Welcome!

This GitPage is intended to be the interactive syllabus for Pol 157: American Public Opinion course at Sacramento State University for the 2019 Spring Semester. The full syllabus for the course can be found above. Class logistics, the theoritical framework for the course, and course readings can be found below. Under each meeting header, you will find:

Class Time, Office Hours & Course Materials

Lecture: Amador Hall 262; Tuesday & Thursday 1:30-2:45
Office Hours: Tahoe Hall 3001; Tuesday 11:30-1:20 & by appointment
Course Materials: Canvas & GitPage

Course Objective: How do we study American Public Opinion & its implications on American Political Life?

This course offers an introduction to the systematic and meticulous study of American Political Behavior in the Mass Public. Building on the scientific foundation of political science, this course is designed to provide an understanding into the determinants of political preferences held by citizens and how these preferences influence how citizens participate and gain representation within the political framework of American government. The main question motivating the course is a simple, yet complex one: how do citizens develop (or fail to develop) their political attitudes and what are the implications of these attitudes on political decision-making by citizens (i.e., vote preferences) and elected elites (i.e., Congress & Presidency). Recognizing that coherent attitudes and engaged political participation is the “ideal” standard for representative democracy, the motivating question of the course hinges on understanding the following concept:

These thematic questions may seem daunting, but this course will give you the necessary framework to perform careful political and social science analysis to gain leverage on these questions. This course will provide not only an understanding of how to think of the study of the causes and implications of American public opinion, but also how to engage in careful social science analysis. This course emphasizes the tools you need to assess political behaviors, practices, and institutional representation based on theory and evidence. Welcome to the class!

Please Note: The forthcoming course schedule & reading list is tentative and may be change as required. I will update the syllabus and course GitPage to reflect changes as the semester progresses.

Course Road-Map & Materials


Note: Slidesets are posted as links in the meeting headers text.

1. Foundations of American Public Opinion

Section Objective: In the first module of this course, we dive into a broad overview of American Public Opinion. This section provides an understanding of what American Public opinion and the challenges political scientist face when studying this topic. We also explore the “ideal type” of polity, with respect to public opinion, as envisioned by the architects in the American Democratic System. In this section, we also gain applied experience of how to use survey methods (a very commonly used method by political scientists) to measure the opinions, attitudes, and preferences of citizens.

  1. Week 1 & 2 (January 22nd, January 29, & January 31st): Course Overview & Defining the “Ideal Citizen”" in the American Democratic System. How do political scientists study public opinion? What are some of the challenges and pitfalls of such an approach?

  2. Week 3 (February 7th & February 12th): How do we measure salient political topics in the mass public? How “stable” are some of the attitudinal measures?

2. Citizen Reasonging & Determinants of Political Attitudes

Section Objective: In this second module of this course, we investigate the literature on how citizens reason about political abstractions and how they do (or don’t) think coherently about politics. We pay special attention to whether are able to think “ideologically” and develop coherent preferences about the “ideal” role of government in society. After discussing how citizens may fall short in this endeavor of specifying coherent preferences about government, we turn to potential heuristics (i.e., short-cuts) that may help citizens develop coherent political preferences.

  1. Week 4 & 5 (February 14th, February 19th, & February 21st): How do citizens ``reason;; about politics in American Life? Are citizens generally able to “learn” in a political context? How do these preference and resource differences factor into how citizens participate in politics?

  2. Week 6 (February 26th & February 28th): Now that we have discussed how citizens do (or do not) reason about politics, we turn to whether citizens hold coherent preferences that guide their micro-level political behavior. Does the mass public generally possess high levels of political knowledge and “ideological” thinking? How do citizens use (or do note use) heuristics to overcome the democratic dilemma?

  3. Week 7 (March 5th & March 7th): Which models seek to explain the origins of partisanship, the most salient heuristic of political attitudes and choice? What are the effects of partisanship on the political behavior of citizens? Does partisanship change?

  4. Week 8 (March 12th & March 14th): Catch-Up/Review & Midterm Exam Week. For this week, we should plan on catching-up on left-over material and/or taking the class period on Tuesday (March 12th) to review the material ahead of the midterm exam.

    *Download Midterm Review Here.*


    Midterm Exam (March 14, 2019)


    Spring Break: March 18th - March 22th


3. Translating Preference to Behavior: The Role of Campaigns & Elections in American Political Life

Section Objective: In this section, we turn to how citizens translate their preferences into decisions of electoral choice. We investigate and assess three main models of electoral choice: the spatial model, the partisanship model, and the retrospective model. We then turn to how well these heuristics work in various electoral contexts, particularly electoral contexts lacking a clear partisan heuristic (i.e., non-partisan contexts). Lastly we discuss citizen participation in the electoral arena, with a particular focus on the socioeconomic model of electoral turnout.

  1. Week 9 (March 26th & March 28th): How are political preferences translated to representative choice? How do the partisan, spatial (ideological), and valence models differ in explaining citizen electoral preferences?

  2. Week 10 (April 2nd & April 4th): How well do these models of electoral choice perform in varying electoral contexts, such as ballot referendums, local elections, and non-partisan elections? Are there limitations to translating citizen preference to electoral choice in non-candidate and party-centered context?

4. Cleavages in the Mass Public-Are citizens polarized in political preference & attitude?

Section Objective: In this section module we dive into a salient debate in the American public opinion literature, the debate of issue preference polarization in the mass public. We begin by setting the debate around the key analytical question: Are Americans as polarized as elites in their issue preferences? Is there a clear answer to this question? We then investigate specific aspects of this issue polarization as it relates to race and class cleavages in American society. We explore this polarization assessing work on preferences are a vast array of issues. Lastly, we conclude this section discussing the implications of issue polarization on the potential prevalence of resource bias in American political representation.

  1. Week 11 (April 9th & April 11th): Setting the debate: are citizens fundamentally polarized in their political preferences as elected elites (i.e., members of Congress) are? Is there variation in beliefs about political tolerance in the mass public?

  2. Week 12 (April 16th & April 19th): What is the role of racial cleavages in American public opinion? Specifically, do different racial groups diverge in political preferences?

  3. Week 13 (April 23rd & April 25th): What is the role of economic and class cleavages in American political life? Do different social classes diverge on political preferences, particularly on economic preferences, and what are the potential implications of this on the resource bias of representation?

5. Bringing the course together: Does opinion get translated into democratic responsiveness?

Section Objective: Lastly, we conclude the course with a discussion of perhaps the most seminal equation motivating the course: does American public opinion influence the policy outputs produced by our elected agents (i.e, Congress & the Presidency)? If public opinion does influence government policy responsiveness, is there variation in which citizens are able to more effectively secure this responsiveness? What could be a potential explanation of this variation? We then conclude the course on a comparative note, by investigating whether other institutional designs are more effective at translating mass public opinion into congruent government policy responsiveness.

  1. Week 14 (April 30th & May 2nd): Does public opinion influence government policy? If it does, which citizen types are able to secure policy responsiveness from their government?

  2. Week 15 (May 7th & May 9th): Lastly, does the institutional framework of the United States facilitate or hinder the translation of American public opinion to legislative policy outcomes?