Macro_level_opinion - 4-1 The Micro Foundations of Macro Opinion 93 4 Macrolevel Opinion The Flow of Political Sentiment black minority were given

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about opinion trends. Frequency distributions must be interpreted with caution because, as we saw in chapter 2, responses are often influenced by question wording; When the polls show a certain percentage favoring a particular response to a question, we need some anchor, a reference point, by which to measure the significance of the finding. One way is to compare the frequencies for one question with those for slightly different but related questions. This comparison allows us to see what distinctions the mass public makes in the kinds of policies it is willing to . . - - - . - support. A particularly useful anchor is to compare answers to the same question over time. If the public displays a different level of support for some policy today than one year ago or five years ago, then we may have located a potentially important change in public opinion. Unfortunately, the data that would allow for the accurate assessment of trends in public opinion are often not as available as one might expect. Commercial pollsters naturally ask questions of current interest to their media clients. As pop- ular interest fades, those questions are often not repeated. Academic polling units are more concerned with the continuity and. comparability of questions over time, but even they are not immune to the wax and wane of topical issues. Thus questions dealing with civil liberties were frequently asked in the McCarthy era of the early 1950s, when many people thought their basic personal liberties were threatened. Such questions were not asked again until the early 1970s. Before the 1960s, questions about race relations were seldom asked; the aspirations of the - - Macrolevel Opinion: 4 - The Flow of Political Sentiment PUBLIC OPINION SPECIALISTS BEGIN their investigations of survey data by analyzing the frequencies, or the percentagized divisions, of opin- ion for the sample. The fi-equency distributions reflect the content of public opinion at the moment of the poll. When a particular survey question has been repeatedly asked in the past, the latest frequencies also provide information 4-1 The Micro Foundations of Macro Opinion 93 black minority were given little thought by white politicians, press, and public. Even when.the polls monitor opinions on the same issue over time, they often vary question wording, making it difficult to separate real change from question- wording effects. In the following sections we present an overview of macrolevel public opin- ion, or what polls tell us about the content of public opinion both today and in the past. Poll trends are often described in ideological or partisan terms, as if the public's frame of reference is shifting on the liberal-conservative or Democratic- Republican continuum. We begin by examining opinion on specific policy issues that have been polled over the years, searching for liberal or conservative trends that might be specific to the issue at hand. Second, we consider the possi- bility of general ideological movement. Third, we examine changes in the distribution of party identification over the years. And fourth, we consider one
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This note was uploaded on 01/18/2009 for the course COMM 4200 taught by Professor Shanahan,j. during the Spring '08 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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Macro_level_opinion - 4-1 The Micro Foundations of Macro Opinion 93 4 Macrolevel Opinion The Flow of Political Sentiment black minority were given

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