Public Opinion

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

described in Chapter 7, may evoke clearer evidence about citizens' considered policy preferences. Others argue, more cautiously, that survey questions on an issue should incorporate all the important frames that prevail in the debate on that issue in order to give a rounded perspective on the public's thinking. 94

Third, we have seen data in this chapter and elsewhere in this book (see also Chapter 10) that evince growing respect among the American public for democratic norms such as minority rights and freedom of speech. To be sure, some Americans reject these norms, and there is always debate about how far these norms should be extended. Still, we find little support for the notion that the American public is fundamentally undemocratic and therefore that its influence on policy should be minimized.

We are inclined to conclude on an optimistic note, but at the same time, we want to honor our own warnings against trimming our facts to suit our values. At the very least, we believe that democratic competence is possible and that government policy can be reasonably guided by public preferences. However, we cannot guarantee that public opinion will always be wise or good. Perhaps we can only insist that it is wiser and better than many critics might lead you to believe.


Notes
1.
Party primaries open to the public now play a large role in candidate selection for most offices. Still, for many reasons, these do not guarantee that citizens will be satisfied with the choice of candidates.
2.
In Albert H. Cantril, ed., Polling on the Issues: Twenty-One Perspectives on the Role of Opinion Polls in the Making of Public Policy (Cabin John, MD: Seven Locks Press, 1980), p. 170.
3.
Walter Lippmann, Essays in the Public Philosophy ( Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1955), p. 20.
4.
To some extent, Lippmann and Gallup may be talking past each other. Most of the polling data mentioned by Gallup did not exist when Lippmann wrote in 1955. Lippmann's "prevailing public opinion" may differ profoundly from what Gallup found in the survey results. It is doubtful, however, that Lippmann would be much impressed by Gallup's survey data.
5.
A thorough survey of the evidence appears in Michael X. Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter, What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), especially chaps. 2 and 3. Stephen Earl Bennett and colleagues find similar results for public knowledge of foreign policy in several nations, although Germans stand out as the most knowledgeable ( Earl Stephen Bennett , Richard S. Flickinger, John R. Baker, Staci L. Rhine, and Linda L. M. Bennett, "Citizens' Knowledge of Foreign Affairs," Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 1 [ 1996]:10-29).
6.
Some Americans surely confused Nicaragua with the neighboring country of El Salvador, where the United States backed the government against the Marxist rebels there.

-292-

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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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