboratory exercises in the second hour. These exercises are designed to give students practical skills in sampling theory and data analysis of the type needed to understand opinion data. The exercises use data from a variety of actual opinion surveys. Students Should: * Attend all lectures and classes after having done the required reading. * Actively participate in the class discussion. * Think about the readings and lecture notes before the class, and be ready to discuss them. * Identify the key assumptions in the texts; map the structure of the argument; underline the conclusions. Ask yourself whether you agree with the text, whether you can identify weaknesses or gaps in the argument, and what could someone who disagrees with it argue against it. * Learning about and discussing these texts is a communal endeavour and it helps you to learn and acquire skills. Further, part of what we want you to achieve is clear and confident oral presentation. * Weekly reading and class participation is essential. The following questions are helpful to keep in mind while you do the readings * What type of reading is this? Is it theoretical piece, literature review, or an empirical piece? More generally when selecting a topic and writing an essay ask: * What is the major research question motivating the essay? * What are the key concepts and theoretical ideas addressed in the essay? * What are the main arguments, propositions or hypotheses advanced in previous research on this topic? * Do you have criticisms of previous research on this topic? * What are the hypotheses you are addressing in the essay and what are their theoretical foundations and the causal mechanism underlying them? * Are the logical arguments and evidence you are presenting sufficient to back the main claims you are making? * What are the main implications of the findings for our broader understanding of public opinion and political behaviour?

Bibliography*

This module does not appear to have a published bibliography.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   First Essay     37.5% 
Coursework   Written Report on Class Presentation    25% 
Coursework   Second Essay    37.5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%

Reassessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Paul Whiteley, email: whiteley@essex.ac.uk.
Professor Paul Whiteley
Module Supervisor Professor Paul Whiteley whiteley@essex.ac.uk Module Administrator Jamie Seakens govpgquery@essex.ac.uk

 

Availability
Yes
No
No

External examiner

Dr Nicholas Walter Vivyan
University of Durham
Senior Lecturer
Resources
Available via Moodle
Of 40 hours, 2 (5%) hours available to students:
14 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
24 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).

 

Further information
Government

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its Module Directory is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to programmes, modules, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to modules may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery or assessment of modules and other services, to discontinue modules and other services and to merge or combine modules. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications and module directory.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.