Political Behavior, Spring 2002                                            Professor Mark Peffley

Political Science 271-002                                                   Office Hours: TR 2:00-3:00 

TR 9:30-10:45, 234 Classroom Bldg                                     POT 1653, Phone:  257-7033,

Email: mpeffl@uky.edu



This is an introductory course in Political Behavior.  In this course, we will adopt a fairly broad definition of "political behavior," one that includes political attitudes, beliefs, and opinions as well as actual behavior.  This broad focus allows us to explore a variety of different types of behavior and a variety of ways to explain that behavior.  For example, our study of political behavior ranges from an examination of public opinion in the United States, to such forms of unconventional political behavior as political violence and aggression, to more conventional forms of political activity, such as voting behavior and participating in a political campaign.  In addition, we will look at the behavior of political elites, such as political parties, the mass media and American presidents, as well as the behavior of the ordinary citizen.

One goal of this course is to understand and explain political behavior--to be able to answer the basic question, Why do people exhibit different political behavior?  Why isn't everyone the same?  Why are some people political "junkies" and others political "couch potatoes?"  Why do some people chafe and rebel, while others practically begin goose-stepping at the slightest hint of political authority?  We will explore a variety of concepts and theories in an attempt to explain why people are different politically. Thus, one reason some people are more aggressive, obedient and politically intolerant than others is that they have different personalities.  Another explanation is that they have different childhood learning experiences, or that they have different ideologies and values, or that they occupy different roles in society, or that they are more or less responsive to political cues from politicians and the mass media. 

Another important goal of this course is to be able to evaluate political behavior.  Our standards for evaluating the behavior of masses and elites come primarily from various theories of democracy which set different standards for evaluating a "good" or "bad" citizen, political representative, or mass media. Are “good” citizens passive and obedient or active and rebellious? Are “good” journalists those who merely provide information from elites, or those who serve as a critical “watchdog” of government?      

A third goal for this course is to provide a practical guide to political citizenship in the 21st Century.  Despite the fact that the American electorate is one of the more educated publics living in one of the oldest democracies in the world, citizens are increasingly at a disadvantage in meeting the requirements of classical democratic theories--that citizens be informed, active, and interested in their government.  Not only are political issues increasingly complex and "technical," but political elites--from Washington politicians to network news correspondents--make it almost impossible for ordinary citizens to follow political debates and make intelligent political choices.  Politicians seem to spend more time engaging in an endless "blame game" than honestly discussing the country's problems.  Political coverage contains more "info-tainment," "flash-images," and "sound-bites" than serious news.  Today, we are targets of an endless barrage of sophisticated propaganda and persuasion efforts seeking to influence what we think, how we vote, what we value, and how we behave.  Thus, consider one goal of this course to inoculate ourselves against attempts at political manipulation.  By knowing techniques of persuasion used by politicians, by knowing the principles by which reporters select and cover news stories, we can, hopefully, protect ourselves from political manipulation.


1)    The syllabus, with updated links to lecture outlines, written assignments, additional readings, and  relevant web sites will be posted at class web-site, which can be found at http://www.uky.edu/AS/PoliSci/facultad.htm.

2)    This course is part of the University Studies Program, which is designed to provide a comprehensive liberal arts education to all undergraduates.  The course can be taken to fulfill the Social Sciences requirement in University Studies.




The following four books are available at the university bookstores:

·         Russell J. Dalton Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies, 3rd ed., Chatham House, 2002.

·         Stanley Milgram. Obedience to Authority, Harpercollins, 1983.

·         Lance Bennett, News: The Politics of Illusion, 4th ed., Longman, 2001.

·         Anthony Pratkanis and Eliot Aranson, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Political Persuasion, revised ed., Freeman, 2001.




1.  Reading Assignments

        Our class time will not be spent simply "going over" the assigned readings.  Rather, the readings will serve as a foundation and point of departure for lectures and discussions.  It is, therefore, imperative that students complete the assigned readings before a particular topic is taken up in class.  Also, the assigned readings should not be viewed as absolute truth.  Read the material thoughtfully, challenge the conclusions of the authors, and voice your criticisms in class.


