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2017/18 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

COMM5630M Communication and Public Opinion

30 creditsClass Size: 34

Module manager: Prof. Katrin Voltmer

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2017/18

This module is not approved as an Elective


This course investigates the role of public opinion in modern politics. It examines the way in which communications shape public opinion, and how in turn public opinion affects politician and public policy making both in the domestic and the international arena. The course combines theoretical discussion of the key literature and an empirical survey project that allows students to practically apply a main empirical technique in public opinion research. The course begins with a discussion of theoretical approaches to public opinion and the extent to which media might, or might not, affect citizens’ attitudes on political issues. In a next step the course explores the empirical methods of survey research and the professional organisations that are conducting public opinion polls. The course ends with a discussion as to how public opinion affects the political process, in particular campaign strategies, domestic policy decisions and foreign policy.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students will be able to:
- distinguish key concepts of public opinion and critically evaluate major theoretical approaches to understanding the dynamics of public opinion in modern societies;
- understand how and to what extent the media are able to influence public opinion;
- understand and reflect on the role of public opinion on political decision making both in the domestic and the international arena;
- understand the main empirical methodological instruments in public opinion research and critically discuss their achievements and limitations;
- design and conduct a survey project on a chosen issue from domestic or international politics and report the empirical results in a professional manner;
- discuss key texts of the field in small groups and give oral presentations of the outcome of the discussion.


The first part of the module covers the main theories of public opinion, especially Noelle-Neumann’s theory of ‘Spiral of silence’ as well as theories of media effects. The second half of the module focuses on the preparation and conduct of an experimental survey study carried out by student teams. Classroom discussions make students familiar with issues of survey research, experimental research design and questionnaire design. In addition, three workshops provide an introduction into key functions of the software programme SPSS as a tool for survey data analysis.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Team Work12.002.00
Private study hours276.00
Total Contact hours24.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Students are expected to spend private study time on the following activities:
9 x 8 hours seminar preparation: estimated 72 hours
Essay preparation: estimated 60 hours
Project report: estimated 70 hours
Preparation of questionnaire and field work: estimated 25 hours
Data analysis: estimated 25 hours
Background reading: estimated 22 hours.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Progress will be monitored through participation in seminar discussion and presentation of outcome of group discussion. One seminar session is devoted to feedback on survey projects. The first essay will be submitted mid-semester with feedback provided before the Easter Break.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 3,000 - 3,500 words40.00
Report1 x 4,000 - 4,500 field project and report60.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 20/07/2018


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