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 read classic and new texts on where public opinion comes from, and what role it plays in the larger system of politics. Many concepts will be applicable to all developed democracies, but the evidence in this course will often come from the United States.


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), and for consequences of public opinion inside and outside the state. The methodological modules are about measuring and modeling public opinion, as well as designing and analyzing survey and field experiments.


The course is discussion-based, meaning that there will be only limited lecturing, especially for the substantive modules. Instead, you come to class armed with questions and thoughts about the readings, and ready to have an in-depth discussion.


Bachelor student (2012 programme curriculum): 10 ECTS

Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


Notice: It is only possible to enroll for one course having a 3-day compulsory written take-home assignment exam due to coincident exam periods.

Learning outcome


Having read classic texts on the causes, consequences and measurement of public opinion. Being able to explain and compare different theories of public opinion formation, as well as theories on how public opinion fits into a broader political system. Being able to describe recent innovations in the field, and current gaps in the literature.



Reading and critically reflecting on new scientific articles about public opinion, including ones that use advanced observational methods or (survey) experimental designs. Evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of those methods.



Effectively and efficiently read state-of-the-art research in political behavior.

This is a seminar-style course, where we will discuss, compare and evaluate the assigned readings together. You will spend only minimal time listening to me talk (at most 25% of class time). The class very much leans on students doing the reading on their own and coming to class prepared, so we can use class time to dive deeper.

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:

  • 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.




7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
3-day compulsory written take-home 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