2 What is Public Opinion?Citizens’ attitudes about political issues, leaders, institutions, and eventsMay be understood on two levelsIndividual – What one person thinks about issues, leaders, institutions, and eventsAggregate – The accumulation of these individual expressions as expressed in polls, votes, town meetings, protests, etc.Preferences, beliefs, and choices matter
3 Preferences, Beliefs, and Choices Preferences are shaped by economic self-interest and social or moral values; some preferences may be held more firmly than others.Beliefs reflect how people understand the world and the consequences of actions.The choices presented to us do not always yield a clear measure of our preferences or beliefs.Discussion:The role of choices is quite important but is frequently ignored in public opinion. In a given election or in a survey, we might be asked to choose between two candidates or between two statements of a position on an issue. Since no candidate or statement is likely to match our preferences and beliefs perfectly, the outcome of the election or survey will not render a perfect picture of our true preferences and beliefs. Instead, they serve as an imperfect (sometimes very imperfect) proxy measure.
4 Variety of OpinionAmericans do hold common opinions on some issues, like the legitimacy of the Constitution, but on most things the public does not hold a single viewWhat we’re interested in knowing:Evaluations of individuals and institutionsAssessments of public policiesAssessments of current circumstancesPolitical orientations
5 Clicker QuestionWe can expect that public opinion will vary significantly over time on each of the following EXCEPTthe president.environmental regulation.equality of opportunity.trust in government.Answer: C
6 Origins and Nature of Opinion Individual opinions are a products of one’s personality, social characteristics, and interests.Opinions are also shaped by institutional, political, and governmental forces that make it more likely we’ll hold some belief and less likely we’ll hold others.
7 Self-Interest, Values and Identities Economic interests – Government policies directly affect Americans’ financial well-being in a variety of waysValues – Our philosophies about morality and justice impact our opinions and may even contradict our economic interestsIdentities – Our race, religion, geographic origin, language, and partisan identification impact our opinions
8 Social Origins of Preferences Preferences are developed through social lives – upbringing, schooling, religion, and experiences with coworkers and friendsThis is called political socialization – The induction of individuals into the political culture; the process of learning the underlying beliefs and values on which the political system is based
9 Agents of Socialization The social institutions, including families and schools, that help shape individuals’ basic political beliefs and valuesImportant agents of socialization:FamilyEducationSocial GroupsPolitical Conditions
10 Agents of Socialization: Family Most people acquire their initial orientation to politics from their familyParents don’t necessarily teach their kids about politics but kids absorb the political conversations around them and often the political orientation that comes with it
11 Is your partisan affiliation the same as your parents’? YesNo
12 Agents of Socialization: Education Some values (liberty, equality, and democracy for instance) are impressed on students continuously throughout their educationBut higher levels of educational attainment are associated with changes in political beliefs
14 Do you think higher education has a liberalizing effect? YesNo
15 Agents of Socialization: Social Groups We all belong to groupsSome are voluntary, like political parties, unions, and occupational groupsSome are involuntary, like race and genderGroups are another source of divergent preferencesSome of these preferences are based on self-interest but most are not
19 The Gender GapA distinctive pattern of voting behavior reflecting the differences in views between women and menThe gender gap has been an enduring feature of American elections for some time now, with women consistently voting more Democratic and men voting more Republican
21 Agents of Socialization: Political Conditions The conditions under which individuals and groups come of political age also shape political orientationSimilarly, the views of individuals and groups change as the political conditions change
22 Political IdeologyThe set of underlying orientations, ideas, and beliefs through which people understand and interpret politicsMost people describe their ideology as liberal or conservative
23 Conservatives and Liberals Support the social and economic status quoSuspicious of efforts to introduce new political formulas and economic arrangementsBelieve that a large and powerful government poses a threat to citizens’ freedomsSupport political and social reformExtensive government intervention in the economyExpansion of federal social servicesMore vigorous efforts on behalf of the poor, minorities, and womenGreater concern for consumers and the environment
24 Public Opinion and Political Knowledge Few Americans devote sufficient time, energy, or attention to politics to really understand all the issuesThe costs of gathering information may be high and the benefits may be lowWe can think of examples, however, where low levels of political information can be harmful to groups of people
25 Shaping Opinion: Government and Politicians All governments attempt to influence citizens’ beliefs but their efforts are counteracted by interest groups, media, and politicians opposed to those in powerPresidents have been actively “going public” for decades now to influence how the public perceives their policy initiativesThey are not always successful, however
26 Shaping Opinion: Private Groups Following the rationality principle, groups and individuals seek to influence latent, unorganized individuals to support their causeGroups and individuals with more money, institutional support, and skill will have more successDiscussion:In 2011, Stephen Colbert formed his own Super PAC but knowing that he did not necessarily have the skill to market his ideas to the public, he sat down with Frank Luntz, a Republican political consultant, for help. Luntz helped Colbert come up with ways to market his ideas. The video of the interview can be found here:
