The Psychology of Politics, Public Opinion and Attitudes Formation

Course content

At the core of this course lies the question of what political scientists can learn from psychological theories and research approaches to explain attitude formation and individual behavior in the political arena. It will integrate several general themes of psychological research – e.g. personality, emotions, cognition, and evolution – to the general study of political behaviors and phenomena. These general themes will guide a detailed understanding of several specific topics in politics, including the ‘framing’ of political issues, the development and expression of prejudice, the occurrence of wars, and the shaping of ideology and of party preferences. We thereby focus on both the general public and political elites.

To address these issues, the course engages with advanced methodological issues and questions, such as survey experiments and questions of measuring psychological traits.  This is necessary to build a bridge between the application of political psychological theories and solutions to real-world problems in contemporary workplaces.


Bachelor student (2012 programme curriculum): 20 ECTS

Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 15 ECTS

Master student: 15 ECTS

Learning outcome


The purpose is to become familiar with recent perspectives and theories on the importance of psychological constructs on political behavior. Students will acquire knowledge about theories and methods on how to research the influence of psychological traits such as personality and cognition as well as emotional states such as enthusiasm, anger, anxiety on political attitudes and behaviors.



Students will acquire the ability and skill to understand and critically analyze contemporary literature and political opinion formation.



Students will develop a competence in applying these skills and knowledge to real world issues and professional settings.

This elective will consist of a combination of lectures, student presentations (‘impulse presentations’ of student groups) and discussions, small exercises and general discussions

An extensive week-by-week reading list, featuring core reading for each topic, will be made available on Absalon. Apart from scientific publications, we will also read blogposts and newspaper articles.

Part of the course’s core literature will be the Oxford Handbook on Political Psychology, which is accessible via the library.


Exemplary readings are listed below:

Alford J.R., C.L. Funk and J.R. Hibbing (2005). Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted? American Political Science Review 99 (2): 153-167.


Mondak, J. J., & Halperin, K. D. (2008). A framework for the study of personality and political behaviour. British Journal of Political Science, 38(2), 335–362.


Feldman, S., & Johnston, C. (2013). Understanding the Determinants of Political Ideology: Implications of Structural Complexity. Political Psychology, 35(3): 337-358


Freitag, Markus, and Kathrin Ackermann. 2016. “Direct Democracy and Institutional Trust: Relationships and Differences Across Personality Traits.” Political Psychology 37 (5): 707–23.


Bakker, Bert N., David N. Hopmann, and Mikael Persson. 2015. “Personality traits and party identification over time.” European Journal of Political Research 54 (2): 197–215.


Petersen, Michael B., Rune Slothuus, Rune Stubager, and Lise Togeby. 2011. “Deservingness versus values in public opinion on welfare: The automaticity of the deservingness heuristic.” European Journal of Political Research 50 (1): 24–52.


Laustsen, L. 2016. “Choosing the Right Candidate: Observational and Experimental Evidence that Conservatives and Liberals Prefer Powerful and Warm Candidate Personalities, Respectively.” Political Behavior (online first): pp. 1-26


Mummendey, Amélie, Andreas Klink, and Rupert Brown. 2001. “Nationalism and patriotism: National identification and out-group rejection.” British Journal of Social Psychology 40 (2): 159–72.


Kuklinski, James H., Ellen Riggle, Victor Ottati, Norbert Schwarz, and Robert S. Wyer. 1991. “The Cognitive and Affective Bases of Political Tolerance Judgments.” American Journal of Political Science 35 (1): 1-27.


Marcus, George E., and Michael MacKuen. (1993). Anxiety, Enthusiasm, and the Vote: The Emotional Underpinnings of Learning and Involvement During Presidential Campaigns. American Political Science Review 87(3): 672-685.


Linde, Jone & Barbara Vis (2016). Do Politicians Take Risks Like the Rest of Us? An Experimental Test of Prospect Theory Under MPs. Political Psychology. doi: 10.1111/pops.12335

The course literature is very interdisciplinary and has a strong focus on quantitative methods, i.e. survey design, experimental design and regression analysis. A basic understanding of these is necessary to follow the course.



Direct oral feedback during and after the course.

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
  • 56
  • English
  • 56