Public Opinion

Article excerpt

Glynn, Carroll J.; Herbst, Susan; O'Keefe, Garrett J.; & Shapiro, Robert Y. (1999). Public Opinion. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. 471pp. Paperback $25. Hardcover $69.

With the proliferation of partisan and non-partisan opinion polls during election campaigns, it seems appropriate that a book would come along addressing the many issues involved in the history and present state of public opinion - namely how we interpret it in Western society.

The authors of this 12-chapter undergraduate text do a nice job of pulling together literature from communications, history, political science, psychology, and sociology to explain that public opinion, while oversimplified in the vernacular, is a highly complex term with many facets.

The authors begin on a conceptual level, offering a series of reasons for studying public opinion and explaining how public opinion is an essential part of democratic theory. Still, they note, scholars have not succeeded in defining it.

This lack of consensus travels back to Greek philosophers, such as Plato, who expressed concern that democracy demanded more of the public than it was capable of providing, and Aristotle, who was more optimistic about the inequities of man. The historical review of philosophers and intellectuals who have addressed democracy and public opinion will benefit undergraduates, who, in most cases, are looking to build a fundamental vocabulary.

Chapter 3 reviews the fundamentals of survey research and looks at some of the problems and issues facing researchers. A sidebar on push polls, for instance, reveals how low partisan campaign managers can go to make opponents look bad, and students also are introduced to low response rates, loaded questions and interviewer bias.

For public opinion scholars, the next part of the text, which focuses on theories of public opinion, may be the most interesting.

Psychological Perspectives comes first, and it begins by distinguishing beliefs, values, attitudes, and opinions from one another. …