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Public Opinion, Political Participation, & Voting CH. 8.

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1 Public Opinion, Political Participation, & Voting CH. 8

2 Public Opinion Describes what the population thinks about politics and government

3 Why is it important 1. Citizen action-opinion drives voting, contributing to campaigns, writing letters to senators and other activism 2. Determines campaign strategies, how members of Congress vote, influences Supreme Court(delayed effect) 3. Sheds light on why policy shifts over the course of time

4 The Population: The relevant group of people for the question Consensus: occurs when a substantial percentage of a sample agree on an issue Polarization: occurs when a large portion of opposing sides feels intensely about an issue

5 Public Opinion Taking the pulse of the people Intensity Latency Salience

6 Public Opinion Definition: distribution of individual preferences or evaluations of a given issue, candidate or institution. Distribution-the proportion of the population that holds one opinion or viewpoint as compared to those with opposing opinions or those with no opinion at all

7 Taking the Pulse of the People Keys 1. proper sampling-a random choice of an appropriate set of people 2. art of asking questions-wording of question, questions are pretested, questioner trained—no voice intonations 3. Thorough analysis and reporting of results, accuracy, validated sample size, margin of error

8 Intensity-how strongly people feel about a candidate, issue or policy Latency-political opinions that exist merely as potential—(haven’t crystallized)—more concerned with personal issues than national issues Salience-extent to which people feel issues are relevant to them

9 Agents of Political Socialization Family Schools Mass Media Religion Ethnic and racial attitudes

10 How we acquire political opinions Political Socialization-process by which we develop our political attitudes, values and beliefs – Nationalism—a consciousness of the nation- state and of belonging to that entity is a common element of political socialization – Importance of group affiliation vs. individual

11 Sources of Political Socialization Family: (parent-child similarity) disagreements between youth’s parents and friends Schools: higher education and political correctness

12 Sources… continued Mass Media— wide exposure to newspapers, Internet, movies, TV Why is media influential? media provides “link between individuals and values/behavior of others”

13 Public Opinion and Public Policy Public opinion change can lead to policy change(Vietnam, Gulf War) Elected officials seek to follow public policy opinion Candidates use polls to determine where and how to campaign Political polls are no substitute for elections

14 Awareness and Interest Varying levels of interest in politics – Attentive public-25% of American public…tend to be better educated. – Nonvoters-35% “political do-nothings” – Part-time citizens Only 60% of Americans can name one U.S. Senator

15 Participation: from opinion to action Influence government in what ways? – #1 way--Voting, joining interest groups, writing letters, calls, etc. – Totalitarian society-participation is very limited – Even in a democracy, people may fight rather than accept election(U.S. Civil War) – Routine participation-National Anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, jury duty

16 Politics is a private matter in America Less than one person in four attempts to influence another person’s vote Only one in 20 make a contribution to a candidate; only one in six designates taxes to presidential fund

17 Registration Voter registration discourages voting Australian ballot: secret response to multiple voting Registration laws vary by state – Only North Dakota does not require registration – Most important provision of voter registration is the closing date-No state can stop registration more than 30 days before an election

18 Motor Voter 1. Allows people to register when applying for a renewal of driver’s license 2. States can also use schools/libraries/city/county offices as registration sites 3. states can permit mail registration 4. Most registered claim to be independent which benefits neither party 5. Does not appear to have increased turnout

19 Turnout Turnout is highest in presidential election Turnout is higher in general elections than in primary elections and higher in primary elections than in special elections

20 Turnout continued Turnout is higher in presidential general elections than in midterm general elections and higher presidential primary elections than in midterm primary elections Turnout is higher in elections in which candidates for federal office are on the ballot than in state elections in years when there are no federal contests

21 Turnout continued Local or municipal elections have lower turnout than state elections and municipal primaries have even lower rates of participation In 1960, turnout peaked at almost 65 percent of persons over 21 years of age, has since declined to 36% in 1998 and 51% in 2000

22 Why is turnout so low? 1. Voter registration appears to be the major block to voting 2. Too young; election did not seem important; disinterested in candidates; inconvenient 3. American parties are too weak-nonvoter had no contact with party

23 Who Votes? 1. Education level-as education level increases, so does voting 2. Race and ethnic background-blacks vote at lower rates than whites, women voters exceed that of men 3. Income and age-those with higher family income, higher-status careers, older…more likely to vote – year olds least likely to vote/also over 70

24 How serious is nonvoting? If people are too lazy to vote, maybe they shouldn’t Some say a serious issue-”class bias” The poor are not represented But nonvoters are not more egalitarian or in favor of government ownership Lower voter turnout could be seen as approval

25 Nonvoting continued… If large nonvoting population were to turnout to vote it could shift balance of power Need for electoral reform after 2000 election, ensure fair voting(machines) accuracy, concerns about the media projecting winners before the polls close.

