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Public Opinion and the Political Process I: Theory



In a democratic system, the will of the people and public opinion play, at least in principle, an important role. This may be expressed through regular elections for representative bodies and at times through forms of direct democracy, such as referenda, but there are other ways in which political actors take manifestations of public opinion into account and react to expressions of public opinion. Governments may take public opinion into account before proposing certain policies or measures. Intermediate organizations such as the media, political parties, interest groups and action groups react to and attempt to influence public opinion. Finally, at the micro level individual citizens take what they see as public opinion into account when expressing their own opinions or as an influence on their (political) behavior.
Although public opinion seems to be omnipresent in the political process, it is at the same time often unclear just what is meant by the term and how it is to be operationalised and measured. In this seminar, students will become thoroughly acquainted with the literature on the topic, identify a topic they think is in need of further exploration and empirical research, and develop a research proposal to address the specific research question (in the second part of this seminar).

Methods of Instruction

Lectures and discussion.

Study material

Literature (approx. 1000 pp):

  • Wolfgang Donsbach & Michael W. Traugott (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Public Opinion Resaerch. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2008 [note: This is an important book – but a rather expensive book (at least in the hard cover version) as well, so you may think twice before buying your own copy.]

  • Vincent Price, Public Opinion. Newbury Park: Sage, 1992.

  • Jeff Manza, Fay Lomax Cook & Benjamin I. Page, Navigating Public Opinion: Polls, Policy, and the Future of American Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

  • extra literature (depending on the research topics that will be addressed individually)


During the first meetings, the literature will be studied and discussed. On the basis of this literature some topics will be selected for further research. Students will write a research proposal.


Thursday 9 September till 28 October, 9.00-11.00 hrs. in SA07.