Public opinion deatiled

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Public opinion deatiled

  1. 1. Public Opinion When attempting to analyze the role of public opinion in the policy-making process, it is important to first establish a precise definition of the concept. This is accomplished by breaking public opinion into its components and defining first what is meant by public and second by opinion . Public - a collection of individuals who share a common attitude This definition suggests that there is no single public. The idea of the general public has very little use to us in the study of public opinion. Consider that, on any given issue [electoral or policy issues], the general public can be divided into: [1] an apathetic public - the collection of individuals who are not paying attention to the issue and who do not express their attitudes in any meaningful way; [2] an attentive public - the collection of individuals who are at least paying attention to the issue and who may express their attitudes in a meaningful way; and [3] a mobilizible public ( s ) - the collection of individuals who are paying attention to the issue and who do express their attitudes in a meaningful way. The relative sizes of the apathetic, attentive, and mobilizible publics vary according to the visibility of the issue. Generally, though, as the visibility of the issue diminishes, the size of the apathetic public increases and the sizes of the attentive and mobilizible publics decrease. The diagram on the left suggests the relative sizes of these publics on the most visible of all issues, presidential elections. In elections, the attentive and mobilizible publics are essentially the same. As issues decrease in visibility then, we would expect to observe the effect described above and illustrated in the diagram to the right. Presidential elections Some less visible issue Apathetic public Apathetic public Attentive/mobilizible public Attentive/mobilizible public Mobilizers [activists] Mobilizers [activists]
  2. 2. <ul><li>Since only mobilizible publics express their attitudes in a meaningful way, only their opinions influence policy-making. To put the matter another way, government cannot respond to attitudes that are not expressed. </li></ul><ul><li>Additionally, it should be noted here that there are three distinguishable types of mobilizible publics: </li></ul><ul><li>single-issue publics - a collection of individuals who are attentive to and mobilizible on one issue or a narrow range of issues; </li></ul><ul><li>organizational publics - a collection of individuals who are attentive to and mobilizible on issues that impact the organization or its membership [the defining characteristic of this type of public is the presence of a formal organization]; </li></ul><ul><li>ideological publics - a collection of individuals who are attentive to and mobilizible on any issue that relates to its ideology. An ideology (used loosely in this context) refers to a set of political, social, economic, religious, moral, ethical, or civic principles, ideals, or values. </li></ul><ul><li>The main point to be emphasized in this discussion of “public” is that there is no single public. Any definition of public opinion must incorporate this fact if it is to be of much use in understanding the relationship between public opinion and public policy. </li></ul><ul><li>Opinion - an opinion is an expressed attitude. </li></ul><ul><li>The key to this definition is the word “expressed.” An attitude stands little chance of impacting policy-making unless it is expressed in a way that is meaningful - that is, in a way that can be processed by the political system. </li></ul><ul><li>Defining public opinion - We can synthesize a useful definition of public opinion: public opinion is the shared expressed attitudes of a collection of individuals on a matter of common concern. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Meaningful” Ways of Expressing Attitudes - four general means are open to any public that wishes to express its attitudes on an issue: </li></ul><ul><li>[1] voting in elections - “send the politicians a message” </li></ul><ul><li>[2] direct communication - town meetings, traditional lobbying, etc.. </li></ul><ul><li>[3] organized group activities - protests, demonstrations, strikes, petition drives, “grassroots lobbying” </li></ul><ul><li>[4] public opinion polling - reliability/validity issues [survey design, question wording, sampling techniques, margin of error, etc..] </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Characteristics of Public Opinion - There are a number of characteristics of public opinion which may, depending on the issue, affect the response of government: </li></ul><ul><li>distribution - refers to the numerical strength (usually expressed as a percentage or ratio) of the various opinions held on an issue. For example, when we say that 40% of survey respondents support position X, 35% support position Y, and 25% support position Z, we are referring to the distribution of opinions on the issue. Distribution is the most important characteristic of opinion on electoral issues; it may be less important on policy issues. In other words, in elections, it is the distribution of opinions [rather than any of the other characteristics listed below] that determines the response of the political system [output]. If candidate A receives 49% of the vote, candidate B