Public Opinion and Political Action Chapter 6
Introduction • Public Opinion • The distribution of the population’s beliefs about politics and policy issues. • Demography • The science of population changes. • Census • A valuable tool for understanding population changes- required every 10 years.
Political Culture • Most (if not all) Americans fall into a large Political Culture: The Characteristic and deep seated beliefs of a particular people about government and politics. • This political culture is different from that of other nations and may vary from region to region in the U.S. • However, Americans are a part of a larger, common political culture upon which they can all agree.
Aspects of American Culture • Political Scientists agree on 3 main aspects: • Commitment to Liberty (freedom) • Equality • Self-government • Other aspects that play a prominent role: • Private Property • Personal Rights • Civic Duty
Varying Public Opinion • Outside of the main aspects of American Culture, public opinion varies in the U.S. • Importance of issues also vary, especially over time. • Ex. • The War in Afghanistan • Global Warming • Income Disparity • Government Bailouts
How Americans think Politically • While all people have their own opinions as a result of their socializing agents, public opinion is a collection of those opinions into similar coherent thought. • Three major frames of reference shape public opinion: • Partisanship (Party Identification) • Ideological Leanings • Group Attachments
2. Political Ideology • Def. Consistent pattern of opinion on particular issues that stems from a core belief or set of beliefs. • While most Americans cannot be considered true ideologues (Communists, Socialists, Fascists), Americans have ideological leanings: Liberal and Conservative on the Political Spectrum.
The Political Spectrum Left Right Liberal Conservative Radical Reactionary Moderate
Dividing the Issues • In general, political issues can be divided into two categories: • Economic Issues: • Dealing with money, business, taxes, government regulation of business, Government spending, wealth distribution • Cultural (Social) Issues: • Dealing with society and the way people live, crime, morality, prison, liberties, rights
Liberals • Economic Liberals: Those who believe government should do more to assist people who have difficulty meeting their own economic needs. • Cultural (social) Liberals: Those who believe it is not government’s role to support traditional values at the expense of new ones.
Conservative • Economic Conservatives: Those who believe government tries to do too many things that should be left to private interests and economic markets. • Cultural (social) Conservatives: Those who believe government power should be used to uphold traditional values.
3. Group Orientations • Political Opinion is tied to a person’s group or groups in which they belong. • Different issues impact different groups differently, therefore the political opinion of members of those groups react accordingly. • Ex. Social security is important to seniors, while college tuition is important to young voters,(but not in reverse).
Religious Groups • Various religions and their teachings impact members of those religions on various issues. • Ex. • Abortion • Gay Marriage • Welfare programs for the poor • School prayer
Economic Class • Income and education impact political opinion on some issues. • Ex. Lower-income are more likely to support welfare and business regulation, while higher-income support free market and tax cuts. • But not others. • Ex. Union support and collective bargaining is high among blue-collar and factory workers, but not among white collar workers or farmers even though they may have similar income levels
Race and Ethnicity • Major impact on civil rights and liberties issues • Ex. Black and Hispanic for Affirmative Action, less trusting of police and court system than non-Hispanic Whites • Opinions differ in regards to social welfare programs (in general, Black, Hispanic for, White against) but much is also due to income and education.
Gender • Men and Women tend to think alike in many issues, with some exceptions: • Affirmative Action: Women more pro, Men con • Social Welfare: Women pro education spending and welfare programs • Military Spending: Men pro use of military than women
Generations and Age • Different generations are shaped by the political environment they are born into. This shapes their public opinion. • Ex. • WWII generation: Civic Duty important • Vietnam generation: Mistrust of government • Also, issues that are important to one age group may be less important to another • Ex. • Seniors: Social Security • Parents: Funding for Public Education • Young Adults: College debt
The American People Figure 6.1
The American People • The Regional Shift • Reapportionment: The process of reallocating seats in the House of Representatives every 10 years on the basis of the results of the census. Figure 6.2
The American People • The Graying of America • Fastest growing group is over 65 • Potential drain on Social Security by 2020 • “Gray Power” • One advantage that no other group has- we are all going to get older
Public Opinion and Boundaries of Action • Because of strong public opinion on certain issues, they are considered politically untouchable (called the 3rd Rail, referring to the electrified subway rail you should not touch!) • Social Security: reforms in 1980s and 2000s went nowhere • Military spending/closing military bases
Measuring Public Opinion and Political Information • How Polls Are Conducted • Random Sampling: The key technique employed by sophisticated survey researchers, which operates on the principle that everyone should have an equal probability of being selected for the sample. • Sampling Error: The level of confidence in the findings of a public opinion poll.
Measuring Public Opinion and Political Information • The Role of Polls in American Democracy • Polls help politicians figure out public preferences. • Does it make politicians think more about following the polls? • Exit Polls- used by the media to predict election day winners. • Question wording makes a difference.
Measuring Public Opinion and Political Information • What Polls Reveal About Americans’ Political Information • Americans don’t know much about politics. • Americans may know their basic beliefs, but not how that affects policies of the government. • The Decline of Trust in Government • Now only about 25% of the public trust the government most of the time or always.
What Americans Value: Political Ideologies • Political Ideology: • A coherent set of beliefs about politics, public policy, and public purpose. • Who Are the Liberals and Conservatives? • Views change over time • Currently about 42% conservative, 25% liberal, 34% moderate
What Americans Value: Political Ideologies • Liberals: • Less military spending • Opposed to prayer in schools • Favor affirmative action • Tax the rich more • Solve the problems that cause crime • Conservatives: • More military spending • Support prayer in schools • Oppose affirmative action • Keep taxes low • Should stop “coddling criminals” From Table 6.3
How Americans Participate in Politics • Political Participation: • All the activities used by citizens to influence the selection of political leaders or the policies they pursue. • Conventional Participation • Voting in elections • Working in campaigns / running for office • Contacting elected officials
How Americans Participate in Politics • Protest as Participation • Protest: A form of political participation designed to achieve policy changes through dramatic and unconventional tactics. • Civil disobedience: A form of political participation that reflects a conscious decision to break a law believed to be immoral and to suffer the consequences.
Understanding Public Opinion and Political Action • Public Attitudes Toward the Scope of Government • Many people haven’t thought about it. • Democracy, Public Opinion, and Political Action • We select our leaders, not policies. • We protest for specific policies, not against the government.