This course considers the role of public opinion in determining public policy in democratic societies. Elections are the mechanisms deemed to translate public desires into governmental actions, so elections, in various contexts, are the focus of our inquiry. The course concentrates on American politics and uses past and upcoming presidential elections to examine the interplay between public opinion, political parties and candidates, and media institutions in determining the conduct and the quality of electoral decisions.
These main themes dominate the readings and discussion:
1. How do people acquire, organize, change and use their political beliefs and attitudes?
2. What is the quality of American public opinion in terms of knowledge, coherence, and rationality?
3. What are the main lines of cleavage in American public opinion? How polarized is the American
public-are we either red or blue or are there a lot of purples out there?
4. Who votes, who does more than vote and why?
5. Theories and facts about why people vote as they do?
6. Does campaign matter? The role of media, old and new.
7. Comparing elections: president v. congress, the special case of initiatives and referenda.
8. The relationships between public opinion, public policy, and democratic representation.
Subfield: American Politics