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What did Powell see as being “under broad attack”? Which two institutions does Powell identify as being supported by corporate largesse and should be supporting rather than combating a corporate agenda?

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the powell memo

What did Powell see as being “under broad attack”?

Which two institutions does Powell identify as being supported by corporate largesse and should be supporting rather than combating a corporate agenda?

Which institution (other than the Chamber of Commerce) does Powell see as being most important in exerting its influence?

What are the five centers of real power and influence that Powell identifies?

The Powell Memo
under broad attack

Powell saw the American economic system as being under broad attack.

“The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.”

Powell saw the college campus and the media as being supported by corporate largesse and should be supporting business positions rather than arguing against their priorities.

Powell saw the college campus as the most important in exerting its influence regarding the debate of the economic system. He points out that those who rise to positions of power in government and society get their start through the universities. These students’ perceptions of the system may color future policy decisions.

These students would then “seek employment in the centers of the real power and influence in our country, namely: (i) with the news media, especially television; (ii) in government, as "staffers" and consultants at various levels; (iii) in elective politics; (iv) as lecturers and writers, and (v) on the faculties at various levels of education.”

Under broad attack
mancur olson the logic of collective action 1965

Rational individuals form interest groups when: the group membership is small, the goals are narrow and clearly defined, and the advantages are limited to the membership, or the potential financial benefit significantly exceeds the cost of membership.

Powell emphasized the importance of increasing financial resources in these areas of influence. Gatekeeping, astroturfing, and venue shopping require significant economic resources and Powell was encouraging both an increase in the resources available and the effective deployment of these resources.

Think about Dahl: “The extent to which political equality and democracy are attainable depends, among other things, on the distribution of access to political resources and the willingness to employ them to achieve one's goals.”

Mancur Olson The Logic of Collective Action (1965)
the us chamber of commerce

At the time of the Powell memo, the Chamber of Commerce did have “a fine reputation and a broad base of support” and was the best situated to take on this task. At that time, the Chamber had primarily small businesses in its membership and provided a countervailing power to the interests of large corporations. In pursuit of increased resources, the Chamber took on large corporations, and eventually international corporations, within its membership.

The Chamber now advocates positions favorable to large multinational corporations over those of small US businesses. IE advocacy for NAFTA and free trade, reduction of top tax rates and broadening the base.

The US Chamber of Commerce
staff of scholars think tanks

These were developed in the wake of the Powell Memo and have produced the desired effect. Offering “scientific”, “expert” evaluations of policy issues with a conservative bias. They produce information at a rate of about 4 to 1 in comparison to liberal think tanks. It is a numbers game. If you are looking for information on a policy issue, you have a 75% chance of finding research provided by a conservative think tank.

Heritage Foundation: 2000 recommendations, 60% implemented by the Reagan Administration. Have become even more partisan and activist since the appointment of Jim DeMint as President. The Heritage Foundation has a job bank to match conservative job seekers to positions of power in government and nonprofit organizations (gatekeeping)

Charles Koch Foundation changed to the Cato Institute.

Note that the Brookings Institution prides itself on being nonpartisan, yet in the conservative world it is a liberal think tank.

Our textbook routinely cites the PEW Research Center. They present themselves as a nonpartisan and neutral “fact tank”, yet they are funded and ran by conservatives.

Staff of scholars (Think tanks)
voters as consumers of political knowledge

“It is time for American business -- which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions -- to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.”

“But most of the essential freedoms remain: private ownership, private profit, labor unions, collective bargaining, consumer choice, and a market economy in which competition largely determines price, quality and variety of the goods and services provided the consumer.”

Voters as consumers of political knowledge
chapter 11 public opinion and political socialization

The opening segment starts with a quote from Lincoln “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Perhaps a better Lincoln quote for this section would be “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Chapter 11 Public opinion and political socialization
population vs sample

Population is the larger group that the poll is said to represent: I.E. Registered Washington State voters or Whatcom Community College students

A sample is the group that is asked the poll questions from which generalizations are drawn to get an idea of the opinions of the broader population. It is important that the sample and the population match. For example, if you perform a poll using only WCC students, you cannot extrapolate this as being representative of registered Washington voters, only WCC students.

Population vs sample
strongly held convictions of a minority

Pluralists advocate for the expression of minority opinions in the political arena. The civil rights movements and the fight against discrimination is a strong argument for this form of political debate.

But what if this minority is seeking privileges beyond what other citizens enjoy, or are seeking to actually limit the rights of others? Should their position be advanced simply because they have organized resources?

