Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

The New Look in Public Opinion Research

Paul M. Sniderman

Research on public opinion in the 1970s tended, in its basic contours and style, to be continuous with the research of the 1960s, and indeed, very largely with that of the 1950s. One fundamental paradigm -- minimalism as it has been called -- dominated the work of the two decades. Mass publics, it was contended, were distinguished by (1) minimal levels of political attention and information; (2) minimal mastery of abstract political concepts such as liberalism-conservatism; (3) minimal stability of political preferences; (4) and quintessentially, minimal levels of attitude constraint. Research was mainly organized around the four poles of minimalism, with continuity very much the theme of overviews of research of this period ( Abramson 1983; Converse 1975; Kinder 1983; Kinder and Sears 1985). Not that complete agreement prevailed by any means (e.g., Achen 1975; Pierce and Rose 1974; Converse 1975; above all, Nie, Verba and Petrocik 1979) -- but there was all the same consensus, if not on the answers to give, on the questions to ask. 1 In contrast, innovation -- new directions, new methods, new perspectives -- distinguishes the research of the last decade. I mean therefore to use this review essay as a platform to call attention to works that are, in point of view or in methodological approach, novel and fresh.

It would be wrong to imply that there was no continuity of concern or approach; still more so to suggest that the work of the 1980s disproved that of the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, the changes characteristic of the last decade illustrate a more interesting lesson to draw about the nature of scientific progress. The research of the 1960s and 1970s was very much preoccupied with whether the paradigm of minimalism should be accepted or not. In contrast, the research of the 1980s managed to get beyond minimalism precisely by accepting its fundamental thrust: ordinary citizens tend to pay attention to politics only fitfully, and possess in consequence a thin, rather than thick, knowledge of it.

It needed to be said that the ordinary citizen ordinarily pays only cursory attention to politics, and that there are in consequence a number of issues about which he or she does not have a considered opinion to offer. But viewed through the lens of minimalism, politics shrunk in size, indeed threatened to disappear. Research on public opinion, given the dominance of its emphasis in the 1960s and 1970s on the limits of popular understanding, wound up repeating the curious point that the study of public opinion and politics was not, and should not be, concerned with politics. The thrust of minimalism as a research program in public opinion was instead to emphasize the frequency with which ordinary citizens failed to form even an opinion about many political issues and, still more commonly, to document the frequency with which they failed to put their ideas about politics together consistently. The primary message of minimalism was thus, to exaggerate only slightly, that ordinary citizens tended to be muddle-headed (lacking constraint), or empty-headed (lacking genuine attitudes) -- or both. The task of the public opinion analyst, it followed, was not to reveal what the public thought about an issue of public policy, but rather to repeat, for issue after issue, that the ordinary citizen was unlikely to have given it much thought.

In contrast, what defines the new look in public opinion research is the movement of politics from the wings to center-stage. Offering an account of public opinion entails weighing how the preferences and choices of ordinary citizens, uninterested as they often are in public affairs, can be conditioned by the political process itself. Consider, by way of a nearly ideal-typical example, Carmines and Stimson ( 1989) landmark study of race and American politics. In an analysis remarkable for its range and coherence, their two-step argument begins with elite politics. With Goldwater's capture of the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, they argue, the party system turned on its axis. The Republican party, once the party of racial liberalism, emerged as the party of racial conservatism, and the Democratic party, only a few years earlier the bastion of southern segregationists, became the party of racial liberalism (see also Huckfeldt and Kohfeld 1989). And with this change at the elite level, Carmines and Stimson maintain, the issue of race moved to the center of the political thinking of ordinary citizens in the mid-1960s, imposing unprecedented constraint on mass belief


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Political Science: The State of the Discipline II
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Table of Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Theory and Method 1
  • 1: Texts and Canons: The Status of the "Great Books" in Political Theory 3
  • Conclusion 21
  • Notes 22
  • Bibliography 23
  • 2: Political Theory in the 1980s: Perplexity Amidst Diversity 27
  • Notes 43
  • Bibliography 43
  • Additional Bibliography 46
  • 3: Feminist Challenges to Political Science 55
  • Notes 72
  • Bibliography 73
  • 4: Formal Rational Choice Theory: A Cumulative Science of Politics 77
  • Concluding Comments 97
  • Notes 98
  • Bibliography 101
  • 5: The Comparative Method 105
  • Conclusion 116
  • Notes 117
  • Bibliography 117
  • 6: The State of Quantitative Political Methodology 121
  • Conclusion 148
  • Notes 148
  • Bibliography 150
  • Political Processes and Individual Political Behavior 161
  • 7: Comparative Political Parties: Research and Theory 163
  • Conclusion 183
  • Notes 184
  • Bibliography 185
  • 8: The Not So Simple Act of Voting 193
  • Notes 213
  • Bibliography 214
  • 9: The New Look in Public Opinion Research 219
  • Notes 240
  • Bibliography 240
  • 10: Expanding Disciplinary Boundaries 247
  • Conclusion 269
  • Notes 271
  • Bibliography 271
  • 11: Citizens, Contexts, and Politics 281
  • Conclusion: Putting the Puzzle Back Together 299
  • Bibliography 300
  • 12: Political Communication 305
  • Conclusions 323
  • Bibliography 324
  • Political Institutions of the State 333
  • 13: Legislatures: Individual Purpose and Institutional Performance 335
  • Conclusions: Behavior, Institutions, and Theory 354
  • Notes 357
  • Bibliography 357
  • 14: Public Law and Judicial Politics 365
  • 15: Political Executives and Their Officials 383
  • Conclusion 402
  • Bibliography 403
  • 16: Public Administration: The State of the Field 407
  • Notes 423
  • Bibliography 424
  • Nations and Their Relationships 429
  • 17: Comparative Politics 431
  • Conclusion 443
  • Notes 444
  • Bibliography 446
  • 18: Global Political Economy 451
  • Conclusion 474
  • Notes 476
  • Bibliography 477
  • Conclusions 483
  • Conclusions 503
  • Notes 504
  • Bibliography 505
  • Appendix 511
  • Contributors 513
  • Index of Cited Authors 517


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen
/ 538

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.