Public Opinion • What is it? The distribution of individual preferences for or evaluations of a given issue, candidate, or institution within a specific population. • Taking the Pulse of the People • Intensity – the characteristic of public opinion that measures how strongly people felt on an issue. • Latency – dormant attitudes that may be evoked into action. • Salience – opinions closely associated with the lives of the individuals.
History of Public Opinion Polls • Successes of Literary Digest from 1920-1932. • Used straw polls to make predictions. • Literary Digest was incorrect in 1936; error in sample. • George Gallup made correct prediction. • Gallup was a pioneer in scientific public opinion polls. • Continues to be successful today.
Public Opinion • The proper wording and phrasing of the questions are vitally important to producing reliable, objective data. • Things to consider: • Appropriate language and vocabulary • Open-ended versus closed-ended • Neutral wording
Public Opinion (continued) • How do we get our Political Opinions and Values? Through Political Socialization. • Family – instills the basic attitudes that shape future opinions. Family environment shapes the attitudes of children. • Schools – second important social institution where children develop their political attitudes. Schools teach an idealized view of the nation’s slogans and symbols. • Mass Media - More than two-thirds of Americans report that they receive “all or most” of their news from television. • Other Influences – i.e. Religion, Occupation, Peers
Public Opinion Public opinion is best thought of as • the will of the people • a diversity of opinion within a particular population • media reflection of public attitudes • voter attitudes • Which of the following is likely to be most accurate? • A phone poll using randomly selected phone numbers • A poll of magazine subscribers. • Internet polls on political issues. • A poll of retired persons.
A national newsmagazine publishes an article on efforts to restrict smoking in public places. Subsequently, the magazine receives 1,500 letters commenting on the article, with nearly two-thirds of the letters favoring tougher restrictions on smoking in public. Would this be an accurate reflection of public opinion on this issue? Yes, because the magazine has a national circulation and the sample size is sufficiently large. Not likely, because the sample is not random and probably not an accurate reflection of public opinion on the issue. Not likely, because the sample size is too small. Not likely, because the sample size is too large.
Public Opinion The major force in the socialization of children is • television • family • school • playmates The most influential factor in forming the attitudes of children is/are • intelligence • psychological and genetic traits • class and race • family and school
What is Public Opinion (continued) • Stability and Change in Public Opinion • Public Opinion and Public Policy • Awareness and Interest • Attentive public – those citizens who follow public affairs carefully. Knowledge Levels Politics is not the major interest of most Americans and as a result, knowledge about the political system is limited
Participation: Translating Opinions into Action • Voting –a form of conventional political participation. • Registration – system designed to reduce voter fraud by limiting voting to those who have established eligibility by submitting the proper form. • Motor Voter – “National Voter Registration Act” signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. In an effort to make registration easier, states have made registration forms available at motor vehicle stations, schools, public buildings, and even highway tollbooths.
Participation: Translating Opinions into Action • Turnout is the proportion of electorate who votes. • States regulate voter eligibility. • Voters are more educated and more affluent. • Voters are likely to be middle-aged, women, and white. • The South traditionally has a lower turnout rate.
Why Is Turnout so Low? • In 2008, 62 percent of eligible voters turned out. • Most common reason for not voting is being too busy. • Registration can also be an unclear process. • Absentee voting can be difficult. • There are a lot of elections. • People are apathetic. • Political parties have less influence than in earlier years.
Changes in Voting Eligibility Standards Since 1870 YearChange • Fifteenth Amendment forbade states from denying the right to vote because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 1920 Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. 1924 Congress granted Native Americans citizenship and voting rights. 1961 Twenty-Third Amendment permitted District of Columbia residents to vote in federal elections. 1964 Twenty-Fourth Amendment prohibited the use of poll taxes in federal elections. 1965 Voting Rights Act removed restrictions that kept African - Americans from voting. 1971 Twenty-Sixth Amendment extended the vote to citizens 18 and older.
Ways to Improve Voter Turnout • Make registration and voting easier. - Make registration automatic - Offer more options to vote absentee, mail-in ballots, electronic voting, online voting • Make Election Day a holiday or hold it on a weekend. • Strengthen political parties. • Make voting compulsory.
Participation: Translating Opinions into Action (continued) A Comparison with other nations • Who Votes? • How Serious is Nonvoting?
Why People Don’t Vote How Serious is Nonvoting? • Concerns about “class bias” • Negative effect on Democratic candidates • May indicate approval of the status quo
An institutional barrier that blocks people from voting is • distant voting booths • registration • unattractive candidates • lack of party competition
All of the following are true about voter statistics except • men out-vote women by a large majority. • middle-aged people are more likely to vote than younger people. • college-educated persons vote more than high school graduates. • persons who are active in organized groups are more likely to vote.
The group least likely to vote is • 18 to 24 year olds • blue collar workers • women • athletes These college students feel responsible to vote and line up on campus to fill out absentee ballots.
Voting Choices • Voting on the Basis of Party Party identification – an informal and subjective affiliation with a political party that most people acquire in childhood. • Voting on the Basis of Candidates Candidate appeal – how voters feel about a candidate’s background, personality, leadership ability, and other personal qualities. • Voting on the Basis of Issues While important, issues are not central to the decision process as the other two.
Voters tend to vote against an incumbent if • the budget is out of balance • there is an issue conflict • their personal fortunes are declining • they have not implemented their campaign promises.