Seminar in American Politics: Political Survey Methods and Experience

GVPT Professor and CDCE Research Director Michael Hanmer


Course Description

This unique course combines traditional academic learning with real-world experience. Students will learn about and design survey questions in class and then work with the instructor to place select questions in the field on either a survey with a major news organization or an academic research study. They will also learn to analyze the data and communicate the results. The literature on survey research is enormous, so a number of topics must necessarily be excluded. However, the readings we cover and our approach to them will provide the foundation required for you to tackle additional topics on your own.

Surveys help us understand social problems, assess support for public policies, and explain political outcomes. For example, surveys can evaluate support for STEM education funding, how racial attitudes influence candidate choice, and variation in support for environmental regulation among millennials and non-millennials. Students in the course will experience from beginning to the end the process of conducting survey research. This includes question wording, question placement, mechanisms for testing questions, and issues related to survey execution in the field. Students will then evaluate and analyze the survey data. The end product may include seeing survey results printed in major news outlets. After completion of the course, students will have the knowledge and skills to make them more competitive for careers in political consulting, polling, market research, journalism, and government. Students will also build research skills necessary to advance to elite graduate programs in the social sciences, business, and public policy.

At the end of the course, students are expected to understand:

  • How surveys are used by policymakers, businesses, journalists, and academic researchers.
  • Ethical standards for survey research.
  • How to design survey questions to understand attitudes, mass opinion, and behavior.
  • How to analyze and communicate results.

Topics Include:

  • Inference and sources of error
  • Question writing
  • Cognitive interviewing
  • Question drafting
  • Data analysis
  • Sampling
  • Nonresponse
  • Response rates
  • Election polling