Political Communication

Instructor:Dennis F. Kinsey
Updated:3 February, 2016

Course Summary

As an advanced introductory course on political communication, this module will help students understand the nature of political communication in society. Students will be introduced to graduate study in political communication. Political communication, as a field, has evolved to include traditional government sponsored activities to promote the national interests of a nation state and now includes non-governmental communications that impact governments, as well as governmental communications that affect non-governmental sectors. An overview of basic, yet fundamental topics in political communication will be explored.

Course Format

Hours of lectureHours of discussionHours of independent studyTotal numbers of hours

Please note that the time spent on independent study exceeds hours of lecture and discussion.

The course will meet during the Second Term. Students will be responsible for keeping up with the readings, making selected presentations, participating in discussions, completing exams, and researching and presenting the final case study.

On most days we will start with a 10-20 minute “Political Week in Review” student presentation. I will lecture for the next ½ hour or so of class. The remainder of the period will be used for student presentations and small group discussion of controversial political issues. Each of you is responsible for coming to class prepared, and sharing your ideas with the rest of us.


The seminar is an elective course in the Communications and International Public Relations Master’s Program. Increasingly, employers in government, international organizations, not-for-profit organizations and the NGO community, as well as the private sector, are looking for people who understand diverse audiences at home and abroad and are skillful at crafting messages that describe the organization, convey its vision, and help the organization to communicate in times of change or crisis. Every organization, regardless of its size or mission, needs people who have the training and skills to build relationships and to create and sustain an effective dialogue with external audiences.

Participants should include students interested in careers in international public relations, public diplomacy and public communications, including varied NGOs, advocacy (e.g. lobbying, public policy and public interest) constituency and professional associations, corporate representation, social service, reform groups, government consulting, national security/foreign policy agencies and international elements of government agencies.

Learning Objectives

  • To introduce students to the fundamental concepts, ideas, and topic areas in political communication.
  • To introduce students to the role that public relations and international relations play in political communication.
  • To increase understanding of the field of political communication.
  • To allow students to begin thinking about and to start identifying specific areas of interest in political communication.
  • To improve secondary research skills.

Schedule of Classes

Note: I will do my best to make MINIMAL changes. However, this syllabus and its accompanying schedule are subject to change to accommodate the pace and special interests of the class and the schedule of guest lecturers.

  • CLASS 1:

    • Introduction to the course
    • Syllabus review
    • Nominal group technique (NGT)
    • NGT political communication exercise
    • Select “political week in review” teams
  • CLASS 2:

    • The research tradition

    • Q-methodology exercise
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 1
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 1 & 21
  • CLASS 3:

    • Voting decisions/mass and interpersonal communication
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 3
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 18
  • CLASS 4:

    • Debates and legitimization
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 4
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 15 & 22
  • CLASS 5:

    • Political advertising
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 6
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 17; Perloff, R. M. and Kinsey, D. (1992). Political advertising as seen by consultants and journalists. Journal of Advertising Research, 32, 53-60.
  • CLASS 6:

    • The press and politics
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 2 & 5
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 2, 9 & 10
  • CLASS 7:

    • Consultants
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 8
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 11 & 13; Kinsey, D. F. (1999). Political consulting: Bridging the academic and practical perspectives. In B. I. Newman (Ed.), Handbook of political marketing (pp. 113-127). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  • CLASS 8:

    • Political socialization
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 10
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 16 & 20
  • CLASS 9:

    • Links between political communication and public relations
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 7
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 4 & 5
  • CLASS 10:

    • Influence on the public/orientation to the system
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 3, 6 & 19
  • CLASS 11:

    • Country image, reputation and branding
      Required reading: McNair, chapter 9
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 12 & 14
  • CLASS 12: EXAM

  • CLASS 13:

    • Culture and political communication
      Recommended reading: Golan, et al., chapter 8 & 23; U.S. Department of State (2005). Cultural Diplomacy: The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy. Report of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy.
  • CLASS 14: Case study presentations

