Chapter FivePublic Opinion and Political Participation American Government POLS 1101 Instructor: Mr. Mancill
What Americans Think About Politics • What we think about politics is important because it determines how we act politically. • Public Opinion- a combination of the views, attitudes, and ideas held by individuals in a community. • There is no single public opinion, there are a wide variety of viewpoints.
Character of Public Opinion • Certain facets of public opinion are constant, such as love of nation and pride in our nation's accomplishments. • Other facets of public opinion are dynamic, opinions change in response to social, political, and economic events. • A substantial number of Americans do not care much about politics, or know little about politics.
How Much Americans Care and Know About Politics • In 2002, one survey asked "how often do you follow government and public affairs?" • 27% said "most of the time" • 42% said "some of the time" • 22% said "only now and then" • 9% said "hardly at all"
How Much Americans Care and Know About Politics • A 2002 survey indicated that: • 72% of Americans did not know which party had a majority of seats in Congress. • A 2003 survey indicated: • 41% of Americans had never heard of Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House. • A 1999 survey indicated: • 24% of Americans could not name the country that the United States gained its independence from following the Revolutionary War.
What Americans Hold in Common • On many fundamental political matters, the vast majority of Americans are in substantial agreement. • First of all, Americans are proud of their country and emotionally attached to it and its symbols. • A 2003 poll indicated: • 70% of Americans said they were extremely proud to be an American. • The percentage of people expressing enthusiasm and pride for their country are higher in the United States than any other country.
What Americans Hold in Common • Why are Americans so proud of our country? • One reason is that we have been taught all of our lives to think of America as the best. • Americans take pride in their country because we are raised to hold certain basic values, and that the United States is dedicated to the fulfillment of those values.
Basic Values of Democracy • Equality • Freedom • Consent of the governed • Capitalism • Free enterprise system
Basic Values of Democracy-Equality • Equality • 80% of Americans genuinely believe in equality. • 90% of Americans believe that the government should treat everyone as if they were equal. • However, Americans disagree on the best way for the government to treat citizens equally. • Divisions over affirmative action and same-sex marriage.
Basic Values of Democracy-Freedom • Freedom • Most Americans think that individuals should be free to act as they please, with minimal government interference, as long as they do not interfere with freedoms of others. • A 2000 poll indicated: • 81% of Americans said the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech is a good thing in America. • 72% of Americans said prayer should be allowed in public schools.
Basic Values of Democracy-Consent of the Governed • Consent of the governed • Americans see their acceptance of government as voluntary. • Recent polls indicate: • 91% of Americans believe that periodic elections make the government "pay attention to what people think", at least some of the time. • 56% of Americans said they trust the government most or all of the time. • Less than 1% say they never trust the government.
Basic Values of Democracy-Capitalism and Free Enterprise • Capitalism and free enterprise • Americans believe in the values of: • Hard work • Private property • Economic competition • Profit • Competition brings out the best in people and that the most successful competitors deserve the greatest rewards. • Everyone starts out equally. We have the freedom to pursue our own self interest and thus end up unequally well off according to how we all pursue our own self interest.
Where Americans Differ-Equality • While Americans generally agree on the principles of democracy, Americans disagree on the implications of these principles. • Should everyone have an equal chance to pursue an education and earn a high income, or should everybody get the same education and earn the same income? • 21% of Americans believe the government should see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living.
Where Americans Differ-Free Enterprise • Although Americans are against government regulation of business in the abstract, a majority supports the current level of regulation or favors increasing it. • Many feel that government should do more to prevent big business mergers • Many businesses today focus on short-term profit rather than long term-growth and prosperity.
How is Public Opinion Formed? Political Socialization • How do we acquire our beliefs and attitudes? • Political Socialization- the process by which citizens acquire political beliefs and attitudes. • Most of what we think and feel about politics has been learned from somebody else.
Political Socialization • Much of what people know about politics they learn through explicit teaching. • Information is presented, we are either rewarded for learning it or punished for not learning it (Grades and criticism).
Political Socialization • Theories of learning • Social learning theory • Transfer theory • Cognitive development theory • Political socialization is too complex to be accounted for by any one theory.
Social Learning Theory • Social learning theory-people experience subtle rewards and punishments from the psychological attachments they form to particular people around them • Because people like to have favorable images of themselves, they may attempt to boost their self-image by acting like people they admire. • People also avoid the behaviors of those they dislike.
Transfer Theory • Transfer theory- people may carry over attitudes developed in a narrow setting, such as the family or school, to the broader political setting. • A boy who dislikes his father may rebel against political authority more generally.
