Chapter 6 Public Opinion and Political Socialization
Public Opinion is Important • Can legitimize political authority through polls • Can make political actors more responsive • Clinton delegate model • Bush (G.W.) trustee model • It can help candidates win campaigns • Push poll- “A push poll is where, using the guise of opinion polling, disinformation about a candidate or issue is planted in the minds of those being 'surveyed'. Push-polls are designed to shape, rather than measure, public opinion” (sourcewatch.org).
Public opinion is important (caveat). • Public opinion isn’t stable or consistent. • People have differing opinions. • Public opinion is sometimes misinformed (for most people, public opinion comes from their values and interests not their knowledge base).
Public Opinion-What is it and how is it measured? • Public opinion-politically relevant opinions held by ordinary citizens that they express openly • America is made of multiple publics • Election returns, newspaper editorials, participation level in demonstrations, and poll results are all indicators of public opinion. • Polls are the chief method by which public opinion is measured.
Characteristics of Public Opinion • When evaluating public opinion, it is important to examine • Intensity (how strongly do people feel about an issue) • Stability/fluidity (how stable/fluid is public opinion on this issue over time) • Latency (to what extent are people unfamiliar with the issue or just haven’t formed opinions on the issue) • Distribution (what is the range of opinion on a particular issue)
The Vocabulary of Public Opinion Polls • Public opinion poll- device more measuring public opinion whereby a relatively small number of individuals is interviewed for the purposes of estimating the opinions of a whole community • Population- the people whose opinions are being estimated • Sample- the relatively small number of people interviewed for the purpose of estimating the opinions of an entire population
The Vocabulary of Public Opinion Polls • Probability sample-a sample for a poll in which each individual in the population has a known probability of being selected randomly for inclusion in the sample • Sampling error-a measure of the accuracy of a public opinion poll; mainly a function of sample size and is usually expressed in percentage terms
What makes a good public opinion poll? • Random sample of entire population (1,000-1,500) • Careful question wording • Clear • Questions won’t bias response • Answer categories capture range of opinion • Low and clearly reported sampling error • Respondents have knowledge about the topic
What are some shortcomings of polls? • Large sampling error • Non-random samples • Timing of polls matching opinion
How is public opinion formed? • People develop their attitudes about politics and government through the process of political socialization. • Early learning/experiences is the most influential because it sets a foundation for belief patterns. • Early learning affects later learning. • There are several agents of political socialization.
Agents of Political Socialization • Family • Schools • Mass Media • Peers
Agents of Political Socialization • Political Institutions and Leaders • Churches
How Americans Think Politically • Cultural Thinking • Ideological Thinking • Group Thinking • Partisan Thinking
Cultural Thinking • This theory suggests that our shared values of liberty, equality, and individualism shape how we think politically.
Ideological Thinking • Ideology-consistent pattern of political attitudes that stems from a core belief • to measure ideology need to look at beliefs about the scope of government intervention in economy and social values (should the government promote traditional values or should the government not favor any particular set of values)
Ideological Thinking: Some Terms • Liberals • Conservatives • Libertarians • Populists • Neoliberalism • Left Wing • Conservativism • Neoconservativism • Religious Conservativism • Right Wing
Ideological Thinking • Don’t confuse ideology (liberal v. conservative) with party identification (Democrats v. Republicans) • According to a 2009 Gallup poll: • 40% identify as conservatives • 36% identify as moderates • 21% identify as liberals • Over the past decade the percentage of people calling themselves moderates has declined.
Ideological Thinking • Problem with ideology is that people aren’t always consistent in their beliefs • Political elites tend to be more ideologically consistent than the average person • No more than 1/3 of Americans hold consistent opinions across issues
Ideological Thinking • 1950 Study the American Voter created 4 classifications • ideologues 12% of population • group benefits voters 42% • nature of the times voters 24% • no issue content voters 22% • However, examining ideology is still helpful in discussing broad patterns of opinions.
Group Thinking: The Outlook of Many • More important than ideology in determining attitudes. • Religion • Class • Region • Race/Ethnicity • Gender • Age
Group Thinking: The Outlook of Many • Crosscutting cleavages because everyone belongs to multiple groups, no one factor dominates in determining attitudes • “[C]ross cutting cleavages encourage individuals to appreciate and understand differences, which leads them toward moderate opinions” (Patterson, 2006, p. 214).
Partisan Thinking • Party identification-refers to a person’s ingrained sense of loyalty to a political party • Largest source of division on opinion; emotional attachment to a particular party • 2/3s identify as Democrats or Republicans; 1/3 independents (but even most independents say they lean toward one party or another) • For most adults party identification is stable and does not change over adult life • attachment influenced by childhood socialization
The Power of Public Opinion • The extent to which one believes politicians should heed public opinion is determined by belief in the delegate or trustee model • Delegates believe that politicians should comply with public opinion • Trustees believe that politicians should act within their own conscience
The Power of Public Opinion • To what extent are politicians responsive to public opinion? • Somewhat responsive if the issue is controversial/highly visible • For other issues it limits policy options available to politicians; identifies what people will clearly NOT go for
The Power of Public Opinion • “One of the best indicators of the power of public opinion is the great effort made by political leaders to harness it in support of their goals…for this reason and others, great effort is made to organize and represent public opinion through elections, political parties, interest groups, the news media, and political institutions” (Patterson, 2006, p. 220)