Public Opinion • Why are there so many polls? • Why the obsession with public opinion? • What is public opinion? • Are there too many polls? • Is our system too poll driven?
Gallup’s Gift to Democracy • Elections are a poor way of registering public opinion. • Why? • Opinion polls determine people’s collective will and improve the “efficiency of democracy”
Public Opinion • VO Key, "those opinions held by private persons which governments find it prudent to heed." • Public opinion need not be actively expressed • Concerns public as opposed to private life
Do Americans believe the Holocaust happened? • 1993 poll, 22% of American public believed it possible that Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened, 12% unsure • Roper’s Question—Does it seem possible, or does it seem impossible to you, that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened? • Gallup-- Does it seem possible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened, or do you feel certain that it happened?
Two Important Points • public opinion is important in a democracy • difficult to measure what public opinion is
What Makes a Good Poll? • Question wording does not bias the results • Do you agree that Clinton’s is a jerk for cheating on his wife?
Question wording affects results • Should Clinton fight the impeachment charges in the senate? • Should Clinton stand and face trial in the senate? • How to refer to Monica Lewinsky? • How to describe what they were doing? • “the Lewinsky affair”
Wording dilemmas • We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I’m going to name some of these problems and for each one, I’d like you to tell me whether you think we are spending too much money, too little money, or about the right amount. • Welfare (62% say too much) • Assistance to the poor (59% too little)
Push Polling • "As you may know, in 1974 Jerry Springer, who had gotten married six month earlier, was arrested on morals charges with three women in a hotel room. He also used a bad check to pay for the women’s services, and subsequently resigned as mayor of his city. Does this make you much more likely, somewhat more likely, somewhat less likely, or much less likely to support Jerry Springer for governor this year?"
Unintentional Priming Effects • Are you currently a college student? • How much is your annual tuition? • How many hours a week do you work? • Is federal aid for college education too low, too high, or just right?
Wording Bias? • Some people say the candidates should accept the recount in Florida when it's completed, even if they think the voting there was unfair. Others say they should ask the courts to consider whether the voting was fair, even after the recount is completed. What do you think - should the candidates (accept the recount), or (ask the courts to look into these other issues)?
What do Americans think about Tax Cuts? • "As you may know, the federal budget now has a surplus -- which means the government in Washington collects more money from taxes and other sources than it spends. In general, would you prefer to see the federal surplus used MAINLY to cut people's taxes, or to pay down the federal debt and make Social Security and Medicare more financially solvent?" • Newsweek
What do Americans think about Tax Cuts? • "Based on what you know about it, do you favor or oppose President Bush's proposal for a 1.6 trillion dollar tax cut over the next 10 years?" • Fox News
What do Americans think about Tax Cuts? • "Some people say a major tax cut would help families by spurring economic growth, while other people say it would hurt families by decreasing the funds available for programs such as education and health care. Which is closer to your view? Would a tax cut help families or hurt families?" • Fox
What do Americans think about Tax Cuts? • "Which of the following do you think would be better for the country: if the government decides how to spend the current budget surplus, or if there are tax cuts and taxpayers decide how to spend it?" • Fox
What do Americans think about Tax Cuts? • "As you may know, the federal government is running a budget surplus this year. In your opinion, which one of the following should be done with the money from the surplus? Should the money be used to cut federal taxes; to help make Social Security more financially sound; to pay off part of the federal debt; or to spend more on defense, education, health care and other domestic programs?" • Bloomberg
What do Americans think about Tax Cuts? • "Some lawmakers are saying there will be a budget surplus in the coming years. If that happens and you had to choose between the following things, how would you like the money to be used: 1. To cut income taxes; 2. To pay down the national debt; 3. To preserve programs like Medicare and Social Security; OR, 4. Something else?"
What do Americans think about Tax Cuts? • "Do you consider the amount of federal income tax you have to pay as too high, about right, or too low?"
Vote.Com, Wave of the Future? • Attempt to achieve Gallup’s vision of improving the “efficiency of democracy” • Provide information • We’ll send your vote to …. • Is it, as Martha would say, “A good thing”?
