Citizen Politics in America: Public Opinion, Elections, Interest Groups, and the Media

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.

Created by: Harvard University

Level: Introductory

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