Public Opinion and Voting Behavior (POLA 6180)

Course Objectives:
This course explores public opinion and voting behavior in contemporary American politics. The course covers the development of political attitudes and how what we learn as children affects what we believe and do as adults. Students will examine how public opinion is measured, focusing on the advantages and disadvantages of surveys and polls. Students will also learn about how to analyze public opinion data. They will also examine voting behavior: Why do some choose not to vote? How do voters make their decision in the ballot box? They will consider the effects of party identification, social groups and networks, and campaigns on voting behavior.

Learning Outcomes:
Upon completion of this course, students will have demonstrated advanced substantive knowledge and analytical competence in the understanding of American political attitudes and behavior. Students will demonstrate this knowledge through written and oral presentations of ideas and through satisfactory completion of all assignments and exams. The major assignment is a 20-25 page research paper using public opinion or voting data to examine a research question of their choosing. Students should have a deep understanding of the value of polls and surveys, as well as their pitfalls. They should be able to differentiate between good polling techniques and bad, and explain differences in polling outcomes.

Required Materials:
Rosalee Clawson & Zoe Oxley, Public Opinion: Democratic Ideals, Democratic Practice (2nd edition) (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2012) + Conducting Empirical Analysis: Public Opinion in Action (Shrinkwrapped Pkg)

Adam J. Berinsky, New Directions in Public Opinion, Routledge, 2011

Betsy Sinclair, The Social Citizen: Peer Networks and Political Behavior, University of Chicago Press, 2012

John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election, Princeton University Press, 2013 (This one is not at the TU Bookstore; will need to get on your own.)

In addition, several readings are located online. Some are on Blackboard (denoted BB in list of readings). Log on to and click on the course link for POLA 6180: Public Opinion & Voting Behavior. On the left side, click on “Course Documents” and locate the readings (listed by author’s last name(s)).

Others should be located through the library’s online databases, such as JSTOR or EBSCO. Where an article citation is listed without a BB designation, students should find the article in one of the library’s online databases.

Note about Readings: You should bring a copy of the readings to class because we will often delve into them more deeply and you’ll need to reference them and make notes on them. One of the skills you should master for this course is the ability to thoroughly skim material. Many classes require over 50 pages of reading. My expectation is that you will come to class understanding the authors’ main arguments, his or her methods of investigation, and the most important findings, as well as some of your own analysis of these arguments and methods. To accomplish this, one does not necessarily need to read every single word. It is an important skill and takes some work to know what you must pull from each reading.

Course Requirements:
Regular Attendance and Active Class Participation: 15%
All students are expected to attend class, be on time, and be prepared to discuss the readings. Participation is a function not only of attendance, but also the quality of contributions. This class will be run as a graduate seminar. This means that each student is expected to come to class with questions and discussion points about each of the readings. I do not particularly care about your opinions of the readings — I want you to begin to analyze the arguments, study the evidence and develop critiques based on your knowledge of the material, not merely your opinion about whether you “agree” or “disagree” with the author’s argument. There will not be quizzes unless I deem it necessary to enforce the importance of the readings. Given the small size of the class, it is obvious to me who is prepared and who is not.

Exams: 30% (15% each)
There is a midterm and a final exam.

Homework Exercises (Total: 15%)
There are a number of homework exercises to help you learn to conduct statistical analyses of public opinion data.

Assignments: 40%
Each student will develop a research question related to public opinion and/or voting behavior. The topic must lend itself to using primary public opinion data in “answering” the question. The project is due in phases. More info can be found attached to the back of the syllabus.

If you are not a junior or senior and your writing skills need work, I do not recommend you take this course. It is assumed that students have taken several political science courses in which they have written papers of varying lengths and therefore, they have excellent writing skills. Given this is a graduate-level course, I expect the writing to be nearly perfect. Basic errors will result in significant penalties.

Students can get writing intensive credit for this course. To register, you must let me know by Jan. 23.

Note: Written assignments must be turned in both in hard copy in class and on Blackboard (by the beginning of class). See the “assignment” tab in Blackboard for this course and follow the instructions. Failure to submit both electronically and in hard copy will result in points off your grade. The Blackboard assignment gives a date and time stamp, but the hard copy must still be turned in on time in order to get full credit.

Grading Scale:
93+=A, 90-92=A-, 88-89=B+, 83-87=B, 80-82=B-, 78-79=C+, 73-77=C, 70-72=C-, 60-69=D, 0-59=F

*You must complete all assignments in order to pass this class.*

Special Circumstances:
If you have any kind of special circumstances, such as a disability, illness or handicap, or if you are involved with a university activity that requires you to miss class, let us know as soon as possible. This information is confidential. All students attending Tulane University with documented disabilities are eligible and encouraged to apply for services with the Office of Disability Services (ODS). Please see me for information, or go to Students needing accommodations must provide us with a Course Accommodation Form and if applicable, an Exam Request Form (“blue sheet”) in order to schedule an exam to be taken at ODS. Accommodations involving exams must be requested at least seven days before a test or fourteen days before a final exam. Any student receiving an exam-related accommodation should plan to take the exam at ODS and is responsible for picking up the exam from us beforehand.