26 Nonvoters Millions of Americans do not vote when elections are held. Only 50.1 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2000 presidential election, and only 46.3 percent of the electorate voted for the members of the House of Representatives. Voter turnout significantly decreases in off-year elections, congressional elections held in years when there is no presidential election.

27 Why People Do Not Vote Some people cannot vote for various reasons, such as physical or mental illness, unexpected travel, and resident alien citizenship status. However, most nonvoters do not vote because – voting is in some way inconvenient, – they do not believe that their vote will make a difference, or – they distrust politics and political candidates.

28 Voters and Voting Behavior Voting is studied more than any other form of political participation in the United States. We learn about voting behavior from: The results of elections— information can be gleaned by studying the results of confidential voting compared to the population make-up of a particular sector The field of survey research— data can be gathered by conducting polls across specific cross sections of the population, as the Gallup Organization does Studies of political socialization— studying political socialization, the process by which people gain their political attitudes and opinions, can also be useful in predicting voting behavior

29 Sociological Factors Voter preferences can’t be predicted by just one sociological factor. Voter opinion is a combination of all of these factors and more.

30 Psychological Factors Party Identification The loyalty of people to a particular political party is a lasting predictor of how a person will vote. Candidates and Issues o Candidates and issues are two short-term factors that can influence even the most loyal Democrat or Republican. People may vote out of their chosen party if they dislike a candidate or the party’s stand on a particular issue. Voters’ perceptions of their party, the candidates, and the issues significantly affects their voting.

31 Voting Choices Voting on the Basis of Party Voting on the Basis of Candidates Voting on the Basis of Issues

32 Voting Based on Party Party Identification-affiliation with a party, longstanding loyalty Even increase in independents, 2/3 of indep. Are in fact partisan in their behavior, reinforcing the importance of partisanship Party identification more stable than attitudes about issues or candidates

33 Voting on the basis of candidates American electoral politics is in a candidate-centered era. Likeable, who looks good, who is more personable Candidate appeal often on character (Reagan, Eisenhower) Increasingly, campaigns focus on negative elements, attacks on stands on abortion, fundraising Attacked for dishonesty, trustworthiness

34 Voting on basis of issues Important but not as central as partisanship and candidate appeal Why? – Candidates often conceal real position on issues Voting on issues basis presumes a level of interest in issues that only a few voters have

35  Retrospective voting more likely than prospective voting Prospective voting-voting based on what a candidate promises if elected Retrospective voting- voting based on what a candidate’s past performance or candidate’s party’s record of performance

36 Voting on Issues continued... State of economy often crucial to candidate’s election Usually, voters vote against party in power if personal finances have worsened Democrats focused on issues in 1998 and picked up 5 seats in House; GOP use of impeachment issue did not resonate with voters

37 The Voting Rights Act of 1965

38 African Americans at the Polls

39 Nonvoters Millions of Americans do not vote when elections are held. Only 50.1 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2000 presidential election, and only 46.3 percent of the electorate voted for the members of the House of Representatives. Voter turnout significantly decreases in off-year elections, congressional elections held in years when there is no presidential election.

40 Why People Do Not Vote Some people cannot vote for various reasons, such as physical or mental illness, unexpected travel, and resident alien citizenship status. However, most nonvoters do not vote because – voting is in some way inconvenient, – they do not believe that their vote will make a difference, or – they distrust politics and political candidates. Chapter 6, Section 4

41 Voters and Voting Behavior Voting is studied more than any other form of political participation in the United States. We learn about voting behavior from: The results of elections— information can be gleaned by studying the results of confidential voting compared to the population make-up of a particular sector The field of survey research— data can be gathered by conducting polls across specific cross sections of the population, as the Gallup Organization does Studies of political socialization— studying political socialization, the process by which people gain their political attitudes and opinions, can also be useful in predicting voting behavior

42 The History of Voting Rights The Framers of the Constitution purposely left the power to set suffrage qualifications to each State. Suffrage means the right to vote. Franchise is another term with the same meaning. The electorate is all of the people entitled to vote in a given election. Initially, the right to vote in America was limited to white male property owners. Today, the size of the American electorate is greater than 200 million people. Nearly all citizens at least 18 years of age can qualify to vote. Chapter 6, Section


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