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Public Opinion

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  1. Public Opinion

  2. What is Public Opinion? • Public Opinion: • poorly understood • used to state where the • American people stand • on issues • used most often by • politicians to say “the • people” want or don’t • want something • American views are • diverse… no undivided, • singular view in the • whole population.

  3. Different Publics: • Many, many “publics” in US • Every public is made up of people that hold a particular view on a public issue: • Pro- life group • Pro-choice group • Like President Bush’s leadership • Do not like President Bush leadership • Support ending the estate tax • Oppose ending the estate tax • Note that issues capture the attention of some, but others may have no interest • BIG POINT: Public opinion only refers to issues relating to PUBLIC AFFAIRS! (politics, public issues, public policies, etc.) • What is NOT “public opinion”? • Red Sox or Yankees? • Snickers or Three Musketeers? • Boxers or Briefs? • Blondes or Brunettes? • In a proper sense, only on public matters!

  4. Public Opinion Defined • Public Opinion: the attitudes held by a significant number of people on matters of government and politics. • there must be an expressed view and it is therefore made up of expressed group attitudes • Expressed opinions can be • written • oral • electronic (email) • demonstration • film • billboard • voting • Thoughts are expressed PUBLICLY

  5. How Public Opinion is Formed • 1. The Family: • Children first see politics from inside the family • they listen to parents opinions, formed by values • watch TV with family • Listen t the stories and ideas of older siblings • In the family, most get FUNDAMENTAL attitudes which influence future opinions • rules of behavior • property • neighbors • race • religion • These basic influences mold • their later view of politics • If one is raised by Democrats… • they too will likely become • Democrats. If Republicans, they • will likely be Republicans.

  6. How Public Opinion Is Formed • The Schools: • One of the purposes of school is to indoctrinate • Basic American values are taught • Pledge of Allegiance • Loyalty to the USA • Patriotic songs • National heroes (G. Washington, A. Lincoln, ML King, etc.) • Requirement to take Civics and Government classes • Children often have profound learning experiences in school • They just don’t hear from parents, but they witness new ideas, relationships, belief systems, etc.

  7. How Public Opinion Is Formed Other factors: occupation, race, socioeconomic class 3. Mass Media: Known as the “new Parent” of socialization. TV, radio, the internet, newspapers, magazines, etc… all influence public opinion. There is at least 1 television in 98% of all homes in the US… most are on for 7 hours per day!

  8. How Public Opinion Is Formed • 4. Peer Groups: Includes our friends, classmates, co-workers, neighbors, etc. • Most peer groups reinforce beliefs • We trust views of peers • Birds of a feather… (we often share experiences and values • Most want to be liked, and do not stray far from what peers think and how they behave

  9. How Public Opinion Is Formed • 5. Opinion Leaders: These are people who have an unusually strong influence on the views of others (minority of people) • Reporters • Editors • Celebrities • Business and Professional leaders • Members of the clergy • heads of state • Local political leaders • Radio talk show hosts

  10. How Public Opinion is Formed • 6. Historical Events:Events we experience mold us greatly! • Great Depression • World War II • Vietnam War • Women’s Lib (Sexual Revolution) • Civil Rights Movement • Watergate • September 11, 2001

  11. Measuring Public Opinion Public opinion can be found in a variety of venues: books, letters to the editor, editorials, articles, radio and television, etc. (sec 1, #3) But, the things above tell us little about the size of the group that hold those opinions. Therefore, we have made efforts to measure public opinion.

  12. Measuring Public Opinion • Elections: • Democracies express opinions through ballot box • They are taken as approval of stands of candidates and parties • Parties claim to have received a “mandate” to carry out ideas. • These claims usually go overboard-votes often have little to do with party or candidate positions (which are often vague anyway) • Elections are useful indicators of public opinion…. Should not be taken as clear desire of national feeling. The Incredible Shrinking Sound Bite

  13. Measuring Public Opinion • Interest Groups: • private organizations whose members share a view and work to shape public policy • the chief means by which public opinion is made known • they present views (exert pressure) through lobbyists, phone calls, letters, political campaigns, etc. • Public officials must weight two things when dealing with interest groups • How many people does group represent? • How strongly do those in the group hold those issues?

