Public Opinion and Policy


Winter 2023

Prof. Gustavo Diaz
Department of Political Science
McMaster University


This course is about quantitative research designs applied to public opinion and policy

  • Quantitative: Data analysis using statistics and statistical programming software
  • Research design: Thinking about how research is conducted


This course is about quantitative research designs applied to public opinion and policy

  • Public opinion: Views among the general1 public
  • (Public) policy: Government actions and how to carry them

Why public opinion and policy?

  • Both are important for the operation of government and adjacent organizations
  • Why together?
  • Both are important and difficult/expensive to get right
  • Minimize mistakes before conducting a study

Was this a mistake?

No wrong answers!

Content warning

  • We will rely heavily on math and statistics to think about the properties of a research design
  • You will be asked to:

    • Read technical writing
    • Understand and explain statistical concepts
    • Apply them in writing and coding
    • Write a statistics-heavy final project


Course website

Required reading

  • Blair, Graeme, Alexander Coppock, and Macartan Humphreys. 2022. Research Design: Declaration, Diagnosis, Redesign. Forthcoming at Princeton University Press


  • Chapters are short but include math and code

  • Read 1-3 sections + 1-2 research articles per week

Suggested reading

  • Grolemund, Garret and Hadley Wickham. 2017. R for Data Science. O’Reilly Media Inc


  • Good to consult while working on lab assignments


R and RStudio

Computer access

  • You will need a computer to work on during our weekly meetings and beyond

  • R + RStudio works on most laptops and has a cloud option

  • See for installation guides

  • Computers in the classroom should have the most recent version

  • Computer labs open to students whenever courses are not scheduled


Assignment Percent
Attendance and participation 10%
Weekly lab assignments (best 10) 30% (3% each)
Response papers (best 3) 30% (10% each)
Final project meetings 10%
Final project: Pre-analysis plan 20%


Semester at a glance

  • First half: Focus on designs for public opinion (surveys)

  • Second half: Focus on public policy (experiments, RCTs, AB testing)

  • Weekly reading and lab assignments

  • Choose when to write response papers (at least 3)

  • Schedule at least two final project meetings (before and after mid-term recess)

Class meeting

  • Brief lecture (< 30 min)

  • Discussion (~ 40 min)

  • Break (10 min)

  • Lab (Remaining time)

Is 8:30 AM a good start time?


Doing well in this course

  • Content is cumulative. Stay engaged!

  • Work with others, especially on coding

  • Come to class prepared to work backwards from findings to research design choices

  • See also

Stay in touch!


Take home part: Research interests survey

  • Link available before the end of today

  • Due on Friday, January 13, at 5 PM

  • I will use this to create group categories that you will sign up for

Now: Install and play around with R