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

The details
2019/20
Government
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Postgraduate: Level 7
Current
Thursday 03 October 2019
Friday 26 June 2020
30
13 August 2019

 

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

 

(none)

Key module for

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

Module description

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the latest theoretical debates about the nature, significance, measurement and analysis of public opinion and political behaviour. In addition, it aims to provide them with the background knowledge and practical skills needed to undertake surveys and survey experiments on public opinion and political behaviour. 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 and political behaviour?
* 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?
* How does political information and public opinion influence political behaviour?

How do we design survey to measure public opinion and political behaviour?
* Polls and surveys: How do the public understand 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 and political behaviour? What type of measurement scales are available to help us do this?

How do we collect and analyse public opinion and political behaviour data?
* Survey administration: (online survey) questionnaire design and fieldwork
* Descriptive analysis and visualization of data
* Hypotheses testing: Bivariate and multivariate regressions, presentation and interpretation of results

Objectives

By the end of the course students should have a good working knowledge of
* The latest theoretical debates about the nature and dynamics of public opinion and political behaviour
* An understanding of the processes of opinion formation, the nature of public reasoning about political issues and interpersonal influences on opinion
* 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 and political behaviour data including data reduction techniques and regression analysis

Learning Outcomes

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 survey 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 and political behaviour. 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, data visualization, 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

Module aims

Objectives

By the end of the course students should have a good working knowledge of
* The latest theoretical debates about the nature and dynamics of public opinion and political behaviour
* An understanding of the processes of opinion formation, the nature of public reasoning about political issues and interpersonal influences on opinion
* 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 and political behaviour data including data reduction techniques and regression analysis

Module learning outcomes

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 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. 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?

Module Administration
Contact govpgquery@essex.ac.uk.

Assessment

Assignment Due Date Weighting
First Essay Week 11 25%
Second Essay Week 24 25%
Written Report on Class Presentation Two Weeks after the Presentation 15%
Unseen Class Test Week 25 35%

The assessment will involve two essays, a report on your presentation and a two hour unseen class test at the end of the year. The essays should be word processed and double-spaced with adequate margins and not in a pdf format. The topic of the essay is up to you to define. That said, it should be related to the issues discussed in the module and be about 3,000 words long. An additional requirement of the second essay is that it should involve some computer based data analysis.

Each student will sign up to presenting a Powerpoint to the class on the topics discussed each week. These class presentations will take place from week 3 up to week 18 and you will be asked to sign up for one of them at the initial meeting in week 2. Some of the presentations may involve two or more students working together, but each individual will be responsible for their own written report. This will be delivered two weeks after the presentation. The report on the presentation should be about 2,500 words which includes a 5% mark for class participation, both in relation to the effectiveness of the presentation and more generally in contributions to class discussions. The written report should focus on answering the question raised in the topic of the week, taking into account the above guidance on writing essays. The Powerpoint presentation should be uploaded onto Moodle on the Friday before the presentation on Monday.

Note that no extensions to deadlines are given except for health reasons, and a medical note is required to validate this. An additional requirement is that students will have successfully completed the computer exercises undertaken in the Spring Term. So it is important to keep a record of these, so that they can be evaluated in the summer term.


Learning and teaching methods

The module is based around two-hour seminars in the autumn term and at the start of the Spring term. From week 20 in the spring term we will have classes in combination with computer laboratory sessions. 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 the organisation of the course will change, with lectures and discussions on statistical topics followed by student participation in computer laboratory exercises. These exercises are designed to give students practical skills in survey design and implementation, and data analysis of the type needed to understand opinion and behavioural data. The exercises use data from a variety of actual opinion and election surveys.

Bibliography

This module does not appear to have a published bibliography.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework First Essay 09/12/2019 25%
Coursework Written Report on Class Presentation 09/12/2019 15%
Coursework Second Essay 09/03/2020 25%
Coursework In-Class Test 16/03/2020 35%

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%

Reassessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Seonghui Lee
Module Supervisor Professor Paul Whiteley whiteley@essex.ac.uk or 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

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