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The University of Southampton

PAIR3027 Partisans, Public Opinion and Elections: Understanding the Political Mind

Module Overview

This course introduces key theories and models in the study of political behaviour and political psychology and seeks to encourage students to develop a critical appreciation of how people develop their political beliefs and preferences, and how this affects their engagement in politics. The course is also designed to provide a practical and applied introduction to the study of political behaviour, applying theories to everyday political life and making use of the wealth of empirical data available on public opinion and political psychology. It deals with questions such as how people form their political beliefs and their attachments to political parties, how they evaluate political candidates and leaders, and why people do or don’t get involved in different forms of politics, be it voting, protest or civic action.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate understanding of key theories in political behaviour
  • Explain some of the determinants of political attitudes and the processes through which people form their opinions
  • Apply existing theoretical frameworks to explain contemporary examples of public opinion
  • Recognise the different sorts of research methods that can help us identify and analyse political beliefs and behaviour
  • Apply theories of political behaviour to empirical data relating to public psychology and political behaviour


This course considers some of the seminal contributions to modern political science and in the subfields of political behaviour and political psychology, addressing the following topics: 1. Mass Belief Systems 2. Partisanship 3. Political Socialisation 4. Information Processing, Heuristics and Choice 5. Communication, Framing and Biases 6. Voting Behaviour 7. Campaigns and Election Outcomes 8. Participation, Activism and Turnout 9. Trust in Government 10. Leaders, Approval and Competence 11. Macro Politics: Public Opinion and Policy

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods


Independent Study120
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Lecture/seminar room with presentation equipment.. 

Morris P. Fiorina (1981). Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. 

Jon A. Krosnick and Donald R. Kinder (1990). Altering the Foundations of Public Support for the President through Priming. American Political Science Review. ,84 , pp. 497-512.

Arthur Lupia, Mathew D. McCubbins, and Samuel L. Popkin (eds.). (2000). Elements of Reason: Cognition, Choice, and the Bounds of Rationality.. 

Shanto Iyengar and Donald Kinder (1987). News That Matters.. 

Introduction to Political Psychology.

Donald Green, Bradley Palmquist, and Eric Schickler (2004). Partisan Hearts and Minds. 

James A. Stimson (2004). Tides of Consent: How Public Opinion Shapes American Politics. 

David O. Sears, Leonie Huddy, and Robert Jervis (2003). Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology. 

Other. Students will be encouraged to acquaint themselves with survey data from the British Social Attitudes Survey, British Election Study, American National Election Studies and other sources of information on political attitudes. They will be encouraged to relate ideas from the module to current events in politics, e.g. public opinion on particular issues, the public response to events. These sorts of material will also be relevant to the research project.

John Zaller (1992). The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion . Cambridge. 

Paul M. Kellstedt, and Guy D. Whitten. (2013). The Fundamentals of Political Science Research. 

Larry M. Bartels (1993). Messages Received: The Political Impact of Media Exposure. American Political Science Review. ,87 , pp. 267-285.

Russell J. Dalton and Hans-Dieter Klingemann (eds.). (2007). Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessment for this course will be through combination of a learning log and a research project. 50%: Assignment: a learning log, consisting of three 400 word discussion pieces of topics covered on the module. 50%: Research project, an individual report of the research project carried out by the group. Resit will be by resubmission of the learning log and research project. The research project is designed as an empirical analysis of political behaviour. This may employ either qualitative or quantitative methods, e.g. it may use descriptive/inferential statistics or undertake a case study of a particular event or set of events. Key is that you must make use of empirical data to test theories encountered on the course. You will make use of an existing dataset (e.g. the British Election Study) or with your group create your own data.


MethodPercentage contribution
Learning log  (1200 words) 50%
Research project  (2500 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Learning log  (1200 words) 50%
Research project  (2500 words) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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