27 Shaping Opinion: Media The mass media are the conduits through which most politically relevant information flows to the publicTraditional media sources – newspapers, radio, and television – are supplemented today by the Internet and social mediaWe learn from the media actively – seeking out news – and passively – absorbing news through entertainment
28 Media Effects: Agenda-Setting, Priming, and Framing Agenda-Setting: The power to bring attention to particular issues and problemsPriming – The process of preparing the public to take a particular view of an event or a political actorFraming – The power of the media to influence how events and issues are interpreted
29 Clicker QuestionA decision to lead a broadcast with a story about a high-profile murder case rather than the president’s trip to the Middle East is an example of a media effect calledagenda setting.priming.framing.Answer: A
30 Measuring Public Opinion: Selection Bias A poll is a scientific instrument for measuring public opinionBecause we usually cannot ask everyone whose opinion we want, we must start by finding a representative sample of the larger populationFinding a representative sample is not easy and we have to avoid selection bias
31 Measuring Public Opinion: Sample Size The reliability of a poll is a function of sample sizeThe larger the sample size, the less the chance that the result will be the result of sampling errorHowever, larger samples are more expensive to construct
33 Measuring Public Opinion: Survey Design Even with a large, representative sample, a poll may provide a misleading result or measurement errorMeasurement error is the failure to identify the true distribution of opinion within a population because of errors such as ambiguous or poorly worded questions
35 Measuring Public Opinion: Illusion of Salience A salient interest is an attitude or view that is especially important to the individual holding itBy reporting results in quantitative terms, polls can give the impression that something is important when it actually is not. This is the illusion of salience
36 How Does Public Opinion Influence Government Policy? Four important ways:Electoral accountabilityBuilding coalitions: Public bills are more likely to pass if they have public support.Input in rule making and legal decisionsShaping public opinion: Political leaders’ behavior is changed as they seek to shape public opinion.
37 Nobody likes to pay taxes Nobody likes to pay taxes. The United States was founded in part due to disputes over taxes. Talk of taxes dominates political campaigns. Americans simply hate taxes, right?While the answer appears to be "yes" today, it wasn't always the case. Both the importance of taxes to politics and American dislike of taxes were lower during the 1950s and 1960s than during the period from the 1970s to the present. How do we know this? And what caused the change after the 1960s?37
38 One measure of the centrality of taxes in political campaigns is the number of times the topic is mentioned in presidential nomination acceptance speeches. These data show that the word taxes barely passed the lips of the major-party nominees until after the 1960s. The numbers on the vertical axis represent the number of sentences mentioning taxes in nomination acceptance speeches.38
39 Note: Figure shows percentage of all likes and dislikes of the Democratic and Republican parties that concern taxes.SOURCE: American National Election Studies Cumulative File.In earlier decades, taxes weren’t very important to members of the public, either. The American National Election Study has asked respondents what they like and dislike about each of the political parties at least every four years since Here the vertical axis shows the percentages of all “likes” and “dislikes” (for Republicans and Democrats combined) that concern taxes.So what changed after the 1960s? Why did taxes become more important to the public? What encouraged politicians to campaign on tax issues? Political scientists don’t have a definitive answer, but there are a number of plausible explanations. One factor could be the increasing effective costs of taxes. During the 1950s and 1960s, per capita taxes increased rapidly, but real wages grew even faster, so the impact of taxes was muted. But during the 1970s, oil shocks, a worldwide economic slowdown, and high inflation meant that taxes took a bigger bite.Another possible explanation is that with the Great Society policies of the 1960s, white Americans in particular came to resent the use of their tax dollars for welfare and other means-tested policies they believed they would never benefit from themselves. The salience of taxes may also have been fueled by institutional changes within Congress. Reforms that opened up committee hearings and involved a broader number of legislators in the tax policy-making process paved the way for tax politics as public spectacle. Finally, tax revolts in some states in the 1970s demonstrated to politicians the expediency of taxes as a political issue. Entrepreneurial politicians, particularly in the Republican party, strove to keep taxes on the public agenda.It is likely that all of these factors contributed to the heightening of taxes as a political issue. And given the current budget deficit, growing national debt, and mismatch between projected revenues and likely spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid over the long term, taxes will likely be high on the political agenda for some time to come. Discussion adapted from Andrea Louise Campbell, How Americans Think about Taxes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). Thomas Edsall and Mary Edsall, Chain Reaction (New York: Norton, 1992). Isaac William Martin, The Permanent Tax Revolt (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).39
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