Professor Althaus's research and teaching interests center on the communication processes by which ordinary citizens become (in theory, at least) empowered to exercise popular sovereignty in democratic societies, as well as on the communication processes by which the opinions of these citizens are conveyed to government officials, who (in theory, at least) must transform the will of the people into political action. His work therefore focuses on three areas of inquiry: (1) the processes and constraints that shape the journalistic construction of news about public affairs, (2) the processes and constraints that influence how news audiences receive and utilize public affairs information, and (3) the channels of communication that allow individual members of a polity to speak in a collective voice as a public. He has particular interests in the quantitative analysis of political discourse, opinion surveys as channels for mass communication and political representation, the impact of strategic communication activities on news coverage and public opinion, the psychology of information processing, and communication concepts in democratic theory.
Professor Althaus serves on the editorial boards of Critical Review, Human Communication Research, Journal of Communication, Political Communication, and Public Opinion Quarterly. His research has appeared in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, Communication Research, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Political Communication. His book on the political uses of opinion surveys in democratic societies, Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics: Opinion Surveys and the Will of the People (Cambridge University Press, 2003) , was awarded a 2004 Goldsmith Book Prize by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, and a 2004 David Easton Book Prize by the Foundations of Political Theory section of the American Political Science Association. He was named a Merriam Professorial Scholar by the UIUC Department of Political Science and the Cline Center for Democracy (2012-4, 2010-2), a 2004-5 Beckman Associate by the UIUC Center for Advanced Studies, and a 2003-4 Helen Corley Petit Scholar by the UIUC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.