PUBLIC OPINION: Introduction & Political Socialization
CHARACTERISTICS OF PUBLIC OPINION • Public attitudes toward a given government policy can vary over time, often dramatically • Public opinion places boundaries on allowable types of public policy • If asked by pollsters, citizens are willing to register opinions on matters outside their expertise
CHARACTERISTICS OF PUBLIC OPINION • Governments tend to respond to public opinion • Example – death penalty • Majoritarian politics • The government sometimes does not do what the public wants • Example – Court declared school prayer unconstitutional • Pluralist politics
WHAT IS PUBLIC OPINION??? • Collected attitudes of citizens concerning a given issue or questions • Polling is a relatively new feature of American life • Before polling, most observers used newspaper stories, politicians’ speeches and voting in order to determine public opinion
PUBLIC OPINION & THE FRAMERS • Public opinion during the Revolution • 40% supported • 20% opposed • 40% neutral • Public opinion was built into our government by a directly elected House of Representatives • This would reflect public opinion on crucial issues like taxes and spending
DISTRIBUTION OF PUBLIC OPINION: SKEWED DISTRIBUTION • Asymmetrical but generally bell shaped distribution • Most frequent response lies off to one side • Indicates homogeneity of opinion • RIGHT – Opinions on Death Penalty
DISTRIBUTION OF PUBLIC OPINION: BIMODAL DISTRIBUTION • Distribution that shows two responses being chosen about as frequently as each other • Provides potential for political conflict • RIGHT: Position on Gay Marriage
DISTRIBUTION OF PUBLIC OPINION: NORMAL DISTRIBUTION • Symmetrical bell-shaped distribution centered on a single mode, or frequent response • Public tends to support a moderate government policy • It will tolerate policies that lean slightly left or right • RIGHT – Ideology Self-Placement
STABLE DISTRIBUTION • Distribution that shows little change over time • When different questions on the same issue produce similar distribution of opinions, underlying attitudes are stable • When the same question produces significantly different responses over time, a shift in public opinion has probably occured
WHAT MAKES THESE QUESTIONS BIASED? • “Are you in favor of killing babies?” in an abortion survey. • “Would you say that Bill Clinton clobbered Bob Dole in the last election?” in a postelection poll. • “Do you like the President?” in a presidential approval rating. • “Whom did you vote for in the last election?” to assess partisan affiliation.
THINK BACK. . . • What is your earliest memory of a president? • When did you first learn about political parties? • Do you identify with a particular political party? How did you decide to do so?
WHAT IS POLITICAL SOCIALIZATION?? • Complex process by which people acquire their political values • Most people are exposed to the same sources of influence (agents of socialization) • Family • School • Community • Peers • Television
AGENTS OF EARLY SOCIALIZATION: FAMILY • Most important agent of political socialization • Children tend to learn their social, moral, religious economic and political values from their parents • Parents who are interested in politics and public affairs tend to influence their children to become more politically aware • Children tend to identify with the political party of their parents • If they switch, they likely identify themselves as Independent
THESE AREN’T YOUR GRANDFATHER’S POLITICS!! • Since the 1950’s, the number of people willing to identify themselves as Democrat or Republican has decreased • Children are less likely to share their parent’s attitudes on issues involving civil liberties and racial issues. • Are you pondering what I’m pondering. . . Why might children and parents differ on ideas of civil liberties and race?
AGENTS OF EARLY SOCIALIZATION: ELEMENTARY SCHOOL • Prepare children to accept the social order • Introduction to authority figures outside the family (i.e. principal, teacher, etc) • Students learn the nation’s slogans and symbols • Pledge of Allegiance, flag, holidays • Stress the norms of group behavior and democratic decision making • Respecting each other’s opinion • Stress on political equality
AGENTS OF EARLY SOCIALIZATION: SECONDARY SCHOOL • Teachers challenge students to think critically about American government and politics • Students become more politically aware of the process and prominent participants in the political process • Teachers try to build children’s trust in the political process • External factors can oftentimes erode that trust
AGENTS OF SOCIALIZTION: COMMUNITY & PEERS • Community – people of all ages with whom you come in contact because of proximity • Homogenous communities can exert pressure on children and adults to conform to the dominant attitude of the community • Peers – friends, classmates, coworkers • Peers can provide a defense against community pressure
HERE’S A THOUGHT?? • As Americans, are we duped by the media into thinking one way or another??