Navigating Public Opinion: Polls, Policy, and the Future of American Democracy

Navigating Public Opinion: Polls, Policy, and the Future of American Democracy

Navigating Public Opinion: Polls, Policy, and the Future of American Democracy

Navigating Public Opinion: Polls, Policy, and the Future of American Democracy

Synopsis

Do politicians listen to the public? How often and when? Or are the views of the public manipulated or used strategically by political and economic elites? Navigating Public Opinion brings together leading scholars of American politics to assess and debate these questions. It describes how the relationship between opinion and policy has changed over time; how key political actors use public opinion to formulate domestic and foreign policy; and how new measurement techniques might improve our understanding of public opinion in contemporary polling and survey research. The distinguished contributors shed new light on several long-standing controversies over policy responsiveness to public opinion. Featuring a new analysis by Robert Erikson, Michael MacKuen, and James Stimson that builds from their pathbreaking work on how public mood moves policy in a macro-model of policymaking, the volume also includes several critiques of this model by Lawrence Jacobs and Robert Shapiro, another critique by G. William Domhoff, and a rejoinder by Erikson and his coauthors. Other highlights include discussions of how political elites, including state-level policymakers, presidents, and makers of foreign policy, use (or shape) public opinion; and analyses of new methods for measuring public opinion such as survey-based experiments, probabilistic polling methods, non-survey-based measures of public opinion, and the potential and limitations of Internet polls and surveys. Introductory and concluding essays provide useful background context and offer an authoritative summary of what is known about how public opinion influences public policy. A must-have for all students of American politics, public opinion, and polling, this state-of-the-art collection addresses issues that lie at the heart of democratic governance today.

Excerpt

At the tail end of the Clinton administration, on the late-night television show Politically Incorrect (a show that brings together a random group of celebrities nightly to talk about the news), a discussion began about Bill Clinton's allegedly excessive reliance on polls in making policy decisions. Toward the end of the segment, the host of the show, comedian Bill Maher, cynically remarked that maybe we shouldn't think of this as such a bad thing after all, because at least by using polls, the government is listening to the American people. The audience broke into wild applause at his ironic comment.

The tensions captured in that moment are real. The relationship between citizens' preferences and what governments (and politicians) do is at the core of democratic governance. In the last few years, a new level of sophistication in research on these topics has entered into debates over these classical questions. Analysts have developed new theories and methods for assessing the impact of public opinion, the role of elites in shaping public opinion, and how we measure and conceptualize public opinion in the first place. This volume aims to incorporate these frequently spirited debates, juxtaposing diverse positions in dialogue with one another with the hopes of providing readers with a sense of the state of the art, and the issues that remain open for further investigation. We have entitled this book Navigating Public Opinion to try to capture the diverse ways in which the authors in this book suggest that political actors engage public opinion: some view public opinion as creating waves that move the ship of state; others see the waves of public opinion as buffeted by the forces generated by . . .

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