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American Government

American Government

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American Government

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  1. American Government Public Opinion

  2. Public Opinion Public opinion is an important topic in American politics • Since we define ourselves as a democratic society, what the people want matters --they are the ultimate source of governmental legitimacy • On the other hand, the founders explicitly and extensively sought to limit the impact of public opinion on politics in the U.S. • As we've noticed earlier, numerous checks on majority rule: founders feared that majority could -- and probably would -- act unwisely • Founders were more interested in fulfilling the goals outlined in the preamble to the Constitution. • Therefore, they created a system in which public opinion could translate itself into public policy, but not one in which it necessarily would translate itself into public policy.

  3. 3 Facts about Public Opinion Important Facts to Know 1. Public opinion may conflict with other important values (Madison's old majority faction problem) • Most notably, public opinion may conflict with fundamental, constitutionally protected rights • potentially -- and sporadically -- a serious problem • in actuality, though, our political culture is mild

  4. Public Opinion is Hard to Figure • Public opinion is very difficult to interpret • Often there is no one "public", rather many publics many people in the public are: • uninformed • unconstrained -- want mutually exclusive things • As a result, while several preferences are stable, many are fickle • stable: peace, prosperity • fickle: energy, environment, nuclear freeze • N.B. ... stable on ideals; fickle on implementation/details

  5. Public Opinion is Hard… • Public Opinion Polls are sensitive to the wording of questions and, therefore, easily manipulated • options/tradeoffs -- taxes for deficit • order of alternatives • loaded questions • so called "astroturf" campaigns • result = we must be careful when asked to evaluate options based on what "the public" feels.

  6. Public Opinion & Elites 3. Public opinion is mediated by political elites • not everyone's opinion has the same political weight • opinion of more politically active people is more politically important • political elites drive the wheel of politics

  7. Origins of Public Opinion • Family • party ID is inherited • issue positions are generally not transmitted • Reference groups • churches -- different traditions and social bases • Jews: persecuted; generally liberal views on both social and economic matters • Catholics: lower SES class often, some persecution, group focus; economically liberal, socially conservative • Protestants: dominant group, personal focus; more conservative on both economic and social issues • Other groups -- we are a nation of joiners

  8. The Biology of Politics Biological factors in Public Opinion • Gender gap • -because they bear a greater responsibility for bearing/raising children, women tend to be more interested in and liberal on issues concerning social welfare • Age • younger people tend to be more liberal • less invested in the system • more flexible (old dogs and all that)

  9. Socioeconomic Factors in Public Opinion Economic class • wealthy have more • human nature to think it is deserved • favor policies that let them keep their well-deserved wealth --- much invested in the system Education • generally, education leads to more liberal views (liberal arts) • A great example of cross-cutting cleavages, however. • -income tends to rise with education • -therefore, cross pressures • Examples of “Big Tent” • GOP composed of Wall Street types, farmers, blue collar Reaganites, Bible thumpers; • Democrats composed of poor, limosine liberals, labor, pro-choice, Catholics

  10. Cleavages in Comparative Perspective Contrast with fragmented societies like Northern Ireland • -Catholics: poorer, Celtic, nationalist • -Prots: richer, Anglo-Saxon, loyalist • -result = on-going, intractable violence

  11. Ideology & Public Opinion Liberal vs. Conservative can be confusing • Classically • liberals = proponents of limited government • conservatives = opponents of French Revolution • socially conservative -- believed in a larger role for government -- protect the traditional social fabric • Changed in the U.S. during the Progressive Era (1890-1910) and the New Deal (1930s) • FDR described his efforts to have federal government take a larger responsibility for social welfare as "liberal" • conservatives opposed this --- called for smaller government • Formed the basis for the so-called "New Deal Realignment" • Democrats became the party of larger government • Republicans became the party of smaller government

  12. U.S. Politics: Centrist Important to note --- in US, ideology is bounded • both liberals and conservatives hail from classical liberal roots - split between them is small • even the most virulent liberals in the US believe in a basically free market • -few anarchists • -few revolutionary Maoists • even the most virulent conservatives believe in basic human rights, civil liberties, equality • -few monarchists • -few theocrats • -few Nazis

  13. Polling Defined • Opinion polls are surveys of public opinion using sampling. • Polls are usually designed to represent the opinions of a population by asking a small number of people a series of questions and then extrapolating the answers to the larger group. • Day after day polls dealing with questions about public affairs and private business are being conducted throughout the United States. • Opinion polling has also spread to England, Canada, Australia, Sweden, and France.