receives 42%, and candidate C receives 8% of the vote, then the distribution determines the response - A wins! Frequently, it is useful to graphically depict the distribution of opinions on an issue - we can graph the distribution to get a picture of what it looks like. Distribution of opinions, then, is like the distribution of anything else: wealth, grades, etc.. </li></ul><ul><li>intensity - this refers to the strength of feeling with which a public holds its attitude [or the level of commitment a public has to its position]. Public opinion polls generally report only the distribution of opinions on an issue. Even when surveys are designed to give respondents options to express how intensely they “feel” on an issue, there is no attempt made to determine how mobilizible their opinions are. Intensity, in this context then, refers to the strength of feeling as it affects a public’s willingness to mobilize. It may be that, on some issues, government makes public policy consistent with the opinions of small, but intense (highly mobilized) minority publics rather than the opinions of large, but lethargic (not mobilized) majority publics. </li></ul><ul><li>stability - Stability refers to both the distribution and intensity of opinions over time. On some issues, these are relatively stable (i.e..., gun control, abortion). On other issues (particularly electoral issues), however, opinion can be rather unstable, shifting dramatically sometimes over a short period of time. Judicious decision-makers may want to know something about the stability of opinions before embracing a particular policy alternative or associating himself with a candidate for another office. </li></ul><ul><li>latency - Opinions may exist merely as a potential. Latency refers to a characteristic of opinions that have not yet been crystallized. Latent opinions relate to attitudes not about any specific issue but concern general assessments about direction (i.e.., “Is the country, state, or city headed in the right direction?”). These are called valence issues . Valence issues are most relevant to assessments of leadership performance. Frequently, valence issues (and latent opinions) are more important than specific issues in dictating the political fortunes of presidents, governors, and mayors. For example, Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996 largely because voters generally believed the country was headed in the right direction, despite persistent questions about Mr. Clinton’s character. Similarly, Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984 largely because of favorable ratings on leadership even though polls showed that majorities of Americans disagreed with the president on important specific issues. George Bush and Jimmy Carter were defeated in their re-election bids largely because voters sensed that “something (non-specific) was wrong.” Polls did not indicate widespread disagreement with either president on specific policy issues. </li></ul><ul><li>salience - Salience refers to the extent to which a particular issue affects a given public. To what degree does an issue “connect” for a public? Some issues are salient for a public and others are not. The salience of an issue seems likely to affect the previously-indicated characteristics of opinion (distribution, intensity, stability)? </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>What Have We Learned From Public Opinion Research? </li></ul><ul><li>Public opinion research can tell us much about the distribution, intensity, stability, latency, and salience of opinions on specific issues or specific leaders. We could spend much time detailing the findings of such research. In a more general vein, however, public opinion research over the past four decades has revealed four major trends: </li></ul><ul><li>Support for the political system remains fairly high among Americans, particularly when compared with the levels of support expressed in other (even democratic) countries. This support is expressed in a number of ways: patriotism, respect for democratic processes and institutions, attachments to political symbols (flag), and comments such as “It’s not a perfect system, but its the best!” This diffuse support is critical to the long-term maintenance and stability of the political system. [See handout entitled “Political Socialization.”] </li></ul><ul><li>Levels of political knowledge are generally low. Americans seem to understand little about the operation of their political system, its institutions, processes, and officials or about the important issues facing their nation, states, or cities. Majorities cannot identify their representatives in Congress. How can such low levels of basic political knowledge be reconciled with high levels of support for the system? </li></ul><ul><li>Feelings of political efficacy are generally low. Efficacy refers to the sense that a person has that what he or she thinks or does will have an effect on what government does. Low levels of efficacy are expressed when Americans say things such as “Why should I bother to vote? The politicians don’t care about people like me anyway.” Low levels of efficacy are not universal. Political scientists are quick to point out that the degree of efficacy expressed by Americans is largely a function of their income and educational levels, as well as other demographic characteristics such as ethnicity and gender. How can generally low levels of efficacy be reconciled with generally high levels of support for the system? Are low feelings of efficacy among Americans consistent with the relatively low levels of political knowledge they demonstrate? </li></ul><ul><li>The degree of political trust has eroded dramatically. Over the last several decades, public opinion polls have shown that fewer and fewer Americans believe that they can trust government to do the right thing. [See Table 7.2 on p. 240 of American Government and Politics Today.] Are low levels of trust in government consistent with high levels of support for the political system? ....low levels of political knowledge? ....low levels of political efficacy? </li></ul>