  14. Measuring Public Opinion • The Media: The media can be a gauge in assessing public opinion • described as “mirrors” and “molders” of opinion • expressed through newspaper editorials. Columns, news magazines, TV commentaries. • but generally, they are not mirrors of opinion… just reflect views of a vocal minority. • Personal Contacts: Public officials try to be the “voice of the people”. • Members of Congress get hundreds of letters, emails, and phone calls each day • many go back to their district to speak about their concerns and listen to their constituents • Governors, State Legislators, mayors, etc. listen to people in their offices, during public meetings, and social gatherings • Often politicians only hear what they want to hear

  15. Polls- the Best Measure • Public Opinion is best measured by public opinion polls (particularly when they are based on scientific polling techniques: • Straw Votes: • not scientific • asking the same question of large numbers of people • still common (newspapers run mail-in polls, TV and radio show hosts ask viewers to vote on their website or phone • nothing ensures those that are asked will represent cross-section of total population (quantity, not quality is emphasized). • Most famous example: • Literary Digest 1936, sent postcard ballots to 10 million homes and got back 2,376,000 • Confidently predict Alfred Landon would beat FDR… • Roosevelt got 60% of vote and won all but 2 states • Literary Digest relied on auto registration and phone directories • This left out LOTS of people in 1936

  16. Polls- the Best Measure Scientific Polling: Efforts have been made since the 1930’s to make polls more accurate. Much work began with George Gallup and Elmo Roper Now are 1,000 polling agencies in the US. Most deal with commercial work… about 200 also poll political preferences. Two of the best known are the Gallup Organization and Harris and Associates

  17. The Polling Process • Scientific Poll Requirements (five in all): • Define the Universe- Whose opinions do you want? All Americans, voters over 65, college age Catholic women, Democrats in Texas, gun owners, Voters in Ohio…etc. • Construct a sample- Because not every person can be polled, researchers design samples (representative slice of the total universe). Most draw random samples (probability sample) or a sample of a group in which each member of the universe and mathematical area within it have a mathematically equal chance of being included. Most good national polls include 1,500 people… but the law of probability makes their positions an accurate representation within a margin of error (e.g. ±3… a spread of 6 percentage points) To get to ±1%, researchers would need to survey 9,500 people • There are also quota samples, constructed to reflect major characteristics of a given universe. (If 25.3% of a universe was African-American, and 42.8% was white, the percentages must match the universe in the poll).

  18. The Polling Process • 3. Preparing a valid sample- The questions cannot be loaded (looking for an answer using emotionally charged words… know as a “push poll”). They have to straight-forward and clear! (e.g. “Do you believe that people suffering from painful illnesses should be denied the right to use marijuana to alleviate their pain?”… or “Do you believe that doctor’s should be able to prescribe marijuana for pain when other drugs are not effective?”) • Interviewing- Most polls are taken face-to-face.. But increasing numbers have been done by phone. There is some criticism of both methods. Interviewers appearance, dress, attitude, and tone of voice can influence responses. If questions are not worded correctly, respondents can give emotional replies. Others may give answers they think the interviewer wants to hear. Therefore, interviewers must be properly trained! • Analyze and Report Finding- Organizations collect huge amounts of data and have to use computers and electronic hardware. Pollsters use these to tabulate and interpret data, draw conclusions, and publish findings

  19. Evaluating Polls • Evaluating Polls: • The Majority of national polls are reliable, but not perfect • Efforts still continue to refine the polling process • Pollsters have always had difficulty measuring 3 things: • Intensity: the strength of feeling which opinion is held • Stability (fluidity): permanence and changeableness of opinion • Relevance: how important is the opinion to the person • Critics suggest polls can themselves influence opinion through “bandwagon” effect • If polls show someone ahead, some people will side with candidate to be part of the “winning side” • Regardless of criticism, scientific polls are the best way to gear public opinion 2006 Election Polls

  20. Limits on the Impact of Public Opinion Lord Bryce described the US Government as “government by public opinion”. He was suggesting that public opinion was the major influence on public policy… but not the only one! It’s force can be tempered by things like public interest groups. Our system of government is not designed to give unfettered power to majority opinions… it also protect minority views and actions. Lord Bryce

  21. Presidential Election Turnout Rates by Age, 1972-2004

  22. Turnout Increases With Age

  23. The Decline of Turnout: 1892-2004

  24. The Decline of Turnout: 1892-2004

  25. The Role of the Mass Media • The Mass Media’s Role: • Acts as a medium- transmits information (Media is plural) • Impact • TV • Newspaper • Radio • Magazines • Internet, books, films play lesser role • Important political force, but that’s not their purpose • People get most of their political and governmental matter from the media

  26. Television • TV and Politics: • Have gone hand and hand since TV was invented • Intro to TV was at 1939 World Fair with FDR giving a short speech • WWII interrupted TV’s progress, but by the late 1940’s they were regularly available • First transcontinental broadcast was when Truman spoke from Washington, DC to San Francisco in 1951 • Today, more people have TV’s than indoor plumbing • TV replaced newspapers as chief news source in 1960’s and is the principle source of news for 80% of people • CBS, NBC, and ABC are the 3 network giants and furnish 90% of programming for 700 stations. • Three things are changing “Big Three” dominance: • Independent Broadcasting Groups (Fox, etc) • Cable Broadcasts: (CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, TNT, FX, HBO) • Public Broadcasting System (350 local stations)

