Outline Chapter 5


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CHAPTER FIVE – PUBLIC OPINION A. INTRODUCTION Public opinion is the distribution of individual attitudes toward a particular issue, candidate, or political institution. Although the definition is simple enough, public opinion encompasses the attitudes of millions of diverse people from many racial, ethnic, age, and regional groups. As a result, the study of American public opinion is especially complex, but also very important. For American government to operate democratically, the opinions of the American public must reach and become an integral part of the political process. B. MEASURING PUBLIC OPINION The measurement of public opinion is a complex process that involves careful interviewing procedures and question wording. To complicate the task further, people are often not well informed about the issues, and may comment on topics they know little about. Public opinion polls must be constructed and executed carefully in order to accurately reflect the attitudes of the American public. Public opinion polling is a relatively new science, first developed by George Gallu p , who did some polling for his mother-in-law, a candidate for secretary of state in Iowa in 1932. Gallup founded a firm that spread from its headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey throughout the democratic world. Today, other well-known private firms conduct polls, and big television networks, magazines and newspapers, such as CNN, Time , and The New York Times, conduct their own polls. Pollsters are also hired by political candidates to determine their popularity, and the results of their polls often shape the direction of political campaigns. The national government even sponsors opinion polls of its own. Polls generally start when someone wants a political question answered. For example, a candidate running for the House of Representatives may wonder, “What do people in the district need?” or “How strong a candidate do they think I am?’ Or a newspaper may want to know, “How do people in this country feel about the threats of bioterrorism?” The candidate or publisher may commission a poll, and a reporter may base a story on the research findings. The pollsters then follow several important principles in gathering accurate statistics: Representative sample - The sample of those interviewed must be representative of the entire population. Every citizen cannot be polled regarding his or her opinion on a whole range of issues, but those selected must allow the pollster to make accurate assessments of public opinion. The most common technique employed is random sampling , which gives everyone in the population an equal probability of being selected. Most national surveys sample between a thousand and fifteen hundred persons. The pollster most commonly makes a list of groups,
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using criteria such as region, age, ethnic and racial groups, gender, and religion. From these groups, people are selected randomly for interviews. The disastrous
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This note was uploaded on 05/04/2009 for the course POS 110 taught by Professor Lehman during the Spring '08 term at ASU.

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