yet become fully informed about a policy at issue. Ideally, such policy decisions should be delayed until the public is more fully engaged in them, but even when this delay does not occur, persuading the public after the fact of the merit of a policy need not be dismissed as undemocratic, that is, only as long as deceit or manipulation has not occurred.
We have covered a lot of new ground in this chapter. Thanks to the expansion of public opinion research, there is much more evidence than ever before to tell us about the relationship between public opinion and policymaking and the workings of democracy. We have offered answers about the basic degree of correspondence or correlation between what the public has wanted and what the government has done. To make judgments about calling this "democracy at work" has required that we interrogate the evidence further in ways that are not simple and straightforward. This may be yet another frustration for students of public opinion.
But in everyday life, we now see a more direct and dynamic role than ever before of public opinion in politics and policymaking. We see this in the reporting of opinion polls and in the continual appeals to public opinion (often referred to as "going public")--including all types of political advertising--that are made through the mass media by presidents, members of Congress, political parties, organized groups, and others interested and active in the political process. 62 Some see this as a bad development that detracts from institutional consultations and deliberations among political leaders and experts who may be best able to formulate effective policies. Others see this as bad because it gives the public itself a false sense that what government does is democratic, even as the public is then manipulated in ways that do not necessarily serve the public's interests. Short of regulating public discourse, political leaders will have to adjust to this more visible role for the public (although the "recoil effect" cited earlier may lead elites unknowingly to respond to public opinion in their attempts to control it!).
Here, as in other areas of research, there is still some uncertainty in the findings and evidence we have reported, as well as in what to make of them, concerning how much actual public control of policymaking there is. Further archival research and interviews with former policymakers and government officials (when they are free to reflect honestly) should help decrease the uncertainty, along with further tracking of trends in public opinion and policymaking. Whether we conclude that the public only loosely constrains policymaking or that the public at times forcefully pushes the government to act in different ways, there is evidence that government policies are responsive to public opinion in the United States.