  27. Most Famous Political Ad - 1964 The “Little Daisy Girl”

  28. Newspapers • Newspapers in America: • First regularly published newspaper began in 1704 (Boston News-Letter) • By 1775 there were 37 weekly papers in the colonies • The first daily paper was the Pennsylvania Evening Post and daily Advertiser (1783) • They became carriers of important police information, and many published the text of the Declaration of Independence • In 1791, the Bill of Rights guaranteed Freedom of the Press • Today there are 10,000 (1500 dailies, 7200 weeklies, 550 semi-weeklies) • Numbers of newspapers have declined (2000 in 1920- 1745 in 1980- less than 1500 today) • Radio, internet, and TV have caused downfall • There are also fewer competing newspapers in cities with less than 50 • Newspapers give greater detail than TV and provide opinions • Most papers are local • Many papers like the NY Times, Washington Post, USA Today are available on day of print around the US

  29. Radio • Radio in America: • Existed since 1920 when KDKA in Pittsburg, PA gave presidential election returns … then became popular • By 1927, there were 733 commercial stations and Americans owned 7 million radio sets • NBC (1926) and CBS (1927) were founded along with others and ran advertisements and programming • By the 1930’s, people planned days around their favorite programs and national events were learned about immediately • FDR was the first president to use the radio with his fireside chats • Radio has survived despite TV due to its convenience • Most radio programming is local, but often affiliate with networks • There are 700 public radio stations (NPR)

  30. Magazines • Magazines in America: • Several magazines published in colonial days including Ben Franklins General Magazine in 1741 • Up to the 1900’s most were literary or discussed social graces • Harper’s Weekly and Atlantic Monthly were political appearing in mid-1800’s • The progressive reform period in the early 1900’s spawned journals of opinion • 12,000 magazines in the US from trade publications (Veterinary Forum, Automotive Executive) special interests (Vogue, Golf Digest, Seventeen, American Riflemen, Playboy). • Highest sellers are Modern Maturity, TV Guide, and Readers Digest. • Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report are top news magazines • Vehicles of opinion are The Nation, The National Review, The New Republic, and the Weekly Standard

  31. Media and Public Policy 1. The Public Agenda • The Media shapes the public agenda by reporting on issues that they believe are worthy of attention • people talk about what they see and hear… and if it is important enough to them, public policy makers hear about it • They emphasize some things, and downplay others • The big TV, newspaper, and magazines all form an “inner ring” in Washington, DC • Presidents receives daily dose of news reports each day

  32. Media and Public Policy 2. Electoral Politics • Television has made candidates far less reliant on political parties • Most for own campaign with loose relationship with parties • The media is so important, politicians spend a great deal of time working on their public “image” • They plan event that will attract media attention and even consider technical issues such as timing, location, lighting, camera angles, etc. • Good campaign managers know (1) take no more than 2 minutes of air time (2) show people something interesting and exciting • Newscasts are usually short and focus on “sound bites” (30-40 second reports).

  33. Limits of Media Influence • The Media’s Impact: • A number of built in factors limit the media’s impact • Few people follow international, national, or local politics closely. Only 10% of electorate is informed, and 15% of those who do vote. So, only a very few take into account what the media says • Most who care about politics listen to those sources they agree with. They ignore the campaign ads and newspaper articles about other candidates • Also, most networks do not focus on public policy/ political programming. • Advertisers pay for programming that is watched… sitcoms, dramas, etc. • Exceptions are 60 minutes, 20/20, The O’Reilly Factor, Dateline NBC… • Newspapers have a similar obsession with advertising, but still cover more public affairs • Sports, entertainment, and travel sections often more appealing to readers than public policy stories • Therefore, being an informed voter takes work!

  34. Political Parties

  35. What is a Political Party? Political Party: A group of persons who seek to control government the winning of elections. 1, There are two major parties in American politics today: Democrats & Republicans Another definition of “political party” is a group of persons, joined together on the basis of common principles, who seek to control the government in order to affect certain public policies and programs. 1. Some argue this does not fit the American version… the Democrats and Republicans are election oriented, not principle/issue oriented.

  36. Party Coalitions Today

  37. Political Party Funtions Why are Political Parties important? The are the major mechanisms behind broad policies and leadership choices. 2. They act as a “the voice of the governed” and some argue that parties are how the will of the people are best expressed. Political parties bring conflicting groups together to find “common ground”. The soften extremist views and seek compromise and unity.

