PUBLIC OPINION Two big questions:1.) How much impact should public opinion have on govt. policy between elections? 2.) How do we even know what public opinion is?
Why elections are imperfect indicators of public opinion • 1.) Candidates represent packages and combinations of issue positions • 2.) Opposing candidates often have similar positions on important issues (Anthony Downs’ theory) • 3.) Candidates often deliberately obscure their positions on issues • 4.) Voters often vote on the basis of non-issue considerations
The Founders and the Progressives on the Impact of Public Opinion • The Founders---Originally, the House of Representatives was the only elected part of govt.---Trustee, rather than delegate, view of representation was popular---Emphasis on rational deliberation rather than passionate action • The Progressives and Populists (late 19th-early 20th Century)Believed in much stronger and more direct public impact on policy: proposed referenda, initiative, recall, primary elections
How Do We Know What Public Opinion Is? 1.) 19th and early 20th Centuries Literary Digest Poll fiasco in 1936: why did it fail? 2.) Rise of more scientific polling: probability sampling and why it works Ex. Simple random sample, random digit dialing, multi-stage cluster sampling, stratified sample 3.) Sampling ErrorTypical margins for error for random samplen = 100 10.3 n = 1500 2.6 n = 500 4.5 n = 2000 2.2
How Do We Measure Public Opinion cont’d 4.) Other sources of error in public opinion surveys besides sampling errora.) biased question wording (intentional or unintentional)b.) interviewer effects, social desirability effects the so-called “Bradley effect”c.) unbalanced question wording None of these are figured into the “margin for error”
How is US public opinion structured? 1.) US political Culture: almost universally shared, highly stable, commitment to abstract ideas and principles, historic2.) Regional subcultures? 3.) Ideology: emphasis on certain aspects of US political culture as opposed to others, general principles, not universally shared, relatively stable, helps structure positions on specific issues of the day4.) Positions on specific issues of the day
US Political Culture 1.) Individualism 2.) Distrust of Government 3.) Faith in free-market capitalism 4.) Patriotism 5.) Equality of opportunity (equal starting line) 6.) Relatively high religiosity
Ideology in the US Different ideologies are based on selective emphasis on some aspects of US political culture, different interpretations of cultural principles Hallmarks of ideology: stability and predictability of opinions on specific issues (because they’re tied to underlying general principles) 1.) Mainstream (21st Century) liberalism: more government intervention in the economy to promote equality, less government intervention on moral issues (except for guns!) 2.) Mainstream (21st Century) conservatism: more government intervention to promote morality, less government intervention in the economy in order to promote individualism and free-market 3.) Libertarianism: less government intervention all around4.) Populism/Communitarianism: more government intervention to promote the “will of the people”
Is Ideology a Good or Bad Thing? ---Allows for more efficient processing of political information ---Helps to mobilize and encourage political participation and political interest ---Leads to selective perception and ideological filtering (the “echo chamber”) ---Contributes to polarization and less civil politics? Are Americans becoming more ideologically polarized? Or is it just the elites?
Sources of Public Opinion 1.) Political Socialization -- parents, teachers, friends, churches, workplaces 2.) Generational experiences – Civil War, Depression, WWII, Sixties, 9/113.) Life Cycle Effects 4.) News Media --- a brief historya.) the era of partisan media (1790s-1880s) b.) mass market journalism (1880s-1960s)c.) the cynical, investigative media (1960s-1990s) d.) narrowcasting and infotainment (1990s-today) What Effects Does Media Have on Public Opinion? Persuasion? Agenda-Setting? Framing? Reinforcement?