  14. Polling: History & Perspective • Polls are used by businesses, government, universities, and host of other organizations to answer a variety of questions. • The first known example of an opinion poll was a local straw vote conducted by The Harrisburg Pennsylvanian in 1824, showing Andrew Jackson leading John Quincy Adams by 335 votes to 169 in the contest for the United States Presidency. • This poll was unscientific – as were all attempts to systematically identify public opinion then. • A scientific poll must be representative.

  15. The Onset of Modern Polling • In 1916, the Literary Digest embarked on a national survey (partly as a circulation-raising exercise) and correctly predicted Woodrow Wilson's election as President. Mailing out millions of postcards and simply counting the returns, the Digest correctly called the following four presidential elections. • In 1936, however, the Digest conducted another poll. Its 2.3 million "voters" constituted a huge sample; however they were generally more affluent Americans who tended to have Republican sympathies. • The Literary Digest did nothing to correct this bias. The week before election day, it reported that Alf Landon was far more popular than Franklin D. Roosevelt. • At the same time, George Gallup conducted a far smaller, but more scientifically-based survey, in which he polled a demographically representative sample. Gallup correctly predicted Roosevelt's landslide victory

  16. Polling in Politics Functions of Polls in Politics • Used by candidates to determine strategy • Used by interest groups to decide who to support and with how much resources • Used by election observers to track the ‘horse race’ • Used by leaders to determine will of the people (ex. Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America) • It is also useful where leaders want to ‘manipulate’ public opinion (though to the extent that they do this is often difficult to determine)

  17. Modern Media & Poll Proliferation

  18. What to Know about a Poll • 1. Who paid for the poll? • 2. What does the poll’s sponsor have to gain by particular results? • 3. What were the exact questions? • 4. How and when was the poll administered? • 5. How many people were polled? • 6. Who analyzed or interpreted the poll?

  19. Polling Nuts & Bolts: Sampling • Polls require taking samples from populations. In the case of, say, a Newsweek poll from the 2004 Presidential election, the population of interest is the population of people who will vote. • Since it is impractical to poll everyone who will vote, pollsters take smaller samples that are intended to be representative, that is, a random sample of the population. • It is possible that pollsters happen to sample 1,013 voters who happen to vote for Bush when in fact the population is split, but this is very, very unlikely given that the sample is representative. • A good sample MUST be a representative sample and it must be a random sample.

  20. Internet Polling: Non-Scientific

  21. Polling: A Concrete Example • Recall our example from the 2004 Presidential Race. • According to an October 2, 2004 survey by Newsweek, 42 % of registered voters would vote for John Kerry/John Edwards if the election were held then. • 46% would vote for George W. Bush/Dick Cheney, and 2 % would vote for Ralph Nader/Peter Camejo. • The size of the sample is 1,013, and the reported margin of error is ±4 %. The 99 % level of confidence was used to determine the bound.

  22. Poll Results

  23. Poll Results w/ Bounds

  24. Interpreting Polls with Bounds • Who is ahead in this race, according to the poll? • Because the bounds of the two estimates for Bush & Kerry overlap, this is a “statistical tie.” • It is possible, given the margin of error and the results, that either Bush or Kerry may have been ahead. • Nader, however, is definitely behind.

  25. Sample Size & Margin of Error • The size of the bound (or the margin of error) is directly tied to the size of the sample. • The larger the sample, the smaller the bound, the more confident we are in the estimate.

  26. Sample Size & Margin of Error

  27. Sample Size & Estimates

  28. Choosing your Sample • The relationship between the sample size and the margin of error is NOT 1:1. • Diminishing returns are obtained as the size of the sample increases. • Hence you need an ever larger and larger increase in your sample to get the same reduction in the margin of error. • Most pollsters strike a balance between cost of the sample and reduction in the margin of error, resulting in commonly used sample sizes of 1,000 to 2,000.