  5. 5. Public Opinion <ul><li>When attempting to analyze the role of public opinion in the policy-making process, it is important to first establish a precise definition of the concept. This is accomplished by breaking public opinion into its components and defining first what is meant by public and second by opinion . </li></ul><ul><li>Public - a collection of individuals who share a common attitude </li></ul>Presidential elections Attentive/mobilizible public Mobilizers [activists] Apathetic public Some less visible issue Attentive/mobilizible public Mobilizers [activists] Apathetic public
  6. 6. <ul><li>Types of Mobilizible Publics </li></ul><ul><li>single-issue publics </li></ul><ul><li>organizational publics </li></ul><ul><li>ideological publics </li></ul><ul><li>Opinion - an opinion is an expressed attitude. </li></ul><ul><li>Public opinion - the shared expressed attitudes of a collection of individuals on a matter of common concern. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Meaningful” Ways of Expressing Attitudes </li></ul><ul><li>[1] voting in elections </li></ul><ul><li>[2] direct communication </li></ul><ul><li>[3] organized group activities </li></ul><ul><li>[4] public opinion polling </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>Characteristics of Public Opinion </li></ul><ul><li>distribution </li></ul><ul><li>intensity </li></ul><ul><li>stability </li></ul><ul><li>latency </li></ul><ul><li>salience </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>What Have We Learned From Public Opinion Research? </li></ul><ul><li>high levels of support for the system </li></ul><ul><li>low levels of political knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>low levels of political efficacy </li></ul><ul><li>eroding levels of political trust </li></ul>
  9. 9. Political Socialization - The Macro Process <ul><li>Diffuse support is critical to the maintenance and stability of the political system </li></ul><ul><li>A political system must be able to generate or create diffuse support </li></ul><ul><li>How? -coercion or force </li></ul><ul><li>-manipulation of values/propaganda (hegemonic theory) </li></ul><ul><li>-socialization (systems theory) </li></ul><ul><li>Systems theory argues that values in support of the political system are transferred through a generational process, wherein the family teaches values that will allow the child to succeed in society. These values are reinforced by other important agents of the socialization process. </li></ul><ul><li>Agents of socialization : </li></ul><ul><li>parental family </li></ul><ul><li>1. direct value transfer [values having a direct political context]: party id, policy ideals </li></ul><ul><li>2. indirect value transfer [values having an indirect political context]: conformity, respect for authority figures, competition for rewards, gender roles, moral values, religious values, self-reliance, work ethic, thrift, other economic values, etc. [these may vary according to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, etc.] </li></ul><ul><li>schools and the educational system </li></ul><ul><li>1. direct value transfer: curriculum (idealized forms), texts, pledge of allegiance, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>2. indirect value transfer: conformity, respect for authority, competition for rewards, democratic decision-making, citizenship, etc. [these may vary according to the clientele of the school] </li></ul><ul><li>peer groups </li></ul>
  10. 10. Political Socialization - The Micro Process <ul><li>In order for the political system to convert specific demands in public policy outputs, it must have support. The political system must be able to generate and sustain support if it is to remain stable. Perhaps the most important way to accomplish this objective is to instill favorable attitudes in people toward the symbols of the system. This process may be overt and orchestrated as hegemonic theory suggests or it may be a natural, generational process as systems theory argues. </li></ul><ul><li>Through the processes of socialization we learn about our culture - its norms, traditions, values, and acceptable patterns of behavior. Political socialization is the process in which each of us learns about the political culture -that is, political norms, traditions, values, and acceptable patterns of political behavior. Through political socialization, people acquire attitudes and orientations toward the politics of their societies. Socialization is important because it usually teaches values and norms that support the system. If it is successful [at a “macro” or systems-wide level] it produces the broad, diffuse support that is critical to the stability of the political system. Socialization