Public opinion
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PUBLIC OPINION. Outline of Lecture. What is public opinion and why should we care about it? What do Americans think and know about politics? How do people organize their political beliefs? How do we measure public opinion? Where do people’s opinions come from?

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PUBLIC OPINION

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Public opinion

PUBLIC OPINION


Outline of lecture

Outline of Lecture

  • What is public opinion and why should we care about it?

  • What do Americans think and know about politics?

  • How do people organize their political beliefs?

  • How do we measure public opinion?

  • Where do people’s opinions come from?

  • How do people “make do” with weak ideologies and low information?


What is public opinion

What is PUBLIC OPINION?

  • Public Opinion:

    • “Those opinions held by private persons that government finds it prudent to heed.”

      - V. O. Key (prominent political scientist)

  • Aspects of public opinion:

    • Values, Ideology, and Attitudes.

      • Values = Basic principles

      • Ideology = Cohesive set of beliefs that form a philosophy about the role of government.

      • Attitudes = Specific issue position.


Why should we care about public opinion

Why should we care about public opinion?

  • Representation

  • Important for understanding the political system generally

  • Commonly used in political science to understand how people interface with politics.


Public opinion what do americans think about politics

Public Opinion:What do Americans think about politics?

  • Consensus

  • False Consensus = the proclivity of people to overestimate the degree to which people agree with them.

    • Example: People who support defense spending are more likely to think others ALSO support defense spending.

  • WHY the false consensus?

    • Similar associations

    • Group think

    • Denigration of opposing views

  • Actual level of consensus – Grossly inflated.


Public opinion what do people know about politics

Public Opinion: What do people know about politics?

  • VERY LITTLE.

  • Early studies – Optimistic.

  • Today’s reality – very different.

    • People are:

      • Uninformed

      • Unengaged

      • Uninterested

      • Unconnected


A doom for democracy the consequences of low information

A doom for democracy? The Consequences of Low Information

  • Fear that politicians will take advantage of an unknowing public.

  • Some argue that people cannot meaningfully engage in politics without some sort of political info.

  • Political outcomes and policies might be different if people were informed.


Public opinion how do people organize their political beliefs

Public Opinion:How do people organize their political beliefs?

  • When asked to identify beliefs…

    • Some people (very few) use ideology

    • Some use ideological ideas, but remain vague on their meanings

    • Others see politics in terms of the groups being helped or hurt

    • Others do not pay much attention to issues at all


What is ideology

What is “ideology?”

First, some definitions…

Ideology = Consistent pattern of opinion on particular issues that stems from a core basic belief.

  • Liberal = usually refers to a stand that favors a larger, more active government. Most Democrats today can be described as liberal.

  • Conservative = usually refers to a stand that opposes an activist government in the realm of economics, and supports stronger activity in promoting good moral activities.


Characteristics of ideology

Characteristics of Ideology

1. “Ideology” is used by only a part of the public.

2. The underlying logic is not theoretical, but associative.


Structure of ideology

STRUCTURE OF IDEOLOGY


Characteristics of ideology continued

Characteristics of Ideology, continued

3. Weak conceptualization.

4. Ideological thinking seems susceptible to change.


Characteristics of ideology1

CHARACTERISTICS OF IDEOLOGY


Ideology reconsidered

IDEOLOGY RECONSIDERED

POLICY MOOD, 1958-2000


Final points on ideology

FINAL POINTS ON IDEOLOGY

  • Caveats

    • Alternate structures (values)

    • Ambivalence

  • What this means for how we understand public opinion and political behavior


How do we measure public opinion

How do we measure public opinion?

First,

HOW DO POLITICIANS KNOW THE PUBLIC?

  • Personal contact

  • Voting

  • Public opinion polls


Designing a poll

Designing a Poll

  • Choose the questions you want to ask.

  • Design survey

  • Select the population you wish to sample from.


Designing a poll continued

Designing a Poll, continued

  • Determine how large your sample should be.

  • Choose the method to administer the poll.

  • Administer the poll and collect the public opinion data.


Problems with polling

PROBLEMS WITH POLLING

  • Citizens

  • Pollsters

  • Media coverage of polls


Where do people s opinions come from

Where do people’s opinions come from?

  • Agents of Socialization

    • SOCIALIZATION

      • Family

      • Schools

      • Churches

    • EXPERIENCES

      • Political Leaders and Political Institutions

      • Peers, Workplace

    • The Media


Zaller s model of public opinion change

ZALLER’S MODEL OF PUBLIC OPINION CHANGE

Where do opinions come from?

  • People receive information.

  • People decide whether to accept it.

  • Sample from these ideas when they report their opinions.

    opinions = dispositions + information


Part 1 a model of opinion change

exposure

opinion

change

acceptance

political sophistication

Part 1: A MODEL OF OPINION CHANGE


Part 2 forming opinions

Bush led the country after 9-11.

Bush has trouble eating pretzels.

“W.“ promised to crack down on corporate fraud.

MEMORY

Bush seems weak on the economy.

Part 2: FORMING OPINIONS

  • Memory-based model

    • Accessibility

    • Response


Forming opinions competing model

Gore supports the

environment.

+

+

Gore looks like Bigfoot.

+

ONLINE TALLY

(GORE)

+

MEMORY

Al is a pal of education.

-

Gore seems like a

policy wonk.

FORMING OPINIONS – Competing Model

  • Online model

    • Online tally

    • Role of memory


Why pay attention

WHY PAY ATTENTION?

  • Not paying attention can be rational

    • Cost/benefit analysis

  • An informed public is not without its benefits though


Low information rationality

LOW INFORMATION RATIONALITY

  • The virtues of recall

  • Heuristics

  • When to pay attention

  • Maybe democracy isn’t doomed after all!


Voter involvement 2000

VOTER INVOLVEMENT (2000)


And finally

AND FINALLY…

IS PUBLIC OPINION MEANINGFUL?

Do you buy into the “low information rationality” arguments?


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