Chapter 7 - Public Opinion
What is Public Opinion?
Because the government doesn’t do everything that the people want, some people
become cynical and say that the government is democratic in name only, but this is not
true because the Framers of the Constitution created a government that would achieve
certain substantial goals, not simply “do what the people want.”
The Framers knew that with a country so large, there could never be a true, unified
“public opinion;” instead, there would be factions of opinions.
Also, public polls are taken based on a tiny fraction of the American
public; they cannot truly represent what everyone thinks.
People who are more “in the know” about government think about it
differently than the rest of the public, who only ponders politics occasionally.
Polls should not be trusted to tell universal truths, since many people are ignorant of
politics and apathetic about the government.
How a poll words a question can significantly affect the outcome and
Altering the order of options or the type of options can produce wide
results for the same question!
Opinions can also change in short periods of time, as a person agreeing
with a statement in January can disagree with the same one in June.
suffers from ignorance, instability, and sensitivity to the way
questions are worded in polls.
Different people give different weight, or importance, to different aspects
The Origins of Political Attitudes
Advertising and media affect the way people think of and view politics, but it does not
the opinions of people, or else democracy would be a joke.
plays a large part in political views, as many young people seem to be able to
identify their parent’s political party and even agree with it.
Even youths who disagree with their parents favor an “independent” party,
not an opposition party; however these days, family does not play as large of a
role in opinion.
While family preference in party does play a role in shaping a child’s future
political inclinations, that role is small, since the parents rarely talk about politics
(clearly and explicitly) and issues that affect the children may be different from
There are, of course, exceptions to this; some families are politically
clear and active.
is another key factor in public opinion (i.e. Catholic families are somewhat
more liberal on economic issues than Protestant ones, while Jewish families are much
more liberal on both economic and social issues than Catholic OR Protestant families).
of religious groups of America may account for this
difference, since when Catholics and Jews came to America, they were often
subject to discrimination and poverty, and thus clung to whichever party
welcomed them more—the more liberal Democratic Party.