Public Opinion

By Carroll J. Glynn; Susan Herbst et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter One
The Meanings of PublIc Opinion

Were they alive today, our nation's founders might not be surprised that public opinion is still an important force in American politics. Yet they would be astonished to learn just how pervasive discussions of public opinion have become. The president, members of Congress, candidates for public office, interest group leaders, journalists, and corporate executives, as well as ordinary citizens, constantly ask the same question: "What does the public think?" Our leaders need to know what sorts of policies and initiatives voters support, but a variety of other groups and individuals also need to have a working knowledge of public opinion at any given time. Interest group leaders must decide which battles to wage and how strongly their efforts will be supported by their constituents. Journalists, who are key players in the measurement and communication of public opinion, need to know what their readers and viewers want to hear about, but they also survey the political landscape for those of us who are curious about the attitudes of our fellow citizens. Even corporate executives who do not hold political office must keep their "ears to the ground" in order to understand trends in American culture--what consumers think about, what they purchase, and, generally, how they choose to live.

Since so many parties need to understand the state of American public opinion, there are a variety of sources that interested groups and individuals can turn to for such information. One of the most obvious indicators of public opinion is the sample survey or opinion poll. These quantitative data can often give us a sense of how Americans feel about policy issues, social practices, or lifestyle issues. Another source of information about public opinion is vote tallies after elections or referenda. These reports often reveal citizens' preferences in very dramatic ways. Yet students of American politics must go beyond these obvious techniques for assessing public opinion and think about all of the "places" that citizens' opinions can be found--in the scripts of television programming; at political rallies, town meetings, or

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Public Opinion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xv
  • Part One - Introducing Public Opinion 1
  • Chapter One - The Meanings of Public Opinion 3
  • Notes 30
  • Chapter Two - The History of Public Opinion 62
  • Chapter Three - Methods for Studying Public Opinion 65
  • Conclusion 99
  • Notes 99
  • Part Two - Theories of Public Opinion 101
  • Chapter Four - Psychological Perspectives 103
  • Notes 139
  • Chapter Five - Sociological Perspectives 145
  • Conclusion 171
  • Notes 172
  • Chapter Six - Perception and Opinion Formation 207
  • Chapter Seven - Basic Beliefs, Democratic Theory, and Public Opinion 212
  • Conclusion 242
  • Notes 243
  • Part Three - Public Opinion in Context 247
  • Chapter Eight - Public Opinion and Democratic Competence 249
  • Conclusion 291
  • Notes 292
  • Chapter Nine - Public Opinion and Policymaking 299
  • Conclusion 335
  • Notes 336
  • Chapter Ten - The Content of Our Attitudes: Public Opinion in the Contemporary United States 341
  • Conclusion 376
  • Notes 377
  • Chapter Eleven - Communicating with the Public 412
  • Chapter Twelve - Campaigning and Opinion Change 445
  • Chapter Thirteen - Looking Ahead 451
  • Index 453
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