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Chapter 6. Public Opinion, Political Socialization and Media. Public Opinion. Aggregate of individual attitudes or beliefs shared by some portion of adult population No one public opinion; many different “publics” Key role in policymaking Source of power Helps candidates identify issues

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Chapter 6

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Chapter 6 l.jpg

Chapter 6

Public Opinion,

Political Socialization

and Media


Public opinion l.jpg

Public Opinion

  • Aggregate of individual attitudes or beliefs shared by some portion of adult population

    • No one public opinion; many different “publics”

    • Key role in policymaking

      • Source of power

      • Helps candidates identify issues

    • Sets limits on government action through public pressure


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Measuring Public Opinion

  • Opinion poll = method of systematically questioning small, selected sample of respondents deemed representative of total population

  • Simple random sample = each member of population has equal chance of being selected for sample

    • Most scientific; sample represents population’s diversity in demography and opinion


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Problems with Polls

  • “Snapshot in time”

  • Classic errors: presidential election polls (1948, Dewey beating Truman; 1980, Carter beating Reagan)

  • Sampling errors (e.g., biased samples, samples too small, etc.)

  • Question wording/influence of interviewer

  • Unscientific polls (Internet, phone-in, push polls)

  • High non-response rates


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Political Socialization

  • Process by which individuals acquire political beliefs, attitudes, and opinions

  • Agents/forces

    • Family

    • Education

    • Peers

    • Religion

    • Economic Status/occupation/class

    • Political Events

    • Opinion Leaders

    • Media/TV/Internet

    • Demography/Age/Gender


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Family

  • Most important agent

  • Communication and Receptivity

    • Parents communicate preferences to children

    • To please parents children receptive to their views

  • Important for party identification

  • Class poll: How many of us have followed in our parents’ footsteps when it comes to party identification?


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Education and Peers

  • Education

    • patriotism, structure of government, how to form positions on issues

    • more education, more likely interested in politics

  • Peers

    • most likely to shape political opinions when peer group is politically active


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Religion

  • Traditional view definite effect

    • Roman Catholics  more liberal

    • Protestants  more conservative

    • Jews  more liberal

  • More recent trends

    • Non-religious  very liberal socially; mixed economically

    • Protestants and Catholics vary socially and economically

  • Social conservatism among Christians

    • Degree of religious commitment

    • Conservative, evangelical, or fundamentalist


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SES/Class

  • Income strong predictor of liberalism or conservatism

    • Lower income

      • More likely to favor government action, benefit poor, promote economic equality

      • More likely to be socially conservative

      • More likely to be Democrat

      • Less likely to participate

    • Higher income

      • More likely to oppose government action or economic equality

      • More likely to be socially liberal

      • More likely to be Republican or Libertarian

      • More likely to participate

  • Socioeconomic status (SES) = best predictor of participation


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Political Events

  • Can shape people’s political attitudes

  • Generational effect = long-lasting effect of events of particular time on political opinions of those who came of age at that time

    • Great Depression

    • World War II

    • Vietnam War

    • 9/11?


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Media

  • Media = channels of mass communication

    • Newspapers, television, radio and Internet strongly influence public opinion

    • Certainly what to think about, known as agenda setting

  • Mainly private, for-profit corporations


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Demography

  • Region

    • South, Great Plains, and Rockies  Republican

    • West Coast and Northeast  Democratic

  • Residence (urban/suburban/rural)

    • Big cities  liberal and Democratic

    • Small communities  conservative and Republican

  • Ethnicity

    • African Americans more liberal

    • Whites  more conservative

  • Gender

    • Menmore likely to vote Republican

    • Women more likely to vote Democratic


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Political Process

  • Public opinion

    • Source of power

    • Identify key issues

    • Shape campaigns

  • Political culture = collection of beliefs and attitudes toward government and political process

    • Symbols and shared beliefs

    • Provides environment of support (trust, legitimacy)

    • Political trust = degree of trust in government and political institutions

    • Standard for evaluation of performance


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Media and Politics

  • Functions of Media

    • Entertainment

    • Reporting news

    • Identifying public problems

      • Setting public agenda = issues perceived by political community as meriting public attention and governmental action

    • Socializing generations

    • Providing political forum

    • Making profits

  • Enormous impact on politics


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Television

  • Most influential medium (primary source for 90% of Americans)

    • Big business

    • Increase in news-type programming

    • Influence on political process

    • Highly superficial, “Sound bites”

    • Narrowcasting


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Media and Campaigns

  • Advertising (very costly campaigns)

    • Negative advertising works

    • Reduces participation, increases cynicism

  • Management of news coverage

    • spin = interpretation favorable to candidate’s campaign

    • spin doctors = campaign tries to convince journalists of truth of favorable interpretation


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