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Democracy Under Pressure

Democracy Under Pressure

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Democracy Under Pressure

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    1. Democracy Under Pressure Chapter 6 Public Opinion

    2. Public Opinion All governments are based, to some extent, on public opinion. Marie Antoinette lost her head for saying "Let them eat cake." American presidents also have paid the price at the court of public opinion. In 1968, LBJ, who won a landslide in 1964, did not run because public opinion soured over Vietnam. Watergate cost Nixon his job. His support level dropped 40 points, greasing the skids for his impeachment and resignation.

    3. Public Opinion In 1998, when Bill Clinton denied he had "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky, his approval ratings remained high. Public opinion saved him in the impeachment trial: A Gallup Poll reported that 64 percent of the public favored a vote against conviction. In 2001, after the September 11 terrorist attacks, George W. Bush's approval rating hit 90 percent. Two years later, Bush's approval rating fell to 52 percent because of soldiers being killed in Iraq and the economy that was slow to recover. With the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Bush's ratings spiked to 63 percent, but dropped again to 41 percent when casualities in Iraq rose.

    4. Democracy Under Pressure What is Public Opinion

    5. What is Public Opinion The term "public opinion" means the expression of attitude about government, and politics or public issues. V. O. Key, Jr., defined public opinion as "those opinions held by private persons which governments find it prudent to heed." Public opinion is by nature situational and thus constantly changing. Public opinion can be an input into the policy process. Since officeholders try to manipulate it by making favorable policies, public opinion also can be seen as an output of the process.

    6. Democracy Under Pressure How Public Opinion Is Formed

    7. How Public Opinion Is Formed Walter Lippmann observed that each individual forms mental snapshots that do not always correspond with reality. Why do opinions differ? Numerous factors might be involved: age, social class, income, religion, sex, ethnic background, geography, group membership, and party preferences.

    8. Political Socialization: the Family and the Schools The term "political socialization" refers to how a person forms opinions about social and political issues. The family plays a significant role. Robert Lane says the family "incubates" opinions during the crucial development period between ages nine and thirteen. Children learn about politics through television and other means. Sixty-three percent of fourth-graders identified with a political party. Party loyalty is passed on from one generation to another.

    9. Political Socialization: the Family and the Schools A study about Bennington College students in the 1930s found that those whose parents were affluent and conservative still came out of the liberal college environment more liberal than their parents. Jennings and Niemi found that among high school seniors, the similarity between parents and high-schoolers was modest. In elementary school, children are indoctrinated with stories of national heroes, and learn to salute the flag and sing patriotic songs.

    10. Political Socialization: the Family and the Schools In junior high and high school, students are required to take civics courses. Colleges continue the political socialization of students. Involvement in antiwar activity was common in the 1960s on college campuses.

    11. Political Socialization: the Family and the Schools Sociological and psychological factors also influence public opinion. A Gallup poll revealed that 63 percent of adults approved of legalized gambling, yet 52 percent of young teenagers approved. Earlier, 32 percent said abortion should be legal in all circumstances. Among college students, 48 percent said abortion should be legal.

    12. Social Class Differences in social class, occupation, and income do appear to influence people's opinions on public matters. One study indicates that people who identify with the working class are more likely to favor federal social-welfare programs than middle class people. Community leaders are more tolerant of nonconformists and atheists than are lower classes.

    13. Social Class People with incomes under $20,000 (70 percent in a Gallup poll) were more likely to support free distribution of condoms to students to prevent AIDS than were those making more than $50,000 (59 percent of the Gallup poll). Children brought up in lower-income homes were more likely to accept authority than children from upper-class homes.

    14. Religion, Sex, and Ethnic Factors Religion, sex, race, and ethnic background may influence public opinion. Although Americans like to think they are open-minded, studies have suggested otherwise. In 1960, John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic to be elected president. The Reverend Jesse Jackson has been active in presidential primaries and successful in getting delegates, but has never been elected.

    17. Religion, Sex, and Ethnic Factors This may be changing with enormous public interest in Colin Powell in 1995 in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. By 2003, 92 percent of Americans supported the idea of a black presidential candidate.

    18. Religion, Sex, and Ethnic Factors A voter's religious and ethnic backgrounds and their political leanings may affect party preference. In 2000, 52 percent of Catholics voted for Vice President Al Gore. Among Protestants, 46 percent voted for Republican George W. Bush. Among Protestants, 55 percent voted for Bush, and 42 percent for Gore. In another study, Jewish and black voters were more likely than others to support governmental social-welfare programs.