Should the rights of minorities be put to a plebiscite? Would southern blacks have received equal rights if it had been put to a state by state vote?

Strongly held convictions of a minority
the questions

How a question is stated can make a difference in the outcome of the question – framing.

100 surveys asked “Do you feel that the federal government should play a role in the redistribution of wealth?” (67% yes) Another 100 asked, “Do you feel that those who profit proportionally more from government funded infrastructure and institutions should pay proportionally more for their maintenance and improvements?” (86% yes) 19% difference in responses.

The order the questions are asked in can also influence the answers given. Two CBS polls asking about favorable/unfavorable opinions of Bob Dole found a 20 point spread in favorable ratings of Dole. The poll that had higher favorable ratings for Dole had the Dole question following a question on Pat Buchanan. The lower favorable ratings were produced after a question regarding voter’s opinion of Bill Clinton.

The questions

Beyond questions and question order, how a population is sampled is an important key to the legitimacy of a “scientific” survey or poll.

Volunteer polls (internet, mail-in) are considered relatively meaningless in the world of polling. Unless you are seeking to find out information about the population of those who are likely to volunteer for polls, the sample will not be representative of the population.

types of polls

Telephone polls – Common for their cost-effectiveness

  • Exit polls – Can have a serious effect on West Coast voter participation
  • Tracking polls – watch how a campaign evolves
  • Internet polls – A poll of people who own computers and are inclined to respond to internet polls.
    • Zogby “scientific” polls. If an individual knew they were going to be asked about an issue, they would be more inclined to develop an opinion.
  • Push polls – An excuse to get in front of voters and give them negative (and often false) information about the opposing candidate.
Types of polls
push polls

Question from Republican push poll:

    • President Bush’s successful income and capital gains tax cuts are set to expire – should they be made permanent?
  • Question from a Democratic push poll:
    • I know they have existed because I have received them in the past, but I was unable to find a recent example from a reliable source so….
    • From the Ed Show: Do you think the only way for Republicans to win is to cheat?
Push polls
poll vs survey

Technically speaking, a poll is only a couple questions in which the possible responses are limited – multiple choice, yes or no, candidate A, B, or C.

A survey offers more questions that may include some multiple choice, but is likely to include some open-ended questions. What is the most pressing political issue to you in the current election cycle?

Poll vs survey
social sciences

The textbook tends to focus on the use of polls for political purposes. Polls are also an important component of social science research. Political polls may actually prefer a lack of accuracy, for example, a candidate’s strong poll numbers can lead to increased campaign donations.

Social scientists also collect data on public opinion, usually for the purpose of testing a hypothesis. The social scientist has an incentive for the data to support their hypothesis, but have the concern that their results should be able to be reproduced by other researchers. The methodology is crucial in both receiving accurate information and in the acceptance of the findings from the academic community.

Social sciences
social science surveys

Social science surveys are key to understanding questions posed by social scientists. What is the correlation between minority populations and the acceptance of a social safety net? Does higher levels of religiosity lead to stronger or weaker democracies?

Social science surveys
florida florida florida

The textbook points to errors in exit polls as the reason that Florida was inaccurately called for Gore in the 2000 election. To this date, we still do not know for sure who won the majority in Florida in that election. The vote counting was stopped by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore (2000).

Florida, florida, florida

Typically, more accurate polls and surveys require a greater commitment of resources. A social scientist or pollster may know a better way to provide more accurate results, yet they are limited by their access to resources in selection of methodology. This is why telephone polls remain popular in spite of the flaws in the method. It remains the best way to reach a broader sample with limited resources.


Polls can be crafted to provide the answers that advance an agenda of the pollster or their sponsor.

Most Americans lack sufficient political knowledge to provide informed opinions regarding complex issues, yet these people will still give an opinion to pollsters

Polls often have flaws in methodology or sampling.

focus groups

Not to be confused with a poll or a survey which seeks to discover public opinion.

Focus groups are used by political groups to sample a small group of individuals to determine how to sell a specific product or idea to the public. Focus groups are used to change public opinion. Unpopular policies when reframed in a different way can find broader support, or vice versa.

The new terminology is then distributed through talking points memo and repeated frequently.

“The smoking gun in the shape of a mushroom cloud.” “Death panels for grandma.”

Focus groups
fox vs msnbc pg 320

The book states that those Americans who watch FOX and MSNBC are less knowledgeable about political issues than those who watch no news at all.