also [at a “micro” or individual level] is the process whereby each member of society comes to form his or her own specific set of political attitudes, values, beliefs, orientations, and opinions. Therefore, while the socialization process has some basic similarities for all members of society, there may be variations on the process for particular groups or sectors of society and for individuals. </li></ul><ul><li>There are three major phases of the socialization process : childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. While socialization takes place throughout a person’s lifetime, some phases are critically important in shaping socialization at both the “macro” and “micro” levels. The primacy principle argues that the values that we learn earliest in life are the ones that form the core of our value systems when we become adults. For most of us, these values remain with us througout our entire lives. The structuring principle means that the values that we learn earliest in life help us “structure” or assimilate new and ,sometimes, competing information into our existing value systems. These two corrollary principles suggest that childhood, even very early childhood, is critical in the process of successful political socialization. They also imply that the most important agent of the political socialization process is the parental family. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Public opinion <ul><li>Public opinion  is the aggregate of individual beliefs  (not attitude : attitude can’t be measure) held by the  adult  population. Public opinion can also be defined as the complex collection of opinions of many different people and the sum of all their views. </li></ul><ul><li>The principle approaches to the study of public opinion may be divided into 4 categories: </li></ul><ul><li>quantitative measurement of opinion distributions; </li></ul><ul><li>investigation of the internal relationships among the individual opinions that make up public opinion on an issue; </li></ul><ul><li>description or analysis of the public role of public opinion; </li></ul><ul><li>study both of the communication media that disseminate the ideas on which opinions are based and of the uses that propagandists and other manipulators make of these media. </li></ul>
  12. 12. “ Methods of Measuring Public Opinion” <ul><li>“ Truth reveals itself in degrees, and we can progress from an incomplete to a more and ever more complete comprehension of truth. Truth is not a thing, not an object that we either have in entirety or have not at all.” - Goethe </li></ul><ul><li>The formal academic study of public opinion is relatively new but the practical study of public opinion is not new at all. Governments have paid attention to public opinion as long as there have been governments. Even the most oppressive tyrants need to know what the people are thinking, even if just to oppress them more effectively. As the famous investigator of public opinion, V.O. Key, Jr. said, </li></ul><ul><li>“ Governments must concern themselves with the opinions of their citizens, if only to provide a basis for repression of disaffection.” (1961, 3) </li></ul><ul><li>One of the earliest expressions of public opinion was rebellion. Peasant rebellions have occurred throughout history. When the king saw his subjects in open rebellion, it was a pretty clear sign that the public’s support for his government was eroding. Unpaid taxes was another clue; when rulers saw their tax receipts dwindle and heard reports of tax collectors being killed, they knew that public opinion was turning against them. </li></ul>
  13. 13. “ Methods of Measuring Public Opinion” <ul><li>We classify the methods of learning public opinion into informal and formal </li></ul><ul><li>methods. The informal are very important but they do not involve any formal explicit research methodologies. Informal methodologies include elections, letters from constituents, media coverage, and protest marches. Formal methods, on the other hand, involve definite research designs and formal research methodologies; they are methods designed by experts to research public opinion.Examples of </li></ul><ul><li>formal methodologies are telephone surveys, focus groups, and content analysis. </li></ul>
  14. 14. I. “Informal” Ways to Measure Public Opinion <ul><li>A. Elections </li></ul><ul><li>The most common way for a democratic government to learn about public opinion is through elections. Politicians and researchers may try to figure out why one person won an election rather than another, but usually there are so many factors that it is impossible to single out one or a few and “the” reason or reasons. </li></ul><ul><li>B. Interest Groups and Lobbying: </li></ul><ul><li>It may seem unlikely that interest groups would be valid measures of public opinion. They are remarkably unrepresentative of the public as a whole. The wealthy and the educated members of society are much more likely to be organized into interest groups and employ representatives. The poor and uneducated are much less able to speak to the government through lobbyists. Nevertheless, legislators, staffers, and other government personnel do pay attention to what interest groups say. They have good reason to do so. Good lobbyists tend to be well informed about their issues concerning their employers, they have access to facts necessary to write laws, they understand the political process, and they are present when necessary to answer questions. </li></ul>
