This is a course on public opinion and American politics. We begin with the basics. What is public opinion and why do we care about it? More specifically, we ask whether our best understanding of how citizens think and act lives up to what a functioning democracy requires. Do citizens hold coherent and consistent beliefs? Do they know basic facts about government and politics? Can they use these beliefs to make informed decisions in a democracy?
As we will see, the field of public opinion offers more causes for concern than celebration in answer to these questions. If most people, most of the time, rarely form opinions and make decisions in the way democratic theory presumes, how exactly do they think about politics? The second portion of this course considers this question by examining the ways social and group identities structure political attitudes, with a specific focus on partisanship, race, gender, and sexuality. Finally, we’ll conclude our journey with an exploration of some sources of stability, change, and difference in public opinion. How much of our beliefs about the world are relatively fixed or dispositional? How much do our environments, such as our families, friends, or media habits, shape our political beliefs?
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