This book began many years ago as a collaborative project among several scholars, all interested in the essential nature of public opinion. We all believe that public opinion is a vital component in the democratic process, and so we were drawn to the topic long ago as students ourselves. Now, as researchers and teachers, we still think that students of politics and communication need to understand how people form opinions, how public opinion is measured, and how the data of public opinion are used in American policymaking and journalism. Without public opinion, we do not have much of a democracy at all, so the way public sentiments are expressed and evaluated is crucial for scholars, students, and citizens alike.
The authors of this volume come from the diverse fields of political science, communications, and journalism, and we therefore bring with us a large arsenal of ideas and perspectives. We take an open, interdisciplinary approach to the topic, unlike that seen in most public opinion textbooks. We look at public opinion from the macrohistorical level, the institutional level, the level of small group interaction, and the micropsychological level. We are interested in how Americans come to have opinions in the first place, how the media enable or prevent the formation of certain attitudes, and how our leaders acknowledge or fail to acknowledge the public mood with regard to various policies. There are a great many moments when public opinion matters, thus we study public opinion dynamics during campaigns and between them. It is the case that public opinion is most obvious during election campaigns or national crises, but here we try hard to study day-to-day attitude formation with regard to issues on the contemporary scene: affirmative action, unemployment, defense spending, and the like. You will find, in the course of reading through this comprehensive book, that Americans' attitudes are sometimes stable and at other times malleable, sometimes liberal and at other times conservative. We hope that you will enjoy reading about yourselves as members of the large and diverse American public, but we also hope that you will realize the challenges and complexities of public opinion.
This book was an enormous, although also very gratifying, undertaking. We have many people to thank, although a few stand out for their relentless and good-natured support. It is safe to say that this book would still be a disorganized collection of smaller manuscripts and interesting ideas had it not been for Jill Edy. We are grateful for her terrific administrative skills as . . .