Most important characteristic of a Good Poll? • the sample is drawn randomly • Avoid self-selection, DNC poll • Avoids over sampling segments, Literary Digest poll • Internet online polling
Public is Uninformed • Who controls the US house 61% • Name the Senate Majority leader 34% • Name the Chief Justice 6% • Length of Senate term, 26% • Which party is more Conservative, 52% • What party does President Clinton belong to, 90%
Most pay little attention to politics. • 22 million people watch Seinfeld,4 million watch Nightline • 14 million people get TV Guide, 4 million get Time • information costs of absorbing and storing information is too high • Relative benefits too low
How to be a Good Poll Consumer • Who is asked • the sample is drawn randomly • Respondents are representative • Screening questions. • What is asked • Unbiased questions • Sequence order • Who did the poll and paid for it • Fox News • Truth is out there?
Role of Public Opinion in a Democracy • public sentiment or opinion should play some role and does, but • Normative- how large a role should it play in an ideal world • Descriptive- how large a role does it play.
Elite critique of public opinion • most people are more most interested in private pursuits and personal lives than abstract political issues • world is increasingly complex • public is too easily incited by demagogues • Masses are asses • informed elites should govern with few appeals or constraints of public opinion; • not be led by Gallup polls
Evidence- people are stupid • 1/3 have an opinion on the Agricultural Trade Act • 29% of people have a view on Wisnians • Should we abolish the electoral college? • doorstep opinions- People don't want to appear ignorant, so they will make up opinions
Collective Public Opinion • more sophisticated and rational than individual level opinion • Evidence • is relatively stable • changes in predictable ways to events and public affairs • Collective public is more capable and competent than individual surveys suggest
"More restrictions on air travel, including no curbside check-in, arrival at the airport two or more hours before a flight, and no knives, scissors or other sharp instruments allowed on the plane" 72 . "Issuing ID cards for every citizen and legal immigrant designed to be as tamper-proof as possible" 51 . "ID checks at all workplaces and public buildings 50 . "Random ID checks on the streets and highways" 26 . "Making it easier for intelligence and law enforcement agents to monitor people's private telephone conversations and e-mail" 20 "Making cockpit doors on all passenger airliners stronger and more secure" 96 "Arming pilots on flights" 68 "Giving the military authority to shoot down passenger airliners that appear to be hijacked for terrorist purposes" 59
Collectively Rational "Do you think the U.S. should take military action against whoever is responsible for the attacks?" Yes 92 No 5 Don't know 3 Do you think the U.S. should take military action against whoever is responsible for the attacks, even if it means that innocent people are killed?" Yes 67 No 23 Don't know 10 . "What if that meant going to war with a nation that is harboring those responsible for the attacks, then do you think the United States should take military action against whoever is responsible for the attacks?" Yes 83 No 10 Don't know 7 "What if that meant that many thousands of innocent civilians may be killed, then do you think the United States should take military action against whoever is responsible for the attacks?" Yes 68 No 21 Don't know 11 . "What if that meant that thousands of American military personnel will be killed, then do you think the United States should take military action against whoever is responsible for the attacks?" Yes 72 No 18 Don't know 10
Should we have a tax cut? • Who will be helped by tax cuts • Wealthy 58% • Size of Surplus a lot lower than projected • 70% • What to spend surplus on • Social Security 40% sound, 30% domestic programs, 20% pay down debt, 10% tax cut
Critique of Elites • Elites mislead the public • surveys show that people want to balance the budget • only place people want less government spending is welfare and foreign aid • Are people stupid, or do politicians provide crappy alternatives.
Government by Opinion Poll? • Clinton Health Care • Polling is used to “package” ideas • Bush Tax Cut • Clearly not poll driven • “do you pay too much in taxes” • Government shouldn’t pick winners • No class warfare
Impact on Democracy • Descriptive- how large a role does it play • Affects style not substance • W- “too many abortions in America” • Sets broad boundaries rather than specific constraints (foreign policy, capital gains tax cut) • Normative- how large a role should it play in an ideal world • improve the “efficiency of democracy” • Sets limits, constrains elites • Clinton impeachment • Gore concession