T TH 11:00 am – 12:15 pm
Dr. Michael Hawthorne
Department of Public Administration
Business Administration Building
Office hours: T 1:30-3:30, TH 12:15-1:15 pm, and by appointment.
Elections bring out the best and worst in our political system. They remind us of public opinion's centrality in our political system, and create opportunities to assess those opinions and observe them translated (sometimes only attempted) into public policies. Elections also raise questions about public knowledge and understanding of issues and candidates, and the quality of debates over these issues and candidates during campaigns.
This course will help you learn about attitude and opinion development, the campaign process, and the impacts of public opinion and campaigns on our political process, creating opportunities to assess our individual and collective abilities in these areas. Because the fields of public opinion and election studies are among the most developed in political science, there is a strong theoretical and conceptual base for understanding these topics, and rich descriptive and anecdotal information to complement this base. Therefore, our first course objective is to introduce you to this theoretical and conceptual base. Additionally, there is no shortage of other observers and so-called "informed" commentators ready to pass along both descriptive and normative conclusions about public opinions, elections and life generally, often erroneous in their statements.
This course will help you sort through these claims; thus, another course objective is to help you make informed judgments about the soundness of ideas and conclusions you encounter. Finally, another of our principal objectives is to demonstrate the importance and value of data analysis to understanding public opinion and elections, and its utility in broader contexts. The course will place great emphasis on data analysis, both to give you an opportunity to investigate the ideas you learn in class, and to provide you with valuable experience observing how we have come to know what you are learning in class. We will use quantitative analysis as a mechanism to explore public opinion and its connection to the electoral process, using it both as a starting point in your learning process, and as a tool for you to explore public opinion on your own.
The last objective deserves special attention. Students are obsessed with “relevancy” in their education, apparently operating according to the erroneous theory that general skill and knowledge development is inferior to or separate from developing task ability. For students seeking relevancy, it is difficult to imagine a course offering a better mix of sound intellectual training with direct practical application. We study how people develop opinions, how someone might create changes in those opinions, and how to measure both opinions and their changes. Our context is the political world, yet the previous sentence would also apply to other contexts, including the corporate world, especially marketing and its ilk. Therefore, the “relevancy” of this course lies in its direct connection to product marketing and related areas. In fact, many ideas in marketing and marketing research originated in studying political attitudes and campaigns, and we have lifted some ideas from them. Both areas use similar analytical techniques and seek similar data. It should not surprise you that some involved in political opinion research also do marketing research, and many political pollsters work for commercial clients in the “off years” to help pay their bills between campaign years. If you seek relevancy, this class has it coming out the wazoo.
The class begins by developing a background in the current focal point of this field, the upcoming general election. We next examine opinion development and electoral behavior, mixing theoretical knowledge with consideration of recent elections. The course ends by giving you the opportunity to explore these ideas on your own through completion of your own analysis project. Throughout the course, we will intersperse class readings and discussions with both broader conceptual studies of behavior and attitudes and with current or recent examples. Course assignments will reflect this mix of theoretical and practical concerns. Readings will present academic studies and "real world" examples. Student will complete several assignments encouraging mastery of both academic material and knowledge of public opinion and elections. In most of these assignments, students will have considerable flexibility in selecting their specific focus. I strongly encourage students to get early starts on these assignments, both to encourage quality products, and to emphasize these can be enjoyable and valuable experiences if the majority of work involved in the project occurs prior to the day before the due date. I believe these to be so important, we will even devote class time to their production, focusing upon developing analytical skills, and presentation of findings.This course will entail a fair amount of reading, some of it technical.
Do not be overly concerned about this, as we will spend time in class discussing the most difficult readings. During the semester, we will have other objectives, including learning about parties, campaigns and elections, and about judging evidence, constructing supportable arguments, thinking and analyzing (rare activities used by only a small number of people in our society). Students should come to class prepared for discussions, and should have broad familiarity with readings when we analyze them. To encourage this preparation, I will be using an "incentive" system rewarding class preparation. Students will be rewarded for reading and preparing to discuss the readings. The metric I will use can vary; sometimes it may be just showing that you have some sort of notes or highlighting of the week's readings, while at other times it may be preparing a list of key points as your "quiz" on the readings. I will even occasionally ask students to "lead" class discussion on a particular reading. The purpose of these activities is more than just gaining familiarity with the material. I am increasingly convinced far too many college students lack the ability to read and discern key ideas and concepts, accustomed to teachers "spoon feeding" material to help them passed standardized tests. If you cannot process information and determine its importance, you will be severely disadvantaged in any serious career prospects. I intend to address this problem directly, and will provide much help in learning how to read carefully and analytically. You must reciprocate by doing these readings before class. If we each do our assigned tasks, you will learn much, and become a far more analytical person, exactly those quality employers cry out for when trying to locate good employees. The ability to analyze, argue, use evidence to support and refute ideas, and develop theories and models has become almost a lost art.
