Social Psychology of Public Opinion


Course Description

"Obama approval ratings near record low. Poll shows public supports right to abortion. 50% of U.S. public does not believe in evolution. Headlines like these appear almost daily in the news, suggesting the importance and interest that we attach to public opinion on significant and controversial topics. This course has two main goals. First, we will study the methods of public opinion research, the ways poll-takers find out what the public thinks and why. This course will empower students to become informed and sophisticated consumers of public opinion data, able to ask the right questions about poll results they encounter in the news, and to draw their own conclusions about what (if anything) those results mean. Second, we will examine some of the basic social psychological principles that shape the opinions that people hold. Why do some people (and not others) support President Obama, favor the right to abortion, or believe in evolution? Students will come to understand the roles of self-interest, group memberships, personal experiences, and conformity to the opinions of friends and neighbors, in the processes by which people form and change their opinions. Homework assignments will involve simple analysis and interpretation of actual data from recent surveys on social and political attitudes.