  15. 15. I. “Informal” Ways to Measure Public Opinion <ul><li>C. The Media </li></ul><ul><li>Many government officials, and many regular citizens, look to the media to understand the views of the public. In Herbst’s study, she found that legislative staffers also considered the media to accurately present public opinion. </li></ul><ul><li>Media, such as television, newspapers, and magazines are important because of the news they choose and how they portray the issues. In other terms, they are important in determining the political agenda (what people in the government are thinking about) and in framing the issues (how the issues are being considered). </li></ul><ul><li>D. Letters and Calls :People use letters and telephone calls to express their opinions to their elected representatives. While many of these letters and calls are about specific personal problems, such as lost Social Security checks, many of them are about contentious political issues. Politicians notice when their constituents write. A few letters from constituents may represent the opinions of thousands of other voters. </li></ul>
  16. 16. I. “Informal” Ways to Measure Public Opinion <ul><li>E. Protests: </li></ul><ul><li>In democratic governments as well as dictatorships, protests have served governments as indicators of citizens’ dissatisfaction with government policies. Again, protests are not especially useful for determining what the public as a whole thinks. While protest seems to be a method that anybody, even the poorest people, could use, in fact, those citizens who are better educated and have higher incomes tend to protest more than others. Protest, like the other “informal” methods of ascertaining public opinion, is skewed toward the well-off segments of the public. </li></ul>
  17. 17. II. “Formal” Ways to Measure Public Opinion <ul><li>“ Formal” methodologies for measuring public opinion are usually classified into quantitative and qualitative approaches. Generally, formal methods are more systematic ways of ascertaining public opinion. Formal methods are likely to be conducted by scholars who understand their proper—and improper—uses and who are less likely than politicians or other non-scholars to misuse them or misinterpret them as standing for mass public opinion when they do not. Quantitative methods involve numbers—and usually statistics. Most public research is conducted quantitatively, almost always by surveys. However, much research on public opinion is conducted qualitatively. Although qualitative research methodologies tend to be less important in academic research, they are often extremely important when politicians and candidates conduct research for their own purposes. One qualitative methodology, focus group discussions, is used extensively by gubernatorial, Congressional, and presidential candidates as they develop and conduct their campaigns </li></ul>
  18. 18. A. Formal Quantitative Methods <ul><li>1. Sample Surveys </li></ul><ul><li>The most common method, by far, for learning about public opinion is the sample survey. In a sample survey, researchers ask a few hundred or a few thousand people their opinions about the issues being considered. When applied to political use, such as in election campaigns, survey research is often called “polling” and survey research studies are called “polls.” Some researchers think of survey research as the only way to learn about public opinion, and they devote all, or almost all, of their analysis of public opinion to the analysis of survey research </li></ul><ul><li>a. Types of surveys There are basically three ways to survey people: face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, and mail surveys </li></ul><ul><li>1) Face-to-face interview In face-to-face interviews, interviewers talk with respondents in person, usually in their homes. At one time, this was the most common type of surveying, but it is seldom used today. Two major exceptions, where face-to-face interviewing is still used, are the National Election Studies and the General Social Survey. The advantage of face-to-face surveys is that they can be very long (sometimes over an hour) and more complex, because the interviewer can explain the questions to the respondents. In addition, the interviewer can use visual aids, such as pictures or scales. Scales are often used in many types of surveys, but they are easier to visualize in a survey where the respondent can actually see the scale. For example, in one type of question the respondent places herself on a “thermometer” scale in evaluating somebody, such as an elected official. If the respondent really likes the official, she would place herself at “100,” but if she really disliked the official, she would place herself at zero. While this respondent could place herself on the scale in any form of survey, it would be easier in a survey where she could see a picture of a thermometer. </li></ul>
