tive wisdom of the people, that seems to me critical." 91 Thus, Zaller's view is similar to Lippmann's--the public's role is to choose between the Ins and the Outs--although "pressur[ing] leaders" may allow for a somewhat larger role. Although the public cannot conduct political debate, at least it can tell when its leaders go astray.
Even so, Zaller resembles Page and Shapiro more in his concerns than he is different in his conclusions. None of these authors sees the public as inherently capricious, rash, authoritarian, or otherwise dangerous. They worry more that elite debate might become one-sided: In Zaller's closing words, "The real problem is guaranteeing the existence of . . . [a] vigorous competition among opposing ideas." 92 As long as elite debate thrives and is accessible to the public, Zaller reasons, the public will be able to support the side that matches its own prevailing predispositions. Page is less optimistic: He worries that no matter what policy experts are saying and no matter what the public believes, nothing can force the major political parties to adopt public preferences. 93 Either way, clearly it is possible for the government to go against public predispositions. The next chapter investigates policy responsiveness to public opinion in great detail.
This chapter began by citing three standards for considered public opinion or democratic competence. What have we concluded about these three standards? First, the public does not have much knowledge, at any one moment, about a wide range of political issues or related facts. However, what citizens do know, and what they learn about issues when they become salient and important, appears to be adequate for many purposes--or at least such a case can be made. But "adequacy" is a subjective judgment, and even those who have argued that the public is "rational" or reasonable or sensible would agree that political life would be better for citizens and the nation if people learned more about political issues.
Second, although individual citizens may not have the opportunity and information to engage fully in deliberation on political issues, research on aggregatepublic opinion and voting decisions finds these to be largely explainable, understandable, and even sensible. The trends and patterns that we see can be described in terms of collective deliberation, conducted by a thoughtful public that weighs new information and experiences against its previous values. However, the quality of this deliberation is only as good as the information presented to the public--and skeptics doubt that it is even that good. Moreover, the results of deliberation, as measured by public opinion polls, can be frustratingly enigmatic, if not downright contradictory. Some observers hope that deliberative polls, such as the National Issues Convention