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Public Opinion’s Influence Public opinion is the values and attitudes that people have about issues, events, and personalities. _________ Political values are Importance for democracy Impact on elites– i.e. electoral concerns of Congress Activating direct action.
“I cannot find time to do what is expected of me in the theory of democracy; that is, to know what is going on and to have an opinion worth expressing in every question which confronts a self-governing community. And I have not happened to meet anybody, from a President of the United States to a professor of political science, who came anywhere near to embodying the accepted ideal of the sovereign and omni-competent citizen.” -- Walter Lippman (1925)
How we make political decisions Heuristics or cognitive shortcuts are a big part of this— Cue-taking about how to vote or what opinion to hold. What cognitive shortcut do you use? Family member? Spouse? Friend? Political pundit? Celebrity? Interest group? Others?
Receive- Accept- Sample (RAS) People have predispositions People have access to various forms of political information Predispositions impact whether we accept or reject information we represented with… how we translate information into a “consideration.” We often form opinions, but our memory does not necessarily keep the reasons for the opinion in an easily accessible place.
Surveys measure the average of what we were thinking about beforehand– not knowledge or competency. Implicit result– reliance on cognitive shortcuts.
Two models of public opinion “They” said that…. (The Elite Model) Cognitive shortcuts, elites, and RAS Elites generate messages that citizens absorb. Public opinion is measuring which elites are winning this battle. Current trends in using the internet to get elite messages out My people talk to your people…(Activated Masses Model) Cognitive shortcuts, counter-publics and counter-elites, and RAS Public opinion can be driven by citizens talking with each other. Usually opinion leaders who are not elites drive this. Possibility of true grass roots campaigns– many point to the Civil Rights Movement as an example.
Activated Masses “Big” issues– Race and the Civil Rights Movement Women and the Feminist Movement “Small” issues— MADD and drunk driving
What ideology to you identify with Conservatism Liberalism Populism Libertarianism Feminism Black power/ insurgency Other Don’t Know
Pre-dispositions Ideology Partisanship Democrat versus Republican Third parties?
What party do you identify with Democrat Republican Green Libertarian/ Reform Other None– I’m independent None– I don’t get involved in politics I don’t know
Pre-dispositions Ideology Partisanship Socialization The complex process through which people become aware of political life, learn political facts, and form political values.
Agents of Socialization Agents of socialization are the social institutions that help shape individuals’ basic political beliefs and values. Family Primacy principle Structuring principle School Community Peer Groups Political Events Media
What is the strongest influence on you politically?
Measuring Opinion Characteristics Direction Intensity Saliency Latency
Public opinion has direction. Whatever the response to a public opinion poll (yes or no; more or less; 1 or 100) people have opinions about proper directions and preferred alternatives. Liberals are said to be on the “left,” and conservatives are said to be on the “right.”
If “direction” measures what people think, intensity refers to how deeply individuals hold a given opinion and how likely they are to act on it. Not all opinions are equally felt by citizens, so not all opinions are equally consequential for politics.
If direction and intensity characterize individual opinions, saliency and latency are characteristics of overall opinion. Salient opinion is that which enjoys widespread public attention and is a high priority. Latent opinion may be widespread but generally remains in the background unmolded, unmobilized, and uncrystallized.
Differences in Public Opinion Despite widespread agreement, fundamental disagreements continue, over not only specific issues but also how we define our core areas of consensus. Political divisions between “liberals” and conservatives” reflect relatively consistent differences among Americans. Moreover, demographic differences (between and among racial and ethnic groups and between men and women) persist and define many of the important political battles in American politics.