Public Opinion

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

Chapter Three
Methods for Studying
Public Opinion

By now you might have guessed that public opinion is difficult to measure. Because it is a very complex force with so many psychological and sociological dimensions, there are many ways to think about the concept. Researchers have puzzled over the best way to measure public opinion since the early decades of the twentieth century and have debated the pros and cons of many techniques for evaluating this rather "slippery" concept.

Despite continuing debates over how to measure public opinion, there is some consensus among scholars, policymakers, interest group leaders, and journalists. These parties use a variety of techniques to assess the public mood: election returns, consumer behavior, stock market fluctuations, public meetings and demonstrations, and other such behavioral indicators. But when leaders or journalists want to understand the attitudes that drive behavior, they often turn to four methods of opinion assessment: survey research or polling, focus groups, experimental research, and the analysis of mass media content. In this chapter, we introduce each of these methods in order to give you a general overview of them. Our introduction to these methods is not intended to make you an expert on them, as this is not a methodology textbook. We do hope, however, that you will refer to the many methodological tracts on public opinion, including those referenced in this chapter.


Survey Research: Aggregating Individual Opinions

Survey research has significantly shaped our view of publics and their opinions. We have seen in previous chapters how social theory in the early twentieth century grew more concerned with the concept of mass publics. A tool was needed that would empirically test notions of how large, dynamic groups of individuals thought and behaved. Sociologists had earlier been

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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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