Absence Policy:
Attendance is mandatory. Excused absences include university-sponsored events (not including athletic practices – games only), deaths in the family, religious observance, and illnesses with appropriate documentation. In cases of unforeseen absences, you should contact us ASAP to make arrangements. Any unexcused absence on an exam or quiz means you forfeit all points. There are no exceptions and do not bother to ask for one. If absences, tardiness, or under-preparation becomes a problem, your grade will suffer.

Academic Dishonesty:
Academic honesty is expected of all students at Tulane. Your responsibilities as a Tulane student include being familiar with the honor code and the plagiarism policy of the University. Cases of cheating or plagiarism will be reported to the Honor Board, and may result in a failing grade for the class, academic probation, or expulsion. Ignorance is not a valid excuse.

Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to the following actions:
a) presenting another’s work as if it were one’s own;
b) failing to acknowledge or document a source even if the action is unintended (i.e., plagiarism) (this includes copying & pasting material from the internet);
c) giving or receiving, or attempting to give or receive, unauthorized assistance or information in an assignment or examination;
d) submitting the same assignment in two or more courses without prior permission of the respective instructors;
e) having another person write a paper or sit for an examination (includes online paper-mills);
f) using tests from students in prior semesters

Other Classroom Rules:
1. No electronic devices may be used in class, including lap top computers (unless you have documentation from ODS), cell phones, I-Pads, etc. NOTE: I get really irritated when I see students using cell phones in class.

2. Students must not be chronically late, absent or disruptive; otherwise, your grade will suffer. On the rare occasion that you are late or must leave early, please make every attempt not to disrupt class by walking across the room, in front of me, or making excessive noise. NOTE: If you have an activity (class, work, athletic practice, etc.) that meets just before this class, you are still expected to make it to class on time. If you cannot make it to class on time, then do not take this course. Be aware that delays due to traffic, parking difficulty, or computer or printer problems are to be anticipated and are not considered valid excuses for late papers or missing quizzes or exams.

3. Assignments are due at the beginning of class. Once I have taken attendance and started class, assignments are considered late and will be docked 5 points (half letter grade). Assignments turned in after class is over are docked one letter grade per day (not per class).

NOTE: There is NO extra credit in this course. Do not even bother to ask.

Course Schedule and Reading Assignments

Homework assignments always refer to Conducting Empirical Analysis;
C&O refers to Public Opinion: Democratic Ideals…

January 14: Introductions
Reading: Schlozman, “Vox Populi” (BB)

Jan. 16: Citizens’ Role in Democracy
Reading: C&O, chapter 1
Homework #1: Read through chapter 1 and familiarize yourself with program

Jan. 21: Development of Political Attitudes – Political Socialization
Reading: C&O, chapter 2; Julianna Sandell Pacheco, “Political Socialization in Context: The Effect of Political Competition on Youth Voter Turnout,” Political Behavior 30 (2008): 415-436; David O. Sears and Nicholas A. Valentino, “Politics Matters: Political Events as Catalysts for Preadult Socialization,” American Political Science Review 91 (1997): 45-65

Jan. 23: Political Socialization cont’d
Reading: Margaret C. Trevor, “Political Socialization, Party Identification, and the Gender Gap,” Public Opinion Quarterly 63 (1999): 62-89; Jennifer L. Glanville, “Political Socialization or Selection? Adolescents’ Extracurricular Participation and Political Activity in Early Adulthood,” Social Science Quarterly 80 (1999): 279-290
Homework #2 Due: Exercises 2-1, 2-2, For Further Exploration

Jan. 28: Development of Attitudes – The Media
Reading: C&O, chapter 3; Doris Graber, “Mediated Politics and Citizenship in the Twenty-First Century,” Annual Review of Psychology 55 (2004): 545-571

Jan. 30: History of Public Opinion Polls + Polling Methods
Reading: Berinsky, chapter 1; Asher (BB)
Homework #3 Due: Exercises 3-1, 3-2, For Further Exploration

February 4: Perils of Contemporary Polling
Reading: Traugott (BB); Berinsky, chapter 2

Feb. 6: Attitude Stability & Change
Reading: C&O, chapter 4; Philip Converse, “Information Flow and the Stability of Partisan Attitudes,” Public Opinion Quarterly 26 (1962): 578-599

Feb. 11: Ideology
Reading: C&O, chapter 5; Berinsky, chapter 4

Feb. 13: Personality, Self-Interest & Values
Reading: C&O, chapter 6; David O. Sears, et al. “Is It Really Racism? The Origins of White Americans’ Opposition to Race-Targeted Policies,” Public Opinion Quarterly 61 (1997): 16-53; Robin Wolpert and James Gimpel, “Self-Interest, Symbolic Politics, and Public Attitudes Toward Gun Control,” Political Behavior 20 (1998): 241-262
Research Topic Due (see below for instructions)
Homework #4 Due: Exercises 6-2, 6-3, 6-4

