Public Opinion and Political Socialization Public Opinion and Political Socialization

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  • Public Opinion and Political Socialization

  • Three Broad ClassesInputsCultureInformationPublic OpinionInstitutionsBranches of GovernmentParties/Interest GroupsRules of the game


  • Public OpinionWhat the public thinks about a particular issue or set of issues at some point in time. V.O Key- any attitudes the public has that the government would be wise to heedOpinions held by the public that may have an impact on the political process

  • Public OpinionAttitudes towards specific issues/policiesE.g. War in Iraq, social security reformAttitudes about state of the nationE.g. Important problems, state of the economyAttitudes towards officeholdersPresidential approvalAttitudes towards the governmentAttitudes towards specific groups

  • Public OpinionIndividual and collective property2 key elementsAttitude directionSalience/importanceA function of both long and short term factors

  • IdeologyFairly consistent set of ideasInterrelation between more specific attitudesOnly Some people think ideologicallyMore knowledgeableMore involvedLiberal-Conservative~20% Conservative~30% Liberal~50% Moderate

  • IdeologyWhat distinguishes ideology?Attitude towards government intervention/individual libertyAttitude towards change/pastAttitudes towards social conventions?

  • Public OpinionStable/Malleable?The wonder is that they (the people) so seldom err as they do; beset as they continually are by the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate Hamilton Federalist 71Madison and demagoguesEvidence for some of each

  • Political SocializationLearning process by which people acquire their political ideas and valuesEcology->Culture->Socialization->Personality->Behavior (Triandis 1994)Social Learning Theory

  • American Political Culture(s)Some commonalitiesElazar3 Sub CulturesIndividualisticMoralisticTraditionalistic

  • Agents of Political SocializationThe FamilyEducationRaceReligionClassPeer groupsLong term influence

  • ValuesSomewhat corrupted termEqualityToleranceFreedomProtestant work ethic/deservingnessMeritocracy Which values in which situations?

  • What Moves Public Opinion?Real world events (wars, economic factors, various salient issues)Elite DiscussionPolitics (Campaigns, speeches, etc)The MediaPublic opinion itself

  • Real World EventsMany Factors influence presidential ApprovalHere- Uptick around start of warAs war progresses, decreased support.

  • Elite DiscourseCan Move Public OpinionOnly effective when elites have one messageWhen Multiple Messages, citizens fall back to original opinions

  • Elite DiscourseE.g. VietnamEarly- Most Elites Support WarMore Media exposure-> More supportMainstreamingLate- Divided Elite OpinionSome Hawks, some DovesOpinion Depends on previousPolarization

  • Public Opinion Itself Public opinion widely reportedMay cause people to change mindBandwagon effectReconsider reasonsExample- Health care 1994Large majority of Americans satisfied with own healthcareLarge majority think most people get bad care

  • Measuring Public OpinionPollingTelephone SurveysRelatively Small SamplesRandom AssignmentMargin of error

  • Types of PollsTelephoneIn PersonExit PollTracking Poll

  • Shortcomings of PollsAccuracy?Social DesirabilityQuestion wordingDeclining Response rates

  • The Ugly- Literary Digest Poll1936 ElectionOver 1 Million RespondentsPredicts Alf Landon WinProblem- Selecting ParticipantsProblem- Low response rateProblem- Too far in advance of election

  • Polling and DemocracyVerba- Allows voices to be heard that would not otherwiseAllows greater detail on wishes of public than elections would. Dryzek- Empowers status quoDoes not allow spontaneous expression of opinion

  • The Uses Of PollsThe mediaElection ForecastingBy the publicBy politiciansTo inform policyTo sell policyBy Interest groups

  • Public Opinion and RepresentationLarge shifts in opinion -> changes in policyDistrict level Congruence in some policy domainsStrongest in states with referendum

  • Public Opinion and RepresentationCan reign in lobbyistsWhen is public opinion influential?When it sends a clear messageWhen it moves dramaticallyWhen Issue is SalientLimitsNot all issues salientPublic opinion shifts

  • Public Opinion and ElectionsSurveys allow for forecastingCan enable strategic votingLarge impact on fundraisingHorse race coverage

  • Presidential ApprovalDo you generally approve of the way ________ is handling his job as president?Important resourceIncreased Bargaining PowerMore successful with congressSuccess brings success

  • Presidential ApprovalCharacter vs. CompetenceThe case of Bill ClintonThe case of Jimmy CarterCompetence trumps









