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Polling Public Opinion



More and more opinion polls are conducted all around the world. Particularly during election campaigns, one political poll rapidly follows another. The increase in polls is partly caused by the internet, which has made it possible to collect a lot of information in a cheap and fast way. However, the question is how reliable and valid poll results are.
The purpose of this course is to provide students with a deeper understanding of a range of practical and theoretical aspects of opinion polls. There are good and bad polls. This course describes how to separate the chaff from the wheat. It is also a good guide for conducting your own polls.
Among the methodological aspects discussed in this course are design of a questionnaire, selecting a sample, calculating estimates, the problem of nonresponse, and working with margins of errors.

Course objectives

Objective 1: Students should be able to design and conduct a basic poll, taking into account the methodological requirements.
Objective 2: Students should be able to establish whether polls of other organisations satisfy methodological requirements.
Objective 3: Students should be able to handle basic aspects of a poll, like computing estimates and margins of error. They should also be able to correct poll outcomes for nonresponse.

Methods of instruction

There are seven lectures, one for each of the seven weeks. Each lecture consists of the following ingredients:

  • One or more pdf-files containing the slides of the weekly topic(s). These pdf-files can be downloaded from Brightspace.

  • One or more videos about the weekly topic(s). The videos contain the slides and combined with voiceover of de instructor. The videos can be played from Brightspace.

  • Exercises. Every week there are exercises. Students must make these exercises and send their answers in a word-document by email to the teacher. They have a week for this. The instructor will check the answers, and return comments to the students.

Assessment method

The final assessment will be based on a two hour written closed book examination.
First opportunity for a written exam: Friday 23/10/2020, 13:00-15:00
Second opportunity for a written exam: Monday 8/1/2021, 13:00-15:00

The time and location of inspection and debriefing of the exam will be announced via Blackboard no later than the publication of the grades.


Meeting once a week: Thursdays 13:15 - 15:00, from 3/9/2020 - 15/10/2020


Students can find the course syllabus and additional course materials on blackboard. Students are advised to enroll on Blackboard before the start of the course.

Reading list

  • Jelke Bethlehem (2014), Polling Public Opinion. This publication can be downloaded from Blackboard. This free course syllabus is sufficient for the course.

  • Jelke Bethlehem (2018), Understanding Public Opinion Polls, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Fl. This book is an updated and extended version of Polling Public Opinion.

Admission requirements

Basic knowledge of Statistics and Political Science is recommended to take this course. This implies that students have followed at least 10 EC of courses on government and politics.


Students need to register for lectures and work group sessions in uSis. It is not possible to take a course without a valid registration. Please consult the course registration website for information on registration periods and further instructions.
Students are not automatically registered for exams. They can register themselves in uSis until 10 calendar days before the exam date at the latest. Students who are not registered will not be permitted to take the exam. More information can be found on the exam registration website.