Public opinion: Methods and meaning

Course content

This course is about how to understand, and measure, public opinion about political topics (e.g., the environment, the economy, ethnic groups), as well as people’s evaluations of candidates and parties. We will have two substantive modules and two methodological ones. The substantive modules will include the search for causes of public opinion (self-interest, social groups, parties and media) as well as the consequences of public opinion inside and outside the political system. The methodological modules are about measuring and modeling public opinion, as well as survey and field experiments. Many concepts will be applicable to all developed democracies, but the empirics in this course will often come from the United States.


Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome

Knowledge: Have read the classic texts on the causes, consequences and measurement of public opinion. Understand recent innovations in the field, and current gaps in the literature.


Skills: Making links between different parts of the literature on public opinion. Processing and modeling raw survey results, and using the outcomes as part of a larger analysis. Writing, and evaluating, survey experiment designs.


Competences: Identifying interesting and novel questions about public opinion, and evaluating different methods for answering them.

This is a seminar-style course, where we will discuss, compare and evaluate the assigned readings. Students will reflect on the readings beforehand through weekly forum posts.

Readings include (chapters from) old and new classics such as:

  • Zaller, John R. The nature and origins of mass opinion. Cambridge university press, 1992.
  • Kinder, Donald R. "Opinion and action in the realm of politics." (1998) In: D. Gilbert, S. Fiske, and G. Lindzey (eds), Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th edition.
  • Lenz, Gabriel S. Follow the leader?: how voters respond to politicians' policies and performance. University of Chicago Press, 2013.
  • Achen, Christopher H., and Larry M. Bartels. Democracy for realists: Why elections do not produce responsive government. Vol. 4. Princeton University Press, 2017.


We will also discuss recent articles published in the fields of political methodology and political behavior, such as:

  • Gelman, Andrew, Sharad Goel, Douglas Rivers, and David Rothschild. "The mythical swing voter." Quarterly Journal of Political Science 11, no. 1 (2016): 103-130.
  • Leeper, Thomas J., and Rune Slothuus. "Political parties, motivated reasoning, and public opinion formation." Political Psychology 35 (2014): 129-156.
  • Hainmueller, Jens, Dominik Hangartner, and Teppei Yamamoto. "Validating vignette and conjoint survey experiments against real-world behavior." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, no. 8 (2015): 2395-2400.
  • Iyengar, Shanto, and Masha Krupenkin. "Partisanship as Social Identity; Implications for the Study of Party Polarization." In The Forum, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 23-45. De Gruyter, 2018.

The course builds on knowledge of regression and statistics for causal inference. Understanding of logistic regression, multilevel models and dimension reduction methods is helpful for the measurement section of the course. The experimental section assumes that students come in with a basic understanding of the trade-offs involved in observational versus experimental studies, and of statistical hypothesis testing.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28