    Job Approval

    Honest and Trustworthy


    Percent Yes

    Figure 1: Presidential Honesty and Job Approval 1993-1999













    Job Approval

    Honest and Trustworthy


    Percent Yes

    Figure 1: Presidential Honesty and Job Approval 1993-1999



  • Sources of Approval (or lack thereof)The economyBoth current performance and expectationsEconomy as a whole more important than personalPresidential dramaWar/foreign policyMedia CoveragePrimingFocusing attention on particular areas Can help or hurt overall approval

  • Political TrustMost of the time, can you trust government to do the right thing?Trend- Generally decreasingSimilar trend for other institutions as wellSources?Policy DissatisfactionIncreasing gap between promises/resultsPolitical Scandal/Media

  • Political TrustConsequencesDecreased Turnout?Electoral ChoiceBenefits 3rd party candidates and challengersStability

  • ToleranceA willingness to tolerate the presence of ideas that you do not agree withStouffer 195580-90% of respondents support abstract liberties30-35% support applications of those libertiesThe more educated more likely to be tolerant

  • ToleranceMore recent workGap between abstract and appliedGap between educated and not?Different groups-> different resultsWhen allowed to pick groups they dont like, more educated nearly as intolerantAmericans not much more tolerant than in the 50s?

    Weve been talking primarily about institutions, that middle step. Government, people in office. Last part of class, will consider some of the things that go into process, and finally the outputsWe will be looking at some specifics from these on Tuesday- have talked about presidential approval. Will look at some policy attitudes, trust in government, knowledge of politics etc. Ind and collective property- we tend to talk about them in the aggregate (47% approve of president) but these are made up of individuals. Changes at individual level drive changes in overall balance of opinionOnly some people think IdeologicallyEarly studies- less than 20% could place themselves reliably on ideology. Even today, not many,

    Figures for approx for 2000. Self identification. General trend, more moderates, fewer liberals, slight rise in conservativesWhat are contents of ideology? What are unifying themes? Fed 10- concerns of faction. Faction in part a public opinion issue, united by tie to a particular issue. Concern- some opinions may be contrary. Some opinions may be whipped up by individuals for their own purposes. Social Learning theory- holds that learning of behavior doesnt necissarily have to be explicit. More about modelling behavior. Elazar- The American Mosaic- holds that US has three basic political subcultures- share common devotion to basic system, but some difference over priorities.

    THINK ABOUT MN- WHAT IS TRADITIONAL TAKE ON MN POLITICS? WHAT IS IT LIKE COMPARED TO OTHER PLACES?Individualistic- less govt intervention, kind of libertarian, fairly tolerant of political corruption.Moralistic- MN is one of these- focus on common good however defined.Traditionalistic- focus on hierarchy, status, south. Not just slavery, but class distinctions as well. These are long term influences that start early. Based on context find oneself in at fairly early age. Family is the big one. Traditionally, large numbers of people have same party ID and ideology as parents. Some problems with this research- rely on self report of parents views, might be that parents and children end up in similar circumstances. Education- Teaches facts, reasoning, also values- e.g. protestant work ethic, tolerance, exposes people to diversity. Results- more knowledge, more consistency in opinions, more libearl socially, more tolerant of new ideasRace- experience is very different, different party ID, less trust in government, etc. Religion- again, values, although how political these values are varies greatly. Also limit to how much they are internalized. E.g. 70% of Catholics in US approve of birth control, although Catholics some what more pro life than protestants. Class- shapes objective conditions, but also experiences- Example of Lyndon Johnson- Argued that his experience with poverty when young planted seeds of great societyPeer groups- friends- a certain influence among adolescents, although it isnt like kids get together on playgrounds, etc. and talk politics. T

    These are all long term influences. Values- often talked about as a buzzword for traditionalism. In social science sense, they are a set of longstanding principles that one holds. Can serve as a decision rule, a standard which one holds new policies/situations to. More specific than ideology, more general than specific policy opinions.

    elites we have tested as well as the general public, the value of work, of mental or physical exertion, is repeatedly endorsed. To be unemployed, to live on welfare, or even to enjoy the life of a wealthy sybarite is to invite disdain. Whereas work is perceived as honorable and purifying, idleness (especially at the public expense) is regarded as dishonorable, a mark of character weakness.

    This book contends that we can best understand peoples distributive judgments by looking not at their general ideologies or class position, but at the distributive norms they apply to different domains of life. Respondents usually start from a principle of equality and use mainly egalitarian norms, when they address the socializing and political domains; they usually start at a principle of differentiation and use mainly differentiating norms when they address the economic domain.

    TO some extent, final political attitudes are based on what values are highlighted, how they are applied, how they are defined. AA and the two meanings of equalityTolerance vs. order


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