  29. Problems in Polling: Response Bias • Not all error in polling is statistical. • Survey results may be affected by response bias, where the answers given by respondents do not reflect their true beliefs. • This may be deliberately engineered by unscrupulous pollsters in a push poll, but more often is a result of the detailed wording or ordering of questions. • Respondents may deliberately try to manipulate the outcome of a poll by e.g. advocating a more extreme position than they actually hold in order to boost their side of the argument or give rapid and ill-considered answers in order to hasten the end of their questioning. • Respondents may also feel under social pressure not to give an unpopular answer. If the results of surveys are widely publicized this effect may be magnified - the so-called spiral of silence.

  30. Response Bias: Problems on Our End • Observer Effects – poll changes attitude or behavior • Presence of an observer – polls can be taken on a telephone, in person (door to door), etc. Problems – ex. a white man asking a black man about his racial attitudes. A woman asking a man about his position on sexual behavior. • Taking poll changes attitude • Ex. Nielsen poll – you’re a Celebrity Death Match / WWF kind of guy, but during the poll suddenly you are a PBS / CNN kind of guy. • Timing • Question Wording

  31. Response Bias: Timing • Doing a poll on Sept. 12th, 2001 on immigration or feelings about Arabs • Daytime/Nighttime • Most polls are taken from 6pm – 10pm…thus short term effects (news program on poverty) can have effects on the responses • What if we took polls at 1pm in the afternoon? • Thermometer scores – correlation with actual temperature outside (giving higher thermometer scores in the summer)

  32. Response Bias: Question Wording • It is well established that the wording of the questions, the order in which they are asked and the number and form of alternative answers offered can influence results of polls. Thus comparisons between polls often boil down to the wording of the question. • One way in which pollsters attempt to minimize this effect is to ask the same set of questions over time, in order to track changes in opinion.

  33. Push Polling & Question Wording • A push poll is a political campaign technique in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll. Push polls are generally viewed as a form of negative campaigning. • The mildest forms of push polling are designed merely to remind voters of a particular issue. • For instance, a push poll might ask respondents to rank candidates based on their support of abortion in order to get voters thinking about that issue.

  34. Push Polling & Astro-Turf Campaigns • The main advantage of push polls is that they are an effective way of maligning an opponent ("pushing" voters away) while avoiding responsibility for the distorted or false information used in the push poll. They are risky for the same reason: if credible evidence emerges that the polls were ordered by a campaign, it would do serious damage to that campaign. • Push polls are also used by interest groups to generate the appearance of grassroots support for their positions. Hence they may ask respondents questions designed to illicit the preferred responses: • Pro-Choice Push Poll Question: Do you believe women should have a right to privacy? • Pro-Life Push Poll Question: Do you approve of the laws permitting abortion on demand, resulting in the murder of 1.5 million babies a year?

  35. Question Wording Example 1956: Subtle ‘Push” polling

  36. Question Wording Example 1964: Subtle “push” polling

  37. Response Bias: Problems on Their End • Neutral effects – people ‘tend’ to choose the middle category. • folks tend to go for that middle category no matter what their actual feelings are. • Because they don’t want to appear extreme • Because they don’t know • Avoidance of honesty – people will lie (use terminological inexactitudes) when being polled. • They don’t want to admit they don’t vote • They don’t want to admit they are bigots…etc. • Non-Attitudes – people will choose a choice even when they don’t have an opinion on either of them • Who would you rather have as president? • Beavis • Butthead • Eric Carman • Frylock • Master Shake

  38. Respondent Problems: Neutral Effect Example QUESTION: --------- Where would you place YOURSELF on this scale, or haven't you thought much about this? VALID CODES: ------------ 01. Extremely liberal 02. Liberal 03. Slightly liberal 04. Moderate; middle lf the road 05. Slightly conservative 06. Conservative 07. Extremely conservative

  39. Neutral Effects: Helping to Solve them PRE-ELECTION SURVEY: IF R'S PARTY PREFERENCE IS INDEPENDENT, NO PREFERENCE, OTHER: QUESTION: --------- Do you think of yourself as CLOSER to the Republican Party or to the Democratic party? VALID CODES: ------------ 1. Closer to Republican 3. Neither {VOL} 5. Closer to Democratic

  40. Avoiding Honesty: Helping to Solve them • The age old age question problem. • How do you ask it: • What is your age? • What is your date of birth?