  38. Nominating Candidates: 4 • The major function of a political party is to nominate, or name, candidates for public office… and then they help them win their elections. • Parties are the mechanism for recruiting and choosing candidates and for gathering support for them. • Informing and Activating Supporters: • Parties inform the people, spark their interest, inspire them, and get them to participate in public affairs. • Voters are inspired to campaign for candidates, take stands on issues, and criticize opponents. • Parties create campaign materials (buttons, posters, bumper stickers) and propaganda materials (pamphlets, TV, internet, newspaper and radio commercials, speeches, and rallies) to show their issues in the best light. Political Party Funtions

  39. Political Party Funtions • The Bonding Agent Function: The party works like an insurance agreement ensuring losses against 3rd parties… so a party acts like a bonding agent, ensuring that candidates perform well in elections. It tries to ensure that candidates are qualified, and are of good character. • Governing: Government in the US is GOVERNMENT BY PARTY! • Officeholders are chosen by on party basis • Legislatures are arranged by party and are generally very partisan. • Most appointments to executive offices are made with party considerations • Parties provide channels for legislatures to work together

  40. Political Party Funtions Acting as Watchdog: Parties act as watchdogs over the publics business. The party out of power usually takes this role by criticizing the party and behavior of the party in power (in the executive branch). The party out of power tries to convince voters that they should “throw the rascals out”. The party out of power tried to become “the voice of the people” by expressing their concerns. They become “the loyal opposition”---- opposed to the party in power but loyal to the people!

  41. Why a Two-Party System • The US has had a two major political parties and has for some time. • In many states and local governments, one party is dominant. • MA: Democrats • TX: Republicans • Austin, TX: Democrats • Exeter, RI: Republican • There are several reasons why the 2 party system has flourished 7

  42. 1. Historical basis • Rooted in the beginning of the nation- it started as a 2-party system • Federalists • Anti-Federalists • Framers didn’t intentionally do this, they didn’t want parties b.c. they wanted a unified country

  43. 2. Force of Tradition • Most Americans accept the idea of the 2-party system b.c. there has always been one • Challenges to the system by 3rd parties have little success

  44. 3. Electoral system • Having smaller political parties doesn’t work well w. our electoral process • The election process discourages minor parties: • Single-member district (1E)= contests in which only one candidate is elected to each office on the ballot, most districts in US are like this • Bipartisan (1G)= 2 major parties find common ground here & they make laws that make it harder for minor parties to win

  45. 4. American Ideological Consensus • Americans are homogenous = share the same ideals, basic principals, & patterns of belief • Broad Consensus (1H)- general agreement among various groups on matters of importance • We have not experienced serious political divisions

  46. Party Symbols Democratic donkey was first associated with Democrat Andrew Jackson's 1828 presidential campaign. His opponents called him a jackass (a donkey), and Jackson decided to use the image of the strong-willed animal on his campaign posters. Later, cartoonist Thomas Nast used the Democratic donkey in newspaper cartoons and made the symbol famous. Nast invented another famous symbol—the Republican elephant. In a cartoon that appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1874, Nast drew a donkey clothed in lion's skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled “The Republican Vote.” That's all it took for the elephant to become associated with the Republican Party. Democrats today say the donkey is smart and brave, while Republicans say the elephant is strong and dignified.

  47. The Minor Parties • Four types of minor parties: • Ideological Parties: Based on set of beliefs (social, economic, political) • Based on some kind of Marxist thought (not not all) • e.g. socialist, socialist labor, socialist worker, communist • Libertarians Party is non-socialist example • Men Want to do away with most governmental functions • Don’t win many votes, but have been long lived.

  48. The Minor Parties • 2.Single-Issue Parties: Concentrate on one public policy matter (usually short lived) • Names indicate primary concern: • Free Soil Party- end expansion of slavery • Know Nothing Party (American Party) - opposed immigration, particularly of Irish Catholics • Right to Life Party- opposes abortion

  49. The Minor Parties • 3. Economic Protest Parties: No clear cut ideological base, unlike socialists which focus on economic issues • Focus on their “enemies” such as: • Monetary system, Wall Street Bankers, railroad, foreign imports • Examples of Parties: • Greenback Party: (1876-1884) appealed to farmers- free silver, federal regulation of railroads, income tax, labor legislation • Populist Party: (1890’s) public ownership of railroad, telephone, and telephone. Wanted lower tariffs, adoption of initiative and referendum • These parties often form in times of economic turmoil- also short lived

  50. The Minor Parties • 4. Splinter Parties: Break away from major parties (usually short lived) • “Republican Splinters”: • “Bull Moose” Progressive Party: (1912) • Theodore Roosevelt challenged Howard Taft’s Republican nomination • called for women's suffrage • recall of judicial decisions • easier amending the U.S. Constitution social welfare legislation for women and children, workers' compensation • limited injunctions in strikes • farm relief • required health insurance in industry • new inheritance taxes and income taxes • improvement of inland waterways • limitation of naval armaments