  • This presents an opportunity to discuss three issues:
    • Primary sources
    • False equivalency
    • Backfire effects
  • The way it is stated in the textbook suggests that both FOX and MSNBC viewers are equally ill informed. When we go to the original data we find a different story.
Fox vsmsnbc (pg 320)
analyzing the data
Analyzing the data

Consider this data in the context of the findings by Nyhan and Reifler and the “backfire effect” where ideologically inclined individuals who are exposed to information that contradicts their worldview will provide counterarguments that reinforces initial misinformation.

lack of interest and beat journalism

News media is a business, as a result, producers provide what sells at the lowest cost. Coverage of international news in the United States is far below the content of European nations where public broadcasting continues to play a significant role. Some portion of this could be the result of the isolationist mentality of Americans.

Keeping a reporter “on the beat” in a foreign country is an expensive proposition that presents little in the way of ratings.

This leaves Americans comparatively uninformed, or misinformed, providing an often distorted public opinion.

Lack of interest and beat journalism
timeline of international crisis

Initial focusing event – Have Americans ever heard of this place? Tunisia vsEgypt in Arab Spring

Resources are committed for coverage. Without beat journalists knowledgeable about the issue, initial news reports will echo the government frame until nongovernmental experts can be found or the jouralists gain a level of competency. Lead up to the Iraq War

Once journalists are up to speed and are reporting on the topic beyond government talking points, journalists can provide perspectives on the issue beyond the limited information provided by the government that has been tested through focus groups.

This process is probably the best explanation of the change in American public opinion over the course of the Iraq War. If we knew then what we know now…

Timeline of international crisis

In the data on the right we find that the influence of race on political support is significantly stronger than that of religion, with the difference between black and white protestants being more significant than the difference between evangelical and secular voters.

The data on page 318 would appear to indicate that the more religious a person is, the more willing they are to see others starve. Is this because they lack Christian values, or do they prefer Christian charities to handle these issues?

polls in systems theory

Polls play a role in the feedback loop of systems theory as pollsters register either demands or support through the statistics they have collected.

Polls can be used to shape public opinion as many will jump on the bandwagon of the political pet rock of the moment.

Polls in systems theory
take a closer look

Growth of public opinion polls:

If a political party wishes to do something that is broadly unpopular according to nonpartisan polling, they can ask questions a certain way to get the responses they want.

More public opinion polls intended to represent an agenda further distorts debate and the democratic process.

Take a closer look
family peers and school

Political socialization - to fit or train for a social environment. Questioning is encouraged. Students are encouraged to develop their own opinions based on the facts.

Indoctrination - to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle. Questioning is discouraged. Students are taught a specific doctrine and will learn to ignore contradictions or hypocrisies of that doctrine.

Family, peers, and school
false consensus

When an individual incorrectly believes that their opinion is shared by the majority of the broader population.

Causes: We tend to self-select our influences based on our perspectives and ideologies. It is not surprising, then, that we observe the majority of these influences, friends, family, politicians, and pundits, that we assume that the majority share the opinion.

Effect: As voters, we feel that politicians who fail to provide our desired outcomes are acting against the will of the majority. As politicians, some may believe they are acting in the interest of the majority while they may instead be acting in the interest of the narrow minority to which they are exposed. (IE lobbyists and rent-seekers)

False consensus
pluralistic ignorance

A situation where a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but assume (incorrectly) that most others accept it.

Causes: Fear of speaking out against something for fear of reprisal or peer pressure.

Effects: Individuals fail to speak out against a system or social norms to which they are opposed. Examples range from teenage drinking and promiscuity on the milder end, to segregation, communist domination, and the power of the Nazi regime on the more extreme end. Ultimately, the dominant view fails to surface as the private views are not expressed publicly.

Data shows that 55-65% of Americans identify themselves as leaning toward the Democratic Party, yet liberal views are often shouted down by a boisterous and angry conservative minority.

Pluralistic ignorance
decision process

Trustee: Listens to constituents then reasons through proposals and information to provide the best outcomes for constituents.

Delegate: Knows how their constituents feel about an issue and votes that way regardless of personal feelings or experience. Note: It is nearly impossible to know what constituents feel regarding legislation. Think healthcare reform

Politico: Shifts back and forth between these two positions.

Decision process
ponder this question

You are a Congressperson who feels an obligation toward his constituents to represent their interests. Public opinion polls show that your constituents are opposed to healthcare reform, but are supportive of the provisions of this reform, thereby suggesting that the constituency is misinformed. Do you vote for or against the reform?

Ponder this question

Two things to notice about this chart:

The majority of statements made regarding healthcare reform were made by Republicans. This is what happens when the president fails to use the bully pulpit.

The majority of statements made by politicians regarding the reform bill were in the range of mostly false to pants on fire.