Public Opinion

AP US Government: Mrs. Lacks
What is Public Opinion?
Public Opinion: ‘Those opinions held by private
persons that the government finds it prudent to
heed.” (VO Key)
Aspects of public opinion
 Values,
ideology, and attitudes
 Values:
basic principles (morals; what’s right and wrong)
 Ideology: cohesive set a beliefs that form a philosophy
about the role of government (little gov’t intervention =
Republican or conservative; much gov’t intervention =
Democrat or liberal)
 Attitudes: specific issue position
Where do opinions come from?
Agents of socialization
 Socialization
 Parents
& Family
 Friends & School
 Church, outside organizations
 Experiences
 Political
leaders & political institutions
 Peers & workplace
 Employment & salary
 The
Where do opinions come from?
Elites (in political science) are people who have high
political efficacy
Where do opinions come from?
John Zaller’s Model of Public Opinion Change
People receive information
 People decide whether to accept it
 People sample from these ideas when they report their
Lack of information, or reliance on a specific disposition can lead to
misguided opinions.
Ex. Republicans hate poor people.
Ex. Democrats hate the military.
Why do we care about public opinion?
Overall understanding of the direction of
 ex.
When America elected President Obama, we
showed that we wanted bigger government; when
America turned around and elected a Republican
Congress, we showed that we wanted the government
to step back. (contradictory?)
Overall understanding of how people interact with
politics (good for campaigns, getting out issues)
What do Americans think about
False consensus: people overestimate the degree to
which others agree with them
Ex. One might vote for a president based on the fact
that they agree on abortion, but in actuality, they
disagree on many other things.
Why does this happen?
People are grossly uninformed
People vote based on the way a candidate looks
People don’t want to be argumentative (they might not
know enough)
What do Americans think about
Early studies (1920s & 30s) – very optimistic about
the American electorate because people were
voting, participating in communities, joining
organizations, reading newspapers, etc.
Today’s reality (everything written since the 1960s)
– very different
People today are uninformed, unconnected,
unengaged, uninterested
A Doom for Democracy?
The Consequences of Low Information
 Fear
that politicians will take advantage of an
unknowing public.
 Lack of people meaningfully engaging in politics.
 Political outcomes and policies would be different if
people were informed.
How do people organize their
political beliefs?
When asked to identify beliefs
 Some
(very few) use strict ideology
 Some use ideological ideas, but remain vague on their
meanings (most people have weak conceptions of
 Some only see politics in terms of the groups they think
are being helped or hurt
 Others do not pay attention to the issues at all
How do we know what people
Voting habits
Personal encounters
Public opinion polls
Read Philip Converse’s
“The Nature of Belief
Systems in Mass
Publics” & the excerpt
from Samuel Popkin’s
The Reasoning Voter:
Communication and
Persuasion in Presidential
Complete the blog
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