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Citizen Politics in America

Public Opinion, Elections, Interest Groups, and the Media

Thomas E. Patterson

Public opinion has a powerful yet inexact influence on elected officials. Politicians risk their careers if they ignore it, yet its power is not easy to capture nor quantify. This course will look at how political parties, campaigns, social movements, special interests, and the news media all play a role in influencing public opinion.

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Public opinion has a powerful yet inexact influence on elected officials. Politicians risk their careers if they ignore it, yet its power is not easy to capture nor quantify. This course will look at how political parties, campaigns, social movements, special interests, and the news media all play a role in influencing public opinion.

We’ll examine the attributes of public opinion, how polling attempts to measure those attributes, and how they impact the decisions of policymakers. We’ll address the unique features of the two-party system in the U.S., how those parties realign themselves in response to shifting norms, and how their candidates are vetted behind the scenes before the start of a campaign.

Outside of the formal organization of party politics, groups representing various interests aim to affect a change through the political system. Special interest groups resemble political parties, but while parties try to influence elections, groups concentrate on gaining influence over policies. Meanwhile, social movements take place outside these established institutions, often in the form of protest demonstrations and rallies. All of these interests are filtered through the news media, which plays a critical role in shaping people’s images of politics.

This course will help you to understand how these forces shape American politics, from “invisible primaries” to election day and beyond.

What's inside

Learning objectives

  • The theory and practice of polling
  • The nature of today’s republican and democratic parties
  • How u.s. elections differ from those of other democracies
  • Key points of the 2016 trump-clinton race
  • Why social movements succeed or fail
  • Why some special interests are more influential than others
  • How the news system has changed in recent decades
  • The political consequences of a decentralized news media

Syllabus

Week 1: Public OpinionThis session will examine the attributes of public opinion and explore its impact on the decisions of policymakers—a subject that has been closely studied by political scientists.We will also explain the theory and practice of polling, which has become the primary method of assessing public opinion.
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Week 2: Political PartiesUnlike most democracies, the United States has a two-party system, the Republicans and the Democrats. This session will examine this feature of the U.S. party system and will explain the nature of today’s Republican and Democratic parties. Party realignments will be a focus of the session.
Week 3: Campaigns & Elections This session will begin with a look at the presidential nominating process, which includes what’s called the “invisible primary” along with the primaries and caucuses. The focus will then shift to the general election campaign, which centers on the battleground states—those that are competitive enough to be won by either candidate.
Week 4: Political MovementsThis session will examine the factors affecting the success of political movements, such as their ability to attract the resources required for sustained advocacy. Four cases will be used to illustrate the significance of these factors: the black civil rights movement, the Vietnam War protest movement, the Tea Party movement, and Occupy Wall Street.
Week 5: Interest GroupsThis session will examine interest groups, focusing on group influence and why some interests are more influential and fully organized than others. The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, enacted in response to the economic downturn that began in 2008, will be used to illustrate key points about group influence.
Week 6: News MediaThis session will examine the news media’s influence on politics, focusing on the extraordinary changes that have taken place in the news system in recent decades and on the consequences of those changes. The U.S. news system was once dominated by the television broadcast networks and local newspapers. Today, they have to compete with cable and Internet outlets, many of which operate by a different standard. News coverage of Trump’s and Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaigns will be used to illustrate key points.

Good to know

Know what's good
, what to watch for
, and possible dealbreakers
Explores public opinion, political parties, campaigns, social movements, interest groups, and the news media and how they influence American politics
Provides a comprehensive overview of today’s Republican and Democratic parties, campaign elections, political movements, interest groups, and the news system
Provides foundational knowledge of the attributes of public opinion and its impact on elected officials, and how polling methods attempt to measure these attributes
Examines key points of the 2016 Trump-Clinton race
Taught by Thomas E. Patterson, a highly recognized political scientist
The political consequences of a decentralized news media

