Explain how this is oftentimes different from IDEOLOGY
Public Opinion’s Influence
Impact on elites– i.e.
electoral concerns of
Public opinion is the
values and attitudes
that people have
about issues, events,
Political values are
“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
– Cue-taking about how to vote or what opinion to
What cognitive shortcut do you use?
– Family member? Spouse? Friend?
– Political pundit? Celebrity?
– Interest group?
Receive- Accept- Sample (RAS)
People have predispositions
People have access to various forms of
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
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.
– Race and the Civil Rights Movement
– Women and the Feminist Movement
– MADD and drunk driving
Pre-dispositions -- Ideology
regulate economic life/
Populism Liberal (United States
NOT regulate economic
What ideology to you identify with
6. Black power/ insurgency
8. Don’t Know
– Democrat versus Republican
– Third parties?
What party do you identify with
4. Libertarian/ Reform
6. None– I’m independent
7. None– I don’t get
involved in politics
8. I don’t know
– 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
– Primacy principle
– Structuring principle
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
Liberals are said to be on the “left,” and
conservatives are said to be on the
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
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,
Differences in Public Opinion
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.
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.
But these trends may be changing
See the Pew Center’s study on this question
by clicking here.