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PUBLIC OPINION

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PUBLIC OPINION

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  1. PUBLIC OPINION

  2. Outline of Lecture • What is public opinion and why should we care about it? • What do Americans think and know about politics? • How do people organize their political beliefs? • How do we measure public opinion? • Where do people’s opinions come from? • How do people “make do” with weak ideologies and low information?

  3. What is PUBLIC OPINION? • Public Opinion: • “Those opinions held by private persons that government finds it prudent to heed.” - V. O. Key (prominent political scientist) • Aspects of public opinion: • Values, Ideology, and Attitudes. • Values = Basic principles • Ideology = Cohesive set of beliefs that form a philosophy about the role of government. • Attitudes = Specific issue position.

  4. Why should we care about public opinion? • Representation • Important for understanding the political system generally • Commonly used in political science to understand how people interface with politics.

  5. Public Opinion:What do Americans think about politics? • Consensus • False Consensus = the proclivity of people to overestimate the degree to which people agree with them. • Example: People who support defense spending are more likely to think others ALSO support defense spending. • WHY the false consensus? • Similar associations • Group think • Denigration of opposing views • Actual level of consensus – Grossly inflated.

  6. Public Opinion: What do people know about politics? • VERY LITTLE. • Early studies – Optimistic. • Today’s reality – very different. • People are: • Uninformed • Unengaged • Uninterested • Unconnected

  7. A doom for democracy? The Consequences of Low Information • Fear that politicians will take advantage of an unknowing public. • Some argue that people cannot meaningfully engage in politics without some sort of political info. • Political outcomes and policies might be different if people were informed.

  8. Public Opinion:How do people organize their political beliefs? • When asked to identify beliefs… • Some people (very few) use ideology • Some use ideological ideas, but remain vague on their meanings • Others see politics in terms of the groups being helped or hurt • Others do not pay much attention to issues at all

  9. What is “ideology?” First, some definitions… Ideology = Consistent pattern of opinion on particular issues that stems from a core basic belief. • Liberal = usually refers to a stand that favors a larger, more active government. Most Democrats today can be described as liberal. • Conservative = usually refers to a stand that opposes an activist government in the realm of economics, and supports stronger activity in promoting good moral activities.

  10. Characteristics of Ideology 1. “Ideology” is used by only a part of the public. 2. The underlying logic is not theoretical, but associative.

  11. STRUCTURE OF IDEOLOGY

  12. Characteristics of Ideology, continued 3. Weak conceptualization. 4. Ideological thinking seems susceptible to change.

  13. CHARACTERISTICS OF IDEOLOGY

  14. IDEOLOGY RECONSIDERED POLICY MOOD, 1958-2000

  15. FINAL POINTS ON IDEOLOGY • Caveats • Alternate structures (values) • Ambivalence • What this means for how we understand public opinion and political behavior

  16. How do we measure public opinion? First, HOW DO POLITICIANS KNOW THE PUBLIC? • Personal contact • Voting • Public opinion polls

  17. Designing a Poll • Choose the questions you want to ask. • Design survey • Select the population you wish to sample from.

  18. Designing a Poll, continued • Determine how large your sample should be. • Choose the method to administer the poll. • Administer the poll and collect the public opinion data.

  19. PROBLEMS WITH POLLING • Citizens • Pollsters • Media coverage of polls

  20. Where do people’s opinions come from? • Agents of Socialization • SOCIALIZATION • Family • Schools • Churches • EXPERIENCES • Political Leaders and Political Institutions • Peers, Workplace • The Media

  21. ZALLER’S MODEL OF PUBLIC OPINION CHANGE Where do opinions come from? • People receive information. • People decide whether to accept it. • Sample from these ideas when they report their opinions. opinions = dispositions + information

  22. exposure opinion change acceptance political sophistication Part 1: A MODEL OF OPINION CHANGE

  23. Bush led the country after 9-11. Bush has trouble eating pretzels. “W.“ promised to crack down on corporate fraud. MEMORY Bush seems weak on the economy. Part 2: FORMING OPINIONS • Memory-based model • Accessibility • Response

  24. Gore supports the environment. + + Gore looks like Bigfoot. + ONLINE TALLY (GORE) + MEMORY Al is a pal of education. - Gore seems like a policy wonk. FORMING OPINIONS – Competing Model • Online model • Online tally • Role of memory

  25. WHY PAY ATTENTION? • Not paying attention can be rational • Cost/benefit analysis • An informed public is not without its benefits though

  26. LOW INFORMATION RATIONALITY • The virtues of recall • Heuristics • When to pay attention • Maybe democracy isn’t doomed after all!

  27. VOTER INVOLVEMENT (2000)

  28. AND FINALLY… IS PUBLIC OPINION MEANINGFUL? Do you buy into the “low information rationality” arguments?