Public Opinion Chapter 10
The role of public opinionin a democracy Why public opinion ought to matter: • The government’s legitimacy rests on the idea that government exists to serve the interests of its citizens. Why public opinion does matter: Politicians act as though they believe the public is keeping tabs on them. Because America is a democratic nation, it allows popular votes on national issues. This is called a PLEBISCITE
Those who favor an elite democracy are less likely to: • Want Americans voting on national policy issues
How important is public opinion in our government today? • If we live in a democracy then people’s opinion is very important • But….although we want our opinion to be heard, We DO NOT want politicians to blindly follow public opinion.
Two competing views of citizenship The democratically enlightened citizen • A virtuous citizen concerned for the common good, recognizes that compromise is necessary part of politics • Recognizes that democracy carries obligations as well as rights The apolitical, self-interested citizen • Inattentive and illinformed • Easily manipulated • Politically intolerant • Unlikely to participate
Four criteria for ideal democratic citizens 1. Political knowledge Saliency 2. Ideology Doesn’t matter which one 3. Tolerance Open to Listening And recognizing our differences Make us a stronger nation 4. Participation
Rationally Ignorant Meet Joe, Joe is rationally ignorant. He chooses to keep himself uninformed about politics b/c of the cost in his time and/or money, which do not show tangible or measureable results. The founding fathers worried about “Joe” …Are you a Joe? Is someone you know a Joe?
Two-Step Flow Citizens get information and make decisions based on what more knowledgeable “opinion leaders” say is correct.
What influences our opinions about politics? Family: who we grew up listening to Schools and education Where we went to school and for how long Groups The spiral of silence Peers Political and social events
Spiral of Silence Spiral of silence theory describes the process by which one opinion becomes dominant as those who perceive their opinion to be in the minority do not speak up because society threatens individuals with fear of isolation.
Sources of divisionin public opinion Self-interest Education Age Political generations
Sources of division inpublic opinion, cont’d. Gender Gender gap Marriage gap Race and ethnicity
Sources of division in public opinion, cont’d. Religion Geographical region Marital status
Measuring and tracking public opinion • Informal measures of public opinion • E.g., personal contacts, mail from citizens • Allows politicians to pick up issues that could be missed in polls • Likely to have a sample bias
Measuring and tracking public opinion, cont’d. The sample 1,000–2,000 people Sampling error Eliminating sample bias Random samples Strict rules for choosing a sample for any type of scientific or social science query
Who should be polled? • The portion of the population picked to be polled is called the “sample” • The larger the sample the lower number “sampling error” ( number that indicates within what range the results are accurate)
Horserace Poll the focus on polling data, public perception instead of candidate policy, and almost exclusive polling on candidate differences rather than similarities….people who are likely voters are the ones most politicians will want polled.
Measuring and tracking public opinion, cont’d. Importance of asking the right question Respondents should be asked things they know and have thought about. Questions should not be ambiguous. Questions should not be loaded. Terms used in question must be readily understood.
Holocaust survey mishap • Example: Question that is ambiguous because it uses a double negative: • Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of Jews never happened? • Better question • Does it seem possible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened, or do you feel certain that it happened?
Measuring and trackingpublic opinion, cont’d. • Types of polls: • National polls (e.g., CBS News/New York Times) • Campaign polls • Benchmark poll • Tracking poll • Exit poll • Pseudo-polls • Internet poll • Call-in poll • Push poll
Why Polls are not necessarily the best route • Direct contact between an elected official is better because it leaves less room for the official to overlook or forget about an issue
What are YOU looking for? • Unless worded properly, a poll can have misleading results. People tend to give responses based on “cues” given by the person asking the question.
Tracking & Benchmark Polls • Really good at helping form a campaign strategy.
Measuring and trackingpublic opinion, cont’d. • How accurate are the polls? • Generally can pick the winner of the election • Not correct to the percentage point because of margin of error • More accurate the closer one gets to the election
When politicians fail! • Politicians are less likely to be successful if they only listen/poll to those who support them and to friendly interest groups. This is referred to as “Push Polling”
Who’s in the Lead? • Unscientific polls that try to determine who is leading a political race are called “Straw Polls” (comes from the old method of selection “drawing straws” to see who the winner is)