2.  Participation

        Students should feel free to raise questions concerning the readings, the lectures, and the comments of other students.  In other words, meaningful participation is strongly encouraged and will, no doubt, enhance the quality of our class sessions.


3.  Short Written Assignments

        There will be several short written assignments that require no outside reading beyond that which has been assigned.  These short (1-4 pages) papers are designed to help students organize and think more reflectively about the material in the course.  You might expect one short assignment approximately every 3-4 weeks.  These papers--some to be graded and some not--will either be written in class or will be handed in one or two class periods from the day they are assigned.  The short writing assignments cannot be turned in late, except for university excused absences.


4.  Examinations and Grades

Grades will be based on the following criteria:

Written Assignments                  25% of Grade

Midterm Examination                 35% of Grade

Final Examination                      40% of Grade


a.  While class attendance is not mandatory, exam questions will be based approximately equally on both the readings and class discussions.  Also, attendance and participation will definitely influence borderline grades.  Also, if you aren't in class, you obviously won't have the opportunity to write the short papers that will be assigned.

b.       If a student has a university-excused absence, arrangements for a make-up exam may be made.  (See http://www.uky.edu/StudentAffairs/Code/part2.html, Section, Part II of the Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook for a definition of university-excused absences). Note, however, that the format of a make-up will not be the same as the regular exam.




Part 1:  The Study of Political Behavior


January 10-17            Empirical and Normative Perspectives on the Study of Political Behavior

                                  Democratic theory, Research methods, survey research and alternatives

Read:  Begin reading Dalton, Citizen Politics, chs. 1-3

Lecture Outline: Normative Bases of Political Behavior

Lecture Outline: Empirical Bases of Political Behavior

Writing Assignment # 1: Critiquing Journalists’ Presentations of Political Opinion Polls


Part 2: Explaining Conventional Political Behavior


January 22-31            The Nature of Political Attitudes, Ideologies, and Mass Belief Systems

                                        Read:  Dalton, Citizen Politics, chs. 1-3, 5-6

Lecture Outline: Mass Sophistication


Jodie's European Adventure


February 5-12   The Electoral Connection: Elections, Parties, Voting Behavior and

  Representation, and Democracy’s Future

Read: Dalton, Citizen Politics, chs. 7-12.

Lecture Outline: Dalton's Citizen Politics

Table: Voting Decision Rules


Review Questions for Midterm, 2-24-02


Part 3: Explaining Political Protest, Violence and Aggression


February 14-21  Explaining Political Obedience, Aggression, and Conformity

Read:  Milgram, Obedience to Authority, up to p. 112, Epilogue.

Lecture Outline: Political Aggression


February 26               Contemporary Political Protest and Violence

Read:  Dalton, Citizen Politics, ch. 4.


February 28             MIDTERM Exam


Part 4:  Political Propaganda and the Mass Media


March 5-7          Mass Media and Political Behavior

                        Read: Bennett, News: Politics of Illusion, chs. 1-5.


March 12-14             SPRING BREAK!!


March 19-26              Mass Media and Political Behavior

                        Read: Bennett, News: Politics of Illusion, chs. 6-8.

                        Lecture Outline: Political Behavior and the News Media

                        Writing Assignment # 2: Television News Coverage


March 28-April 2        Attitude Change and Political Persuasion

                                Read:  Pratkanis and Aranson, Age of Propaganda, chs. 1-22


April 4-23          Attitude Change and Political Persuasion

                                Read:  Pratkanis and Aranson, Age of Propaganda, chs. 23-37.

                                Lecture Outline: Propaganda, Attitude Change and Political Persuasion

                                Writing Assignment # 3: Application of Persuasion Principles


April 25                     Course Summary


Review Questions for Final Exam


April 30                    FINAL EXAMINATION: TUESDAY, 8-10:00 AM.