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2022/23 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

COMM5630M Communication and Public Opinion

30 creditsClass Size: 30

Module manager: Julie Firmstone

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

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 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.


This module explores the relationship between communication and public opinion by asking: How does communication - in particular media coverage - influence people’s view of certain issues and what are the limitations of the power of the media? The module combines theoretical discussion with hands-on research experience through a small-scale empirical project that provides students with the opportunity to experience first-hand the problems and excitements of empirical public opinion research.

The first sessions of this module focus on the key literature on public opinion, in particular the large body of scholarship on media effects on citizens’ attitudes and political behaviour. Framing theory, one of the currently most influential theories of media effects, and the related theory of agenda-setting will be at the centre of this discussion. The second, part of the course is devoted to developing an empirical project to find out whether and how the framing of messages affects individual’s attitudes on contested issues. Students will work to design and conduct their own empirical survey project including creating the 'stimulus' (media article), designing a questionnaire, conducting fieldwork, analysing the quantitative data and writing up the main findings. The project enables students to acquire practical experience with the methodological problems and advances involved in empirical media effects research.

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: 25/07/2022


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