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GV4J3: Public Opinion, Political Psychology, and Citizenship

This course is being conducted as an MSc seminar at the London School of Economics and Political Science during Lent Term, primarily for students in the Political Science and Political Economy or Comparative Politics MSc programmes but it is open to students in other degree programmes, as well. The course overview is available in the LSE Calendar.

Overview and Syllabus

The purpose of this course is to explore issues related to public opinion, including what opinions are and how they are formed, what factors do and do not influence opinion development and change, how opinions drive citizens’ political thinking and behaviour, and what implications these psychological processes have for the role of public opinions in democratic government. Students will leave the course with a thorough theoretical understanding of political opinions, their origins, and their possible effects through exposure to philosophical perspectives, contemporary case studies, and a broad set of empirical research. The course will challenge assumptions about what democracy is and how it works, explore what it means to be a good citizen in a contemporary democracy, and provide students with insight into how democratic governments can and should respond to the public’s views. The focus will be on how citizens form political opinions, think and reason about policy debates, and act on their opinions, especially outside of elections, across a broad array of country contexts.

You can find an outline of the course objectives, schedule for the course, and assigned readings in the Syllabus.

Schedule and Slides

A final schedule is below:

  • Week 1 (Jan. 13): Conceptualizations of “Public” “Opinion”
  • Week 2 (Jan. 20): Voting Behaviour
  • Week 3 (Jan. 27): What are attitudes?
  • Week 4 (Feb. 3): Media and Social Influence
  • Week 5 (Feb. 10): Motivated Reasoning
  • Week 6: Reading Week feedback sessions (see below)
  • Week 7 (Feb. 24): Emotion and/or Cognition
  • Week 8 (Mar. 3): Political Identity, Values, and Other Predispositions
  • Week 9 (Mar. 9): Student Presentations
  • Weeks 1 (Mar. 17): Student Presentations
  • Week 11 (Mar. 24): Judgement and Decision-Making II; Conclusion

Weekly Questions and Writing Assignments

The course will primarily involve student-led discussions with the exception of a few lecture elements surrounding methodological issues in public opinion research. The course is structured as a “reading group,” where every student is expected to have read all assigned readings and should be able to summarize and critique each reading if asked to do so.

In preparing for discussion students should be able to summarize and critique several key parts of each article:

  1. What is the research question?
  2. What is the theory? Is it clearly argued and reasonable?
  3. To which literature does the article contribute?
  4. What are the hypotheses or expectations? Do these derive clearly from theory? Are they falsifiable?
  5. What is the method of analysis? How are data collected? How appropriate are the method and data?
  6. What are the results? Do they support the proposed theory?

It may be useful to write out answer to each of these questions for every article. An example of such notes for one reading is provided.

Additionally, given the discussion format of the course, every week, every student must post 1 or 2 discussion questions to Moodle based upon the topic of the week and the assigned readings. These are due by Thursday at 17:00 (5:00pm) prior to class.

Problem Sets

Given the combination of an assessed essay as the sole summative assessment, a relatively short term (10 weeks), and the varied backgrounds of students enrolled in the course, short problem sets applying different research methods in public opinion are due in the first four weeks of the course (Weeks 2–5). These provide an opportunity to both gain methodological competence to critique readings in the course and prepare the final exam project.

Problem Set Due Date Solution Set
Interviewing Jan. 16 Solutions
Trends and Toplines Jan. 23 Solutions
Correlation and Regression Jan. 30 Solutions
Experimentation Feb. 6 Solutions

The problem sets are “mandatory” (meaning encouraged but optional) and are not marked. Please treat them as an opportunity to self-evaluate and learn and to approach the instructor with any hesitations you may have. Collaboration is allowed, but each student should submit an individual assignment. Marking rubrics will be provided.

Reading Week Activities

There will be no class meeting on February 16 (LT Week 6) due to Reading Week. In preparation for the final exam, students will prepare a short, 2-page proposal to be submitted in Week 6 of Lent Term that outlines a possible project for the assessed essay. This document should state a research topic and clear research question, make reference to relevant theoretical and empirical literature, and propose a basic design for addressing the question. Students should focus on one topic, but can present up to two distinct ideas if they are undecided about what to do. The proposal should be uploaded to Moodle by the beginning of Week 6.

Students should then meet one-on-one with the instructor during Week 6 to discuss the ideas, receive feedback, and make plans for the final paper. Once a topic is agreed, student should use Week 6 to complete an annotated bibliography of 5–10 relevant studies (from reading list and elsewhere) that motivate the final project and upload it to Moodle.

Once finalized, 3–4 students per week will be asked to briefly present their projects for peer feedback during class meetings in Weeks 9–10 of term. These presentations should be oral and last about 5 minutes.


Due Tuesday 25 April 2018 at 5:00pm

The exam for the course is an independent research paper of approximately 5,000 words that addresses an important political science question related to public opinion, political psychology, or political behavior, offers a theoretical contribution toward understanding that question, and reports the results of an empirical analysis to test that theory. The requirements for the empirical component are flexible and it can involve an original survey and/or experimental data collection, a pilot test of a proposed research design, qualitative data analysis (such as focus groups or semi-structured interviewing), the analysis of existing public opinion data, or a mix of these.

Original data analysis (and possibly data collection) are required, though the particular form of the empirical component can be qualitative, quantitative, or both. Some examples of empirical projects include: an original survey and/or experimental data collection, a pilot test of a proposed research design (and the description of a more complete empirical design), qualitative data analysis (such as focus groups, semi-structured interviewing, content analysis, etc.), the analysis of existing public opinion data (e.g., surveys, cross-national comparisons, election results, etc.), or some mix of these. While it is not expected that students conduct a large-scale study, they must conduct some novel data collection and/or analysis.

Students pursuing original data collection (of any kind) must comply with the LSE Research Ethics Policy and complete an ethical self-assessment form (to be signed by the instructor) before gathering any data.

The exam essay will be marked according to guidelines available in the Government Department MSc Handbook. Marks are assigned according to the conventional LSE scale and written feedback will be provided on the assessed essay.