This can be great fun, so long as you become involved in class discussions and contribute your analysis of the readings to the discussions. It will be important, therefore, to complete the readings for each assignment before we discuss them, and the "incentive system" will reward you for doing so. As someone should have told you previously, most learning in any class occurs outside of the classroom. Class discussion will play a significant role in your grade. As a small class, I intend to run the class more as a seminar than as a lecture, significantly improving the learning experience but with greater expectations upon you to come into class prepared.
In addition to the reading "incentives" and two brief exams, students will prepare a major analysis project, and several smaller assignments. The analysis project will start early in the semester, with parts of the project required on a staggered schedule throughout the semester. Much of our time in the last month of the class focuses on work required for this project. The other assignments will involve brief presentations, one with a writing component; these will be discussed in separate instructions. Please note, however, that you will not be allowed to complete assignments past their due dates or scheduled presentations, as your projects will be incorporated into class. When you commit to a presentation, YOU are are responsible for that commitment. Completing these assignments on time is your responsibility. Your course grade will be affected adversely if you do not take these assignments seriously.
Learning is a challenging, serious, and fun process. To facilitate this process and help you learn, I need you in class. You should be attending ALL of your college classes on a regular basis. If you are not in class, you cannot participate, and if you do not participate, your final grade will reflect your poor time allocation choices.
Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments is requested to speak directly to Disability Support Services and the instructor, as early in the semester (preferably within the first week) as possible. All discussions will remain confidential. Please contact Disability Support Services, DF Lowry Building, 910-521-6695.
As a faculty member, I am responsible for creating the best possible class to teach you about American government and politics. As a student, you have responsibilities. Most of these should be common to all classes, but to avoid any confusion, a list appears below.
Class participation (and attendance) is crucial to learning. These will play a key role in grades for those on borderlines. Improvement during the semester is always given special consideration. Academic HonestyStudent Academic Honor Code: Students have the responsibility to know and observe the UNCP Academic Honor Code. All students should review the Academic Honor Code carefully. This can be found at:
with particular attention to pages 65-69. Violations of the Code will be reported and pursued with extreme vigor. If you do not understand any part of the Code, it is your responsibility to seek answers to your questions and concerns.
Texts and Reading Assignments
The course texts are:Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde. 2007. Change and Continuity in the 2004 and 2006 Elections. CQ Press. (Referred to below as Abramson.)William H. Flanigan and Nancy H. Zingale. 2007. Political Behavior of the American Electorate, 11th ed & 2007 Midterm Election Supplement. CQ Press. (Referred to below as Flanigan.) Other readings may be distributed in class, placed on reserve in the library, or will be available or via the Web.
|Aug. 18||Introduction to class|
||Introduction to public opinion, political culture and survey methods -- How we know what we know||Flanigan, Ch. 1, Appendix
||Presidential elections, rules for selection process||Abramson, Ch. 1-3
||The act of voting -- suffrage and turnout||Flanigan, Ch. 2
Abramson, Ch. 4
||Partisanship, party identification and partisanship change||Flanigan, Ch. 3, 4
||Social groups, party coalitions
Exam 1 -- Sep. 23
|Flanigan, Ch. 5
Abramson, Ch. 5
||Ideology and issues||Flanigan, Ch. 6
Abramson, Ch. 6
|Voting decisions, presidential performance||Flanigan, Ch. 8
Abramson, Ch. 7,8
||Media and opinion influences||Flanigan, Ch. 7
||Campaigns for other offices -- attitudes towards Congress||Flanigan, Supplement Ch. 2
Abramson, Ch. 9
||Voting for other offices -- Congressional elections||
Abramson, Ch. 10,11
Flanigan, Supplement Ch. 1,3
||Understanding public opinion and elections
Exam 2 -- Nov. 18
|Abramson, Ch. 12
Flanigan, Supplement, Ch. 4
|Final exam --if necessary Dec.11, 10:45 am|
Updated: Monday, October 18, 2010
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