Public Opinion

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

Box 2.6 (continued)

of individuals who constitute the political public, and who formulate these opinions as working guides for their political representatives. This public opinion listens to many propagandas, most of them contradictory. It tries in the clash and conflict of argument and debate to separate the true from the false. It needs criticism for its very existence, and through criticism it is constantly being modified and molded. It acts and learns by action. Its truths are relative and contingent upon the results which its action achieves. Its chief faith is a faith in experiment. It believes in the value of every individual's contribution to political life, and in the right of ordinary human beings to have a voice in deciding their fate. Public opinion, in this sense, is the pulse of democracy.

SOURCE: George Gallup and Saul Forbes Rae, The Pulse of Democracy. The Public- Opinion Poll and How It Works ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1940), quoted passage at p. 8.)

Since Gallup's earliest polls, a variety of technical improvements in the collection and analysis of survey data have made preelection polling much more accurate. Polling on issues--how people feel about health care reform, foreign policy, and other current affairs--is still extraordinarily difficult and complicated. Sampling and survey design will be addressed in Chapter 3, where you will be introduced to that method as well as to several other methods of assessing public opinion.

The story of public opinion is a long one, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophers who thought and wrote so much about popular sentiments and the meaning of those sentiments in a democracy. Some periods have seen more interest in public opinion than others due to the predominance of certain forms of government: In autocratic regimes, public opinion is important only in that it must be tamed or controlled, whereas in democratic states, the nature of public opinion (in theory) determines the direction of public policy. In every era, new democracies emerge--the most recent set appearing in Eastern Europe--and the same enduring questions about public opinion arise: Who composes the public? And how might we know its desires? As we saw in Chapter 1, these questions are difficult to answer. Yet no democratic state can evolve if its leaders and citizens fail to grapple with such monumental theoretical and practical issues.


Notes
1.
Ernest Barker, Greek Political Theory: Plato and His Predecessors ( London: Methuen 1918), pp. 38-39, cited in Paul Palmer, "The Concept of Public Opinionin Political Theory,"

-62-

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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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