Influencing Public Opinion
Question: "Some people say the 1975 Public Affairs Act should be repealed. Do you agree or disagree that it should be repealed?"
Just another sampling of public opinion? Not quite. There is no 1975 Public Affairs Act. There was no such act in 1975 when the poll was originally conducted, nor in 1995, when a telephone survey "updated" the original results. 1
Public policy in our representative democracy is not decided by academic experts or political leaders working in seclusion. It is determined instead in the crucible of public debate and discussion, through a process by which competing interests are heard and their arguments accepted or rejected in the search for the "best" possible policy decisions. And the ultimate decision is up to the voters.
Unfortunately, there are no easy or reliable ways to gauge public sentiment. Individuals do not make up their minds on issues in a systematic, predictable way. Different populations and subpopulations -- men, women, seniors, labor union members, urban dwellers, Hispanics -- may have different views for different reasons. Their opinions are the prod-