The Content of Our
Attitudes: Public Opinion
in the Contemporary
JILL A. EDY
Today, modern opinion polling technologies are available to scholars, political leaders, journalists, market researchers, and a host of others. Public opinion, as measured by such polls, is monitored continuously. "Instant" polls measure public opinion within hours of major events such as the outbreak of the Gulf War, the announcement of a verdict in O. J. Simpson's trial, or the conclusion of a presidential debate. Tracking polls, taken during political campaigns, attempt to ascertain public attitudes about a political candidate as they change over the course of the campaign. Marketing studies explore consumer attitudes and behavior, documenting lifestyle changes as well as providing business with valuable information about what the public wants, or thinks it wants. Scholarly studies of public opinion attempt to develop theories to explain consistency and change in public opinion as well as to discern the effects of public opinion on other social processes.
In this chapter, we will consider some recent public opinion trends relevant to the theories we have discussed in earlier chapters. First, we will look at how some important American social norms have changed over the past thirty years or more. Next, we will turn our attention to the concept of considered public opinion as it is expressed in public tolerance for diversity. Finally, we will consider the way people feel about their government and the public's own beliefs about the linkages that connect citizen opinion to state policy.