Homework Assignments

To provide experiential learning, there are several required assignments/projects for the course. Details on these will be spelled out as the course progresses. They include:

  1. Submitting reaction papers about the readings
  2. Political week in review
  3. Presiding over a seminar-topic discussion
  4. Presenting a journal article of interest to you
  5. Presenting a case study or Political Communication Explication paper

1. Class reading reaction papers (20 points)

Reactions papers are due for each of seminar topics. As your “thought pieces,” reaction papers are meant to get you to think about the readings critically, and perhaps in more detail than you would normally. They also are meant to prepare you for participating in class discussions. The exact content of these reaction papers is largely up to you (i.e., you don’t need to address all readings), while you should read all required readings before writing these papers.

For example, your thought piece can consist of a summary of the reading(s), an elaboration of one or more of the concepts addressed in the readings, an argument against conclusions drawn by the author(s), a pro/con critique of the readings, or an attempt to relate it to other readings that have been assigned.

These reaction papers are due at the end of each class period. Reaction papers are to be typed and double-spaced (maximum, two pages).

Grading: Completion-Based.

2. Political week in review (20 points)

Each student will be responsible for summarizing and making a brief presentation (10-15 minutes) on current political communication news.

Grading: Excellent (20 points); Good (18 points); & Fair (16 points).

3. Seminar discussion (20 points)

Class participation is crucial to the success of a seminar course. Class participation includes students’ role as discussion leader for a seminar topic and involvement in class discussions and exercises. As a team of two, students will be responsible for presiding over a seminar-topic discussion

Discussion leaders will present the overview of all required readings. It is up to the group to present recommended readings. Each group will be responsible for developing discussion questions. In developing discussion questions, please keep the discussion duration in mind. To get the assigned grade, discussion leaders are responsible for leading active, interactive discussion at least for the duration of half an hour.

Grading: Excellent (20 points); Good (18 points); & Fair (16 points). Grades will be equally given to all group members.

4. Journal article presentation (20 points each)

Students will select an article from a list provided by the instructor and prepare a presentation for class.

Grading: Excellent (20 points); Good (18 points); & Fair (16 points).

5. In-class essay exam (60 points)

Students will have one in-class essay exams about the readings from this course. The exam will be closed book only with the exception of your one-page thought pieces on the readings. By writing quality reaction papers for each topic of the class and active involvement in discussions, students can ensure a good grade from the exam.

6. Case study (final term project; 40 points) [or explication paper]

Students will have to present a case study in political communication of their choice. A historical case can be acceptable if the case seems to have relevancy to our understanding of political communication. Otherwise, select a contemporary case or an on-going current event. The scope of the case can be within a single nation or an international/transnational case; the actors of the case can be any political communication actor—such as individuals, governments, international organizations, the NGO community, and global corporations.

Grading: Excellent (40 points); Good (36 points); & Fair (32 points).

Reading List

Required reading:

  1. McNaire, B. (2011). An Introduction to Political Communication, 5th Edition. London: Routledge.
  2. Government Information Quarterly. Elsevier. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/0740624X

Recommended reading:

  1. Golan, G. J., Yang, S. & Kinsey, D. F. (Eds.). (2015). International Public Relations and Public Diplomacy: Communication and Engagement. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
  2. Perloff, R. M. and Kinsey, D. (1992). Political advertising as seen by consultants and journalists. Journal of Advertising Research, 32, 53-60.
  3. Kinsey, D. F. (1999). Political consulting: Bridging the academic and practical perspectives. In B. I. Newman (Ed.), Handbook of political marketing (pp. 113-127). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  4. U.S. Department of State (2005). Cultural Diplomacy: The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy. Report of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy.

Online resources:

  1. https://www.whitehouse.gov
  2. https://www.congress.gov
  3. https://www.parliament.uk
  4. https://kremlin.ru
  5. https://www.duma.gov.ru


It is a pass/fail course. To get a pass, you should complete all the assignments.