Psychology and Brain Sciences | Social Psychology of Public Opinion
P449 | 29814 | Smith, E.

Prerequisite: PSY P320 or P304

“Obama approval ratings near record high.”  “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.

Enrollment limited to 20.