    19. Religion, Sex, and Ethnic Factors Religion may affect public opinion on specific issues: Quakers favor disarmament, Jews may favor aid to Israel, and Catholics may oppose the use of federal funds for abortion.

    20. Geographic Factors Sectional and geographic differences among Americans are exaggerated. On broad questions like foreign policy, regional variables are minimal. These days, whether people come from urban or rural backgrounds may be more significant.

    21. Group Influence People tend to go along with a group even when it contradicts accepted standards of morality and behavior. Famous Stanley Milgram study at Yale using "electrical shocks" found that group pressure is powerful in influencing individual views.

    22. Group Influence On occasion, group influence may even prevent the expression of opinion. Various types of groups may influence people. Groups whose views serve as guidelines for individuals are known as reference groups. Groups that people come into face-to-face contact with in everyday life are known as primary groups. Secondary groups are more remote, such as labor unions and religious groups.

    23. Mass Media Television and print media, along with talk radio and online services, bring government and politics into people's homes. In 2004, Vermont Governor Howard Dean used the Internet to raise $41 million dollars for his presidential campaign. Dean's website was linked to his "blog", also called a web log, is a website open to Internet users to post comments online.

    24. Mass Media Talk radio helped the Republicans capture control of the House in 1994. In 2004, voters were bombarded by political commercials, televised conventions, and candidates appearing on a variety of shows.

    25. Party Identification How voters think about political issues and candidates is often linked to their party identification and their personal view of the candidate. Political scientists distinguish between candidate orientation, issue orientation, and party identification. A Gallup poll finds that 22 percent of GOP identifiers favored the legalization of marijuana while only 27 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of independents did.

    26. Party Identification In a 1998 poll, 73 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of Democrats approved of the decision to impeach the president. Evidence shows that party ties are becoming less important. The number of political independents has increased in recent years.

    27. Democracy Under Pressure The Qualities of Public Opinion

    28. The Qualities of Public Opinion In analyzing the qualities of public opinion, political scientists speak of direction, intensity, and stability. Direction refers to where people fit on the scale between liberals and conservatives. Intensity refers to how important an issue is to the person. Degree of stability refers to the fact that opinions on a given subject or candidate can fluctuate, as was the case with George Bush between 1991 and 1992.

    29. Democracy Under Pressure Political Polls

    30. Political Polls All candidates depend on them today. Exit polls on election day may prove a reliable indicator of the final result. Polls today are a lot more sophisticated than in 1948 when both Gallup and Roper polls predicted that Dewey would defeat Truman. Polls today can be wrong and differ with one another, but the margin of error has been greatly reduced.

    31. Political Polls Even when they are usually accurate, events may make the polls misleading. In the 2000 presidential race for the Republican nomination, polls reported George W. Bush and John McCain in a close race. In the primary election on February 1, McCain scored a sweeping victory with a 48 percent lead. The Clinton White House was criticized for polling the daylights out of everything.

    32. How Polls Work A polling organization may question only 1,500 people. The whole system is based on the mathematical law of probabilities. This principle is used by insurance companies to compute life expectancies. The group to be measured, known as the population or universe that is too large to be polled individually. The pollster takes a "random sample," a representation of the universe being polled.

    33. How Polls Work In 1936, Literary Digest polled only owners of phones and automobiles, and predicted that Roosevelt would lose the presidential election based on that information. Because of the high cost of running a truly random sample, a polling organization uses cluster sampling, talking to people from the same neighborhood. Quota sampling is based on socioeconomic characteristics of the population as a whole and is rarely used by political pollsters because it leaves too much to the discretion of the interviewer.

    34. How Polls Work Selecting the sample is not the only factor. The way in which questions are phrased, the personality of the interviewer, and the manner in which poll data are interpreted may affect the result. The wording of the sample may affect the reliability of the poll. So can the personality of the pollster and the manner in which the poll data is interpreted. Many voters don't want to respond to surveys. As many as eighty percent may refuse to answer.

    35. How Polls Work Pollsters may have to contend with people not being willing to talk, or being undecided. How to interpret the undecided samples also is a big problem. Polls do not necessarily predict the outcome of an election. Polls only measure opinion at the moment the survey is taken. Polls may create a bandwagon effect, building support for one candidate or position.

    36. How Polls Work Television networks were criticized for projecting the outcome before the polls close in California. The networks base their predictions either on mathematical projections of early returns and/or exit polls. In 1990, the networks agreed not to release exit polls too early. In 1993, the Voter News Service (VNS) was formed to report election returns only after a majority of polling places had closed.