  19. 19. 1) Face-to-face interview <ul><li>There are two serious drawbacks to face-to-face surveys. The first one is that the respondents are unlikelyto give embarrassing or socially unacceptable answers because they do not want the interviewer to think ill of them. Questions on race are especially sensitive in face-to-face interviews. Another problem is that they take a long time to complete. It could take over a month to complete a simple survey of 400 respondents. But the most important problem with face-to-face surveys is their cost. Considering that interviewers have to drive to respondents’ homes, and if they are not there have to drive back again, the cost of interviewers’ salaries can skyrocket. In the National Election Studies, the cost is several hundred dollars per completed interview. Largely to save money, the NES has included telephone interviews in the last few surveys. </li></ul><ul><li>2) Telephone interviews </li></ul><ul><li>The most common type of public opinion survey conducted today is a telephone survey. If you read about a poll in a newspaper or magazine or hear about it on television, it was probably conducted over the telephone. Telephone surveys have some advantages over face-to-face surveys, especially in their much lower cost and faster implementation. A 15-minute survey of 400 respondents might cost $15,000 andtake a few days. If speed were very important, it could be completed overnight. The most important drawbacks to telephone surveys are their simplicity and short length. It is impossible to ask, and receive meaningful answers for, complex or long questions. People simply have a difficult time processing complex questions over the telephone. The interviewers can help, but they cannot show pictures over the phone. Another drawback is the short length. Whereas face-to-face interviews can last over an hour, telephone interviews seldom take more than 20 minutes. (Some telephone surveys do take 40-50 minutes, but it is unclear how alert the respondents are by the end of the interviews.) Another problem is the unexpected intrusive nature of phone surveys; while it not true that every telephone surveytakes place just as supper is beginning, it seems that way. </li></ul>
  20. 20. 3) Mail surveys <ul><li>Mail surveys are seldom used in political research. Although they can be less expensive than telephone surveys, their drawbacks tend to be too important to overlook. The first main drawback is that the response rate tends to be very low, often under 30%, so that it is questionable how well the respondents represent the larger population. The second main drawback is that it is impossible to determine who actually answered the questions. Did the intended respondent answer the questions, or did his teenage daughter do it? Or did he get his buddies to help him and give consensus answers. It is impossible to tell. Two advantages of mail surveys are that: 1) pictures can be included to illustrate the questions; and 2) </li></ul><ul><li>respondents can give embarrassing, socially unacceptable, but honest, answers without fear of being identified. For example, in a recent survey conducted for a state agency, people who had lost their driver’s licenses, mostly for drunk driving, were asked how often they drove illegally. Since the 6questionnaires were not identified, the respondents knew they could answer the question without fear of repercussion. Most of them did report driving illegally, and 17% said they drove illegally every day(Brooker, 2003). This survey had the typical disadvantages of mail surveys in that the response rate was nder 30%, and the researchers did not know for sure who answered the questions. However, the researchers were convinced that drivers without valid driver’s licenses would not answer honestly on the telephone and thought that a mail survey would yield the most honest answers.1Of course, if the questionnaires are identified, as with ID numbers, this advantage does not exist. </li></ul>
  21. 21. 4) Other methods of data collection <ul><li>Two other survey methods may be used to gather data about public opinion. Although they are sometimes used with business marketing research, they are rarely used in political surveys. The first is Internet interviewing. The questions are much like those in mail surveys, but they are answered on the Internet. Only people who complete questionnaires over the Internet, a small percentage of the American population, are eligible to participate in these surveys, so the samples are not representative of the entire United States. Several companies conduct Internet surveys, and they do make sure that the sample demographics are generally representative of Americans, but only the most computer-wise people participate. Internet surveys may some day be widely used in political research, but not yet. Another survey collection method is intercept interviewing. Intercept interviews are usually conducted in shopping malls and involve interviews of people who are “intercepted” while shopping. The interviews are similar to face-to-face interviews, although they are shorter. Businesses use mall intercepts every day. You may have seen them; the “interceptors” are usually well-dressed women with clipboards. However, intercept interviews are seldom used in political research. The obvious disadvantage is that only the people who are already at the intercept location can be “intercepted.” In malls, only mall shoppers can be interviewed, and they do not represent the general American public. </li></ul>
  22. 22. IV. Who Conducts Public Opinion Research? <ul><li>Three main types of organizations conduct public opinion research: </li></ul><ul><li>• Academic research organizations </li></ul><ul><li>• The media </li></ul><ul><li>• Politicians </li></ul><ul><li>• Commercial companies </li></ul>

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