Shaping Public Opinion Socialization and Ideology
Public Opinion • Ideas and attitudes that a significant number of Americans hold about government and political issues • Preferences on specific issues
Public Opinion • Our elected officials need to know what our public opinion is so they can make policies and laws that reflect our opinion. • However, public opinion is often varied and diverse, which makes it hard to sort out. • Also, many Americans are uninformed or simply don’t care about following politics, so they lack knowledge about the government.
Public Opinion* • Year Item of Knowledge Percent Who Know • 1989 The name of their state's governor 73% • 2000 Senator and vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman is Jewish 66% • 1999 Kosovo was site of ethnic Albanian-Serbian conflict 66% • 1991 The United States must import oil to meet its energy needs 50% 1980 Definitions of liberal and conservative 42% 1996 What the federal minimum wage was 42% 1991 What majority is needed to override a presidential veto 37% 2000 Tony Blair was Prime Minister of Great Britain 29% 1989 What percentage of Americans live below the poverty line 18% 1991 Canada was America's largest foreign trading partner 8% *Source: Squire, Peverill. (2006) Dynamics of Democracy. Atomic Dog Publishing. P. 164.
Public Opinion • The ones with the most education are likely to be the most informed about government activities. • Those with good jobs and higher incomes are also more likely to follow politics, or be targeted by political appeals. • In the 1960s, almost 80% of people got political information from newspapers, but in 2006, only 57% do so. • Many get information from TV news, but we’ve seen the graph of the “shrinking soundbite.”
Political Socialization • Opinions/attitudes – our preferences on specific issues • Values – basic principles that lead people to form opinions on specific issues • Socialization – process by which people acquire their values and opinions from their society
Sources of Socialization Clubs School Media Family & Friends Work Religious Organization
Ideologies • Liberalism – belief that our government should play a big role in society (except in the areas of personal morality), with the goals of protecting the weakest citizens and promoting equal opportunities for all.
Ideologies • Conservatism – belief that government should play a limited/small role in society (except in area of traditional moral values) with the goal of ensuring economic freedom for all citizens.
Ideologies • Moderate – beliefs that fall somewhere between liberal and conservative. • Libertarian – belief in both economic freedoms and social freedoms.
Ideologies • Learning happens over time. We probably won’t have the same opinions five years from now that we have today. New knowledge and experience makes us reevaluate our opinions and even our ideologies. • “As adults, more than 2/3 of all voters continue to favor the political party their parents supported.”* *Remy (1999)
For example, Ronald Reagan “once denounced Medicare as ‘socialism,’ twenty years later, he praised it.”* *Squire (2006)
Ideologies • Attitude Consistency – degree to which a person’s political opinions all fall at about the same point on the liberal-conservative scale. • Most Americans from similar economic, racial, ethnic, religious, and gender groups tend to have similar ideologies.
Ideologies • However, only a small percentage of Americans think strictly in ideological terms, meaning that only some are totally conservative all the time or totally liberal. • Only a small minority have consistent attitudes.
Ideologies • Take the quiz. Where do you fall on the liberal-conservative scale? Are your attitudes consistent? • Should we be consistent? Does it matter? Why or why not?
Ideologies • Over the past 25 years, about 35-40% of Americans call themselves conservative and 23-30% call themselves liberal. The rest are mostly moderate.* *Squire (2006)