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POLI STUDY GUIDE for 2 nd MIDTERM Chapter 6: Public Opinion and Political Socialization: Shaping the People’s Voice 1) The nature of Public Opinion a. Public opinion – the politically relevant opinions held by ordinary citizens that they express openly through words or actions. Most issues do not attract widespread attention, therefore lumping all citizens together is meaningless America as a nation of many publics i. Pluralist opinion prevails when government responds to the views of an intense minority (e.g. agricultural conservation programs ii. Elitist opinion prevails when ordinary citizens would not generally know or care about a specific issue, so the policy opinions of an elite group of business and policy leaders are used iii. Majority opinion’s influence is normally confined to a few broad issues that elicit widespread attention and concern (like social security and employment). Although few in number, these usually have the greatest impact on society as a whole b. Some obstacles: public opinion is always differing, contradictory, and often misinformed i. The pubic’s general lack of info is not that significant because one does not have to be well informed about a situation to have a reasonable opinion about it, however it can still be restrictive on the role the public can play in policy making in choosing one policy over another c. Measurement of public opinion i. Election returns – the vote is routinely interpreted by the press and politicians as an indicator of the public’s mood ii. Letters to editors of newspapers and crowd sizes at mass demonstrations judge public opinion iii. The activity of lobbyists who bring the concerns of their constituents to government’s attention iv. Each of these indicators have shortcomings. For example elections are a yes or no answer, different voters will make the same choice for different reasons; letter writers are not representative of the general public d. Public Opinion polls provide a more systematic way of estimating public sentiment. In a poll, the sample of individuals is interviewed in order to estimate the opinions of a whole population i. If a sufficient number are chosen at random, they views tend to be fairly representative of the views of the whole population ii. Sampling errors indicate the likelihood that the responses of the sample accurately represent the view of the population the larger the sample, the smaller the sampling error iii. Gallup Poll – polled in every election since 1936 and only fucked up once
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e. Problems with polls – Mathematical estimations of a poll accuracy require a probability sample, a sample in which each individual in the population has a known probability of being selected at random for inclusion i. Pollsters can only approximate but they usually base their sample on telephones ii. Computers select at random, often get refused, it can’t be assumed for every issue that the opinions of those who respond are similar to those of the people who refuse to participate however these polls
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