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Career center

Learners who complete Citizen Politics in America: Public Opinion, Elections, Interest Groups, and the Media will develop knowledge and skills that may be useful to these careers:
Polls Analyst
Polls analysts design, conduct, and analyze public opinion polls. This course may be useful for aspiring Polls analysts as it will provide a deep understanding of polling methodology, data analysis, and the role of public opinion in shaping political and social outcomes.
Political Analyst
Political Analysts study and interpret political events and trends. This course may be useful for aspiring Political Analysts as it will provide a strong foundation in political science, public opinion, and the role of the media in shaping political discourse.
Political Consultant
Political Consultants provide advice and support to political candidates and campaigns. This course may be useful for aspiring Political Consultants as it will provide a deep understanding of public opinion, campaign strategy, and the role of the media in politics.
Campaign Manager
Campaign Managers are responsible for planning and directing political campaigns. This course may be useful for aspiring Campaign Managers as it will provide insights into the electoral process, campaign finance, and the role of public opinion in shaping election outcomes.
Political Science Professor
Political Science Professors teach and research political science. This course may be useful for aspiring Political Science Professors as it will provide a deep understanding of political theory, comparative politics, and international relations.
Public Policy Analyst
Public Policy Analysts research and analyze public policy issues. This course may be useful for aspiring Public Policy Analysts as it will provide a deep understanding of the policymaking process, the role of public opinion in shaping policy outcomes, and the impact of interest groups on policy debates.
Lobbyist
Lobbyists represent the interests of their clients before government officials. This course may be useful for aspiring Lobbyists as it will provide a deep understanding of the legislative process, interest group politics, and the role of public opinion in shaping policy outcomes.
Media Relations Specialist
Media Relations Specialists manage media inquiries and develop and implement media outreach strategies for their organizations. This course may be useful for aspiring Media Relations Specialists as it will provide a deep understanding of media relations, crisis communications, and the role of public opinion in shaping media coverage.
Journalist
Journalists gather, analyze, and report on news and current events. This course may be useful for aspiring Journalists as it will provide a deep understanding of media ethics, the role of the press in a democracy, and the impact of public opinion on news coverage.
Social Media Manager
Social Media Managers develop and execute social media strategies for their clients. This course may be useful for aspiring Social Media Managers as it will provide insights into how to use social media to shape public opinion and engage with key stakeholders.
Public relations manager
Public Relations Managers oversee the development and execution of public relations campaigns for their clients. This course may be helpful for those aspiring to become Public Relations Managers as it will provide insights into how to shape public opinion, manage media relations, and build positive relationships with key stakeholders.
Speechwriter
Speechwriters write speeches for politicians, business leaders, and other public figures. This course may be useful for aspiring Speechwriters as it will provide insights into how to craft persuasive and engaging speeches that resonate with audiences.
Communications Director
A Communications Director is the person responsible for managing the public relations and marketing efforts of an organization. This course may be useful for aspiring Communications Directors as it will help build a foundation in public opinion, media relations, and strategic communications.
Marketing Manager
Marketing Managers develop and execute marketing campaigns for their products or services. This course may be useful for aspiring Marketing Managers as it will provide a deep understanding of consumer behavior, market research, and the role of public opinion in shaping marketing strategies.
Nonprofit Executive Director
Nonprofit Executive Directors oversee the operations of nonprofit organizations. This course may be useful for aspiring Nonprofit Executive Directors as it will provide insights into how to build and maintain relationships with donors, manage staff, and develop effective fundraising strategies.

Reading list

We've selected eight books that we think will supplement your learning. Use these to develop background knowledge, enrich your coursework, and gain a deeper understanding of the topics covered in Citizen Politics in America: Public Opinion, Elections, Interest Groups, and the Media.
This classic work of political science provides a comprehensive overview of the American electorate, including its demographics, attitudes, and voting behavior. It valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding how public opinion shapes American politics.
This influential book argues that public opinion is often irrational and easily manipulated by the media and other elites. It must-read for anyone interested in the role of public opinion in a democracy.
This classic work of political theory provides a concise and accessible overview of the key concepts of politics, including power, authority, and legitimacy. It valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding the foundations of American politics.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the two-party system in the United States, including its history, structure, and impact on American politics. It valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding the role of political parties in American democracy.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the relationship between the media and politics in the United States, including the role of the media in shaping public opinion and the impact of politics on the media. It valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding the role of the media in American democracy.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the field of political communication, including the role of media, campaigns, and public opinion. It valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding how communication shapes American politics.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the history of American elections, from the colonial period to the present day. It valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding the evolution of American democracy.

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