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Public Opinion and Political Decision-Making



Objective: 1. Summarize, evaluate, and criticize academic research on public opinion and political decision-making.
Objective: 2. Design and carry out an independent research project.

Content: Public opinion – the will of the people – plays a central role in democratic systems, at least in principle. The political preferences of the public are expressed formally in fairly regular intervals in parliamentary and, depending on the institutional design, presidential elections as well as in referenda. But even between elections, when important policies, measures, and decisions are on the political agenda, political elites and intermediary actors such as the media take public opinion not only into account but also try to influence and shape it. Even individual citizens take the opinion of others (or what they perceive it to be) into account when expressing their own preferences and opinions and when making political decisions. At the same time, public opinion remains a defuse and elusive object that is difficult to define and measure. The seminar will examine some of these issues in detail, reviewing classic and contemporary literature with a focus on both theoretical and methodological aspects. Based on these discussions, students will identify a topic they think is in need of further exploration and empirical research, and develop and carry out a research project that addresses their specific research question. Especially in the second half of the seminar, students present and discuss their research proposals and progress and complete a finished research paper by the end of the course (in the style and format of a conference paper and/or article manuscript).

Methods of Instruction

Class discussion and student presentations

Study Material

Journal articles and book chapters


Short assignments, research paper