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Public Opinion

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  1. 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?

  2. Gallup’s Gift to Democracy • Elections are a poor way of registering public opinion. • Opinion polls determine people’s collective will and improve the “efficiency of democracy”

  3. Public Opinion- a definition • VO Key, "those opinions held by private persons which governments find it prudent to heed."

  4. 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?

  5. What Makes a Good Poll? • #1 Question wording does not bias the results • "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?" • (This is “Push Polling”)

  6. Question wording affects results • Impeachment poll questions • Should Clinton fight the impeachment charges in the senate? • Should Clinton stand and face trial in the senate?

  7. 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)

  8. 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?

  9. 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)?

  10. Wall Street Bailout • "As you may know, the government is potentially investing billions to try to keep financial institutions and markets secure. Do you think this is the right thing or the wrong thing for the government to be doing?" • Pew Research Center survey. Sept. 27-29, 2008.

  11. Wall Street Bailout • "The government has proposed using up to 700 billion dollars to shore up failing financial institutions on Wall Street. Some people say it's a bailout that those companies don't deserve. Other people say it's necessary to protect the broader economy. On balance, do you support or oppose this plan?" • ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Sept. 29, 2008.

  12. "As you may know, the Bush administration has proposed a plan that would allow the Treasury Department to buy and re-sell up to $700 billion of distressed assets from financial companies. What would you like to see Congress do: pass a plan similar to what the Bush administration has proposed, take action but pass something different from what the Bush administration has proposed, or not take any action on this matter?" • USA Today/Gallup Poll. Sept. 24, 2008.

  13. "Congress is working on a plan that some people in the government say is necessary in order to keep the nation's economy from worsening further. The plan would include providing $700 billion of government funds to financial service companies who have lost money on extensive bad investments and are in danger of going bankrupt. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea, or don't you know enough about it to say?" • CBS News/New York Time Poll. Sept. 21-24, 2008.

  14. "As you may know, the government is potentially investing billions to try and keep financial institutions and markets secure. Do you think this is the right thing or the wrong thing for the government to be doing?" Pew Research Center, 9/19

  15. "The government has proposed using up to 700 billion dollars to shore up failing financial institutions on Wall Street. Some people say it's a bailout that those companies don't deserve. Other people say it's necessary to protect the broader economy. On balance, do you support or oppose this plan?“ABC News/Washington Post Poll, Sep 29, 2008

  16. "As you may know, the Bush administration has proposed a plan that would allow the Treasury Department to buy and re-sell up to $700 billion of distressed assets from financial companies. What would you like to see Congress do: pass a plan similar to what the Bush administration has proposed, take action but pass something different from what the Bush administration has proposed, or not take any action on this matter?“USA Today/Gallup Poll

  17. "Congress is working on a plan that some people in the government say is necessary in order to keep the nation's economy from worsening further. The plan would include providing $700 billion of government funds to financial service companies who have lost money on extensive bad investments and are in danger of going bankrupt. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea, or don't you know enough about it to say?“ CBS

  18. What does the American Public Think?

  19. 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?

  20. 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%

  21. 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.

  22. Nisbet’s Argument? • What is public opinion, as opposed to popular opinion? • What role should it play in decision-making?

  23. The Fickle Public

  24. The Fickle Public Gallup March 24-27, 2008 http://media.gallup.com/poll/graphs/040308bailouts2_sntniaem25.gif

  25. "The government has proposed using up to 700 billion dollars to shore up failing financial institutions on Wall Street. Some people say it's a bailout that those companies don't deserve. Other people say it's necessary to protect the broader economy. On balance, do you support or oppose this plan?“ABC News/Washington Post Poll, Sep 29, 2008

  26. "Next, please say whether you strongly approve, approve, disapprove or strongly disapprove of the way each of the following handled their role in the efforts to pass that bill. . . .“ USA Today

  27. Pew- "How much thought have you given to the debate in Washington over how to respond to recent problems in the financial markets . . . ?“ • A lot 54% • A little 33% • None at all 13% • USA Today- "How closely are you following the news about the financial problems on Wall Street and the Bush administration's proposals to address the problems: very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?” 43% very closely

  28. 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

  29. 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- fickle and unwise • informed elites should govern with few appeals or constraints of public opinion; • Polls undermine government’s moral authority

  30. 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

  31. Page and Shapiro

  32. 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

  33. Are the Public Stupid? • Do you think the country's current financial situation is a crisis, a serious problem but not a crisis, a problem but not a serious one, or not much of a problem at all?" • 52% crisis, 43% serious problem • How confident are you that the federal government's efforts will prevent the country's current financial situation from getting worse ? • 6 very confident, 45% somewhat confident

  34. 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

  35. "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

  36. 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

  37. 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.

  38. State of Union Address 2003 • “Before September the 11, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses, and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.”

  39. Wither the Opposition? • New York Times- 35 stories • 21 quote Bush, 30, member of his administration • 12 quote Dems, 14 members of UN • 35 stories • 17 neutral, 9 slightly positive, 9 negative • No debate in NYT on framing of conflict in terms of terrorism

  40. 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

  41. 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