Feb. 18: The Role of Groups
Reading: C&O, chapter 7; Berinsky, chapters 6-7

Feb. 20: Knowledge, Interest & Attention
Reading: C&O, chapter 8; Berinsky, chapter 3

Feb. 25: Political Knowledge & Interest
Reading: Jennifer Wolak and Michael McDevitt, “The Roots of the Gender Gap in Political Knowledge in Adolescence.” Political Behavior 33 (2010): 1-29; Darren Davis and Brian Silver, “Stereotype Threat and Race of Interviewer Effects in a Survey on Political Knowledge,” American Journal of Political Science 47 (2003): 33-45; Lee Shaker, “Local Political Knowledge and Assessments of Citizen Competence,” Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (2012): 525-537
Homework #5 Due: Exercises 7-1, 7-2, 7-4

Feb. 27: Midterm Exam

March 4-6: No Class – Spring Break

Mar. 11: Support for Civil Liberties
Reading: C&O, chapter 9; Donald Green, et al. “Does Knowledge of Constitutional Principles Increase Support for Civil Liberties?” Journal of Politics 73 (2011): 463-476; Jeffrey Mondak and Jon Hurwitz, “Examining the Terror Exception: Terrorism and Commitments to Civil Liberties,” Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (2012): 193-213

Mar. 13: Support for Civil Rights
Reading: C&O, chapter 10; Shang Ha, “The Consequences of Multiracial Contexts on Public Attitudes toward Immigration,” Political Research Quarterly 63 (2010): 29-42; James Glaser, “The Preference Puzzle: Educational Differences in Racial-Political Attitudes,” Political Behavior 23 (2001): 313-334
Homework #6 Due: Exercises 8-1, 8-2, 9-3, 9-4, 9-5

Mar. 18: Deciding to Vote
Reading: Lewis-Beck, et al. (chap 5) (BB); Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler, “Unions, Voter Turnout, and Class Bias in the US Electorate, 1964-2004,” Journal of Politics 69 (2007): 430-441; Michael McDonald, “The Turnout Rate among Eligible Voters in the States, 1980-2000,” State Politics and Policy Quarterly 2 (2002): 199-212

Mar. 20: Trust & Social Capital
Reading: C&O, chap 11
Literature Review Due (see below for instructions)

Mar. 25: Theories of Voting
Reading: Lewis-Beck, et al. (Chap 2) (BB); Christopher R. Berry and William G. Howell, “Accountability and Local Elections: Rethinking Retrospective Voting,” Journal of Politics 69 (2007): 844-858; Donald Kinder and D. Roderick Kiewiet, “Sociotropic Politics: The American Case,” British Journal of Political Science 11 (1981): 129-161

Mar. 27: The Role of Partisanship
Reading: Lewis-Beck, et al. (Chap 3-4) (BB); Berinsky, chapter 5

April 1: Social Networks
Reading: Sinclair, chaps 1-3

Apr. 3 – No Class

Apr. 8: Social Networks cont’d
Reading: Sinclair, chaps 4-6

Apr. 10: The Role of Issues
Reading: David RePass, “Issue Salience and Party Choice,” American Political Science Review 54 (1971): 389-400; Karen Kaufmann, “Disaggregating and Reexamining Issue Ownership and Voter Choice,” Polity 36 (2004): 283-299; David B. Holian, “He’s Stealing My Issues! Clinton’s Crime Rhetoric and the Dynamics of Issue Ownership,” Political Behavior26 (2004): 95-124

Apr 15: The Gender Gap
Reading: Karen M. Kaufmann and John R. Petrocik, “The Changing Politics of American Men: Understanding the Sources of the Gender Gap,” American Journal of Political Science 43 (1999): 864-887; Mark Schlesinger and Caroline Heldman, “Gender Gap or Gender Gaps? New Perspectives on Support for Government Action and Policies,” Journal of Politics 63 (2001): 59-92; Seib,

Apr 17: The Role of Campaigns
Reading: Thomas Holbrook and Scott McClurg, “The Mobilization of Core Supporters: Campaigns, Turnout, and Electoral Composition in US Presidential Elections,” American Journal of Political Science 49 (2005): 689-703; Richard Lau, et al., “The Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: A Meta-Analytic Reassessment,” Journal of Politics 69 (2007): 1176-1209

Apr. 22: Election 2012
Reading: Sides & Vavreck, chapters 1-5

Apr. 24: Election 2012
Reading: Sides & Vavreck, chapter 6-end

Apr. 29 – Student Presentations
Final Paper Due

Wednesday, May 7 at 1pm – Final Exam