    37. How Polls Work In the age of the Internet, holding back exit polls proves difficult. In 2004, television networks relied on a National Elections Pool (NEP), created be several networks to replace the Voter News Service (VNS). Exit polls affect elections in other ways. A strong showing will attract more money, whereas a weak showing may cost a candidate potential supporters.

    38. Democracy Under Pressure What Americans Believe

    39. What Americans Believe Some say there is an underlying democratic consensus in America; but the idea melts on closer examination. Americans might be for fair play and justice, but only if their interests aren't threatened.

    40. What Americans Believe American voters are on the whole pragmatic, approaching issues individually. Why do voters take such contradictory positions? They believe that the federal government should meet public needs. They agree that Americans should rely on individual initiative and not so much on governmental welfare programs. Alexis de Tocqueville observed the competing fundamental values of individualism and equality. A belief in equality may explain why individuals favor social programs.

    41. What Americans Believe Political research suggests that voters have become more issue-oriented. Since the 1960s, voters evaluate candidates and parties more in terms of their issue positions. The role of the party as a guide has declined.

    42. Democracy Under Pressure Political Participation

    43. Political Participation Over a little more than half of the people bother to vote. Only 51.2 percent (105, 387,000 million)of people of voting age did so in the 2000 presidential election. In off-year, non-presidential elections, still less than half of eligible voters participate. In 2002, only 39.3 percent of eligible voters voted.

    45. Political Participation Why do so few vote? No benefits can be derived for them from voting, or they feel there is no difference between the candidates. Americans are poorly informed. Only 26 percent are well-informed on issues dealing with international affairs. A 2002 survery found that 23 percent of college students knew the James Madison was the "father of the Constitution", but 98 percent knew that Snoop Dogg was a rap singer. Only half knew that there are 100 U.S. Senators or that the first ten amendments to the Constitutions are called the Bill of Rights. Forty percent could name the vice president.

    46. Political Participation Ignorance about matters could be due to the fact that government often tries to withhold information, as JFK did when he denied that CIA-supported exiles invaded Cuba in 1961 and as Johnson did when he suppressed crucial information about the Tonkin Gulf in 1964. Some scholars suggest that the degree of information possessed by the public is situational-it varies from one election to another.

    47. Violence and Politics Assassination and violence has loomed over the political landscape in recent years Example: assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981. Democracy is based on the belief that large numbers of the public will participate peacefully in the political system. The "consent of the governed" implies that public opinion plays a role in the political process.

    48. Violence and Politics Sometimes violence is viewed as political or social protest, as in the rioting following the Rodney King trial verdict in 1992. U.S. history has violent past: the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Ku Klux Klan. Four presidents have been assassinated, and serious attempts have been on the lives of six others. The 1960s assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all dramatically affect the political process.

    49. Violence and Politics The Warren Commission concluded that President Kennedy's assassin acted alone, a finding challenged in many books and in the film JFK. Lone assassins are different from revolutionaries who kill to overthrow the system. Lone assassins are not participating in, but are undermining, the system. One person nullifies the will of the people when an elected person like a president is assassinated.

    50. Democracy Under Pressure Mass Opinion in a Democracy

    51. Mass Opinion in a Democracy Would it be good or bad for democracy if presidents used a daily opinion poll to tailor policy initiatives to public opinion? Some may say good, since democracy is government by the people. Others may say bad, since the president is elected to use his or her judgment, not just follow public whims.

    52. Mass Opinion in a Democracy Presidents and members of Congress try to lead and shape public opinion and follow it. Presidents can ignore public opinion but also understand that there is no way to please everybody. Ross Perot used technology to interact with the voters. He went so far as to say that as president, he would not raise taxes without a "grass roots consensus." Political leaders, candidates, consultants, and media advisers attempt to "manage" public opinion to their favor by using techniques and by using symbols. The use of the Oval Office and the presidential seal are popular symbols used to generate public support.

    53. Mass Opinion in a Democracy Columnist Walter Lippmann put it this way: the people "can elect the government. They can remove it. They can approve or disapprove of its performance. But they cannot administer the government. . . . A mass cannot govern." E. E. Schattschneider notes, "nobody knows enough to run the government. [Our leaders] are only a little less ignorant than the rest of us."

    54. Mass Opinion in a Democracy Presidents and legislators do take public opinion into consideration in reaching major policy decisions. Public opinion in a democracy is a broad but flexible framework for policymaking.