Cognitive Development Theory • Cognitive development theory-what people can learn about politics depends on the stage of their mental development. • Some things can only be learned early in life, while others can only be learned later in life.
Agents of Political Socialization • Agents of socialization-the people and institutions from which we learn • The family • The school • Peer group • Mass media (more recently)
The Family • According to the developmental theory, the young are the most vulnerable to socialization. • The young individual spends a lot of time with the family. • Family has the first chance at influencing political development. • Psychological attachments are strong and conducive to the transference of attitudes.
The School • The school is also a prime agent of political socialization. • School is the primary explicit teacher of information about politics and government. • Schools also expose students to a range of experiences and impressions. • Social diversity • Student government • Protests against school policies • Students develop feelings about social and political involvement and what they hope to accomplish through the political process.
Peer groups • Peer groups-groups of people who interact with one another. • Students in the same school • People who work together in an office • Neighbors on the block • Pressure to conform, nonconformity will lead to ostracism.
The Development of Political Self • During the younger years students realize a sense of authority above the parents • The President • The police • Small children idealize these authority figures. • As children grow their conceptions about politics becomes less personal and more institutional. • Idealization fades to realism • Public figures are flawed, they make mistakes • Political thinking starts to blossom at age 12, and political learning takes place throughout life.
The Development of Political Self • As people get older, their needs and concerns change. • From their own education to that of their children • Healthcare becomes a priority later in life
Diversity in Socialization • Socialization is not an identical process for all Americans. • Subcultures, distinctive attitudes and behavior. • Although African Americans and whites do agree on issues, there are some divisions. • Division particularly in regard to race • While 66% of African Americans believe they are treated less fairly be the police, only 35% of whites hold the same belief. • Different regions of the United States have their own distinct subcultures, especially in the South. • The South has evolved from the legacy of slavery and racial strife.
Diversity in Socialization • However, today public opinion is becoming more uniform because we: • Eat the same fast food • Buy the same products • Read the same national newspapers and watch the same national broadcasts
Political Participation • How is public opinion translated into political participation? • Motives for political participation • Political efficacy • Sense of duty • Party identification
Motives for Political Participation-Political Efficacy • Political efficacy-a person's sense of being able to accomplish something politically. • People with a very strong sense of efficacy are more likely to be politically active than those with a weak sense of efficacy.
Motives for Political Participation-Sense of Duty • Sense of duty- a motivating factor, felt by some citizens, to get involved in politics. • Good citizens get involved in politics. • Stronger sense of duty= more participation
Motives for Political Participation-Party Identification • Party identification-psychological attachment that a citizen may feel toward a particular political party. • Strong commitment= Higher level of participation
Forms of Participation • How can you participate in the political process? • Following politics • Contacting public officials • Protests
Forms of Participation • Following politics • Just paying attention to politics is a form of participation. • 60% of Americans read a newspaper at least several times a week, and about the same percentage say they watch a nightly news program.
Forms of Participation • Contacting public officials • Write, call, email • Not very many people actually contact their legislator • Small groups write most the mail • 2/3rds of all mail to public officials is written by only 3% of the population
Forms of Participation • Protests • Marches • Rallies • Boycotts • Picketing
Forms of Participation • Some acts of protests, even if illegal, are undertaken on the basis of moral justification. • These are acts of civil disobedience-deliberate violations of the law to call attention to unjust laws. • Sit-ins at lunch counters
Differences in Participation • Six categories of citizen participation and who belongs to each category. • Inactives • Voting specialists • Parochial participants • Communalists • Campaigners • Complete activists
Differences in Participation • Inactives • 22% of the population • Take no part in politics • African Americans, women, the youngest, the oldest, least concerned with politics. • Voting specialists • 21% of the population • Do little more than vote • Strong sense of partisanship
Differences in Participation • Parochial participants • 4% of the population • Contacting public officials when they have a personal problem • Little partisanship or ideological involvement • Percentage higher among Catholics and urban dwellers, than Protestants and rural citizens • Communalists • 20% of the population • Little involvement in politics apart from voting • Engage in group and community activities • Nonpartisan • White, Protestant, and rural
Differences in Participation • Campaigners • 15% of the population • Engage in little group activity, but campaign heavily. • Highly partisan • Tend to be of higher status, but all groups of people campaign • Complete activists • 11% of the population • They do it all: voting, contacting, group activities and campaigning. • Upper status and middle aged
Rational Actor Model • Rational Actor Model- A model in which the citizen rationally weighs the costs and benefits of participation. • If the benefit exceeds the costs, the citizen will participate.