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Unformatted text preview: Political Science 104 - Intro to American Government Lecture October 31, 2007 Levels of Political Information How much knowledge do people have about politics? - Do they have enough information to accurately locate their preferences? To accurately locate candidates?
- Lots of evidence of low levels of information De Tocqueville: -"the people are bound always to make hasty judgments and to seize on the most prominent characteristics" in voting Parties as Solution Provide voters with (generally) accurate information about how candidates will govern. Most important determinant of voting behavior- Republicans vs. Democrats Cue-taking not perfect, but pretty accurate. Able to make informed guess. Public Opinion Ways of thinking about public opinion Relationship between public opinion and government policy: some public opinion are more or less likely to influence government policy. measuring public opinion: ex) 20% believe "X", 30% believe "Y" Public Opinion Text argues that the government works to shape public opinion to enlist support for government programs (private groups do this as well) --interdependent relationship between government and public opinion. They try to influence each other. It is a mistake to think that public opinion is some sort of fixed thing. Generally, when we speak of "public opinion," we are referring to a collective expression of a particular attitude or opinion--it does not exist independently. Public opinion does not always imply public action Public Opinion background, family (surveys show that the best predictor of your party ID is your father's party ID), teachers, peers. "socioeconomic" variables: race, income, education, age, gender, etc. Class Opinions Public Opinion and Public Policy Often seems to be only slight connection between public opinion and policy: gun control, prayer in school, balanced budget amendment (all supported by majorities, but lack of government response) Why is this? (Why don't we see an immediate connection?) Some Explanations Intentional insulation of government from the "vicissitudes" of public passion--purposely insulated from public opinion; dates back to the basic foundation of government. Senators were selected by state legislatures, federal judged serving for life terms, etc. Inconsistent or uninformed public opinions Apathy, lack of salience-- lack of interest How do we evaluate what "public" wants? Is there an objective measure, or is it always instrumental? A Case Study In 1975, 1200 people were asked: "Do you favor or oppose the Public Affairs Act of 1975?" 20% said they favored the bill 25 % said they opposed the bill 54% said they didn't know or hadn't really thought about it In 1995, another poll followed up, asking people if they thought the PAA of 1975 should be repealed: 24% should be appealed 19% should not be repealed 57% said they didn't know or hadn't really thought about it. ... Actually, there was no such thing as such as a public affairs act. LOL Public Affairs Act polls showed how people will express a "nonexistent" preference General lack of information and salience of political information Measuring Public Opinion What does it mean when we say 54% of the public thinks x or y? Not that hard when we're dealing with a small group. A bit harder when we're trying to measure national opinion (250 million + people) Public Opinion Polls Can use statistical techniques to estimate the opinion of the entire population, by asking a sample of the population We wind up with an estimate of the total population opinion Need about 1,000 people in the sample What Can Go Wrong Question Wording--the language may unintentionally lead opinion. Especially if you want the polls to show a certain result, the wording of a question might lead to an automatic answer. Question itself draws outcome. intentional and unintentional bias "Priming" or "Cueing"--you're not measuring what you might think your measuring. Leading someone to a particular conclusion. Samples--too many conservatives, or too many democrats. Too many women, too many wealthy people, not enough people who live outside of cities, etc. Order in which you ask questions may influence results. Ambiguities Question Wording Do you support or oppose the United States having taken military action to disarm Iraq and remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein? (Fox, 3/04) Priming-- "disarm". 61% support 32% oppose All in all, do you think the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not? (Annenberg, 3/04) 46% worth it 49% not worth it "Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq, or not? (CBS, 2/04) 41% worth it 50% not worth it Holocaust Opinions 1992 poll which appeared to show high levels of doubt that Holocaust had actually occurred: 22% said they doubted it had occurred 12% said they weren't sure whether it had occurred or not/ The Question "Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened?" Problems: -Doesn't mention "holocaust", because of desire not to provide specific cue. "Extermination" may lead to confusion because it implies the killing of every Jew -Double negative -Pretty clear that question confused respondents Follow Up Poll in 1994 Do you doubt that the Holocaust actually happened, or not? -9% said they doubted it -Follow up questions narrowed this down to about 4% of people who sincerely doubted that the Holocaust had occurred Question wording can have a dramatic impact on outcomes. A Divided Nation? Are political divisions and public opinion differences sharper than they have been? Are we a 50-50 nation, with little common ground? Polarized? Unbridgeable gaps between Evangelicals and liberals? Conventional Wisdom Razor close elections-- very narrow party majorities in house and senate. Little common ground on many important issues (abortion, Iraq, education reform, taxes, social security)--Huge differences and very little ability compromise on very important issues. Ex) abortion-- either life or death. Blue v. Red States - regional fracturing--Democratic states v. Texas, Alabama, Utah, etc. Fiornia N So What? Different distributions of public opinion can produce 50-50 splits No dramatic differences between Red States and Blue on many issues What about Different Groups? Nope; same thing: some differences in attitudes among groups, but little to suggest differences have been growing What About Abortion? Generally considered one of the most divisive and polarizing issues in American politics Public Opinion About 20% of people think that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances About 25% of people think abortion should be legal in all circumstances The rest (55%) is about what restrictions are appropriate, which is (roughly) the middle ground Stage, mother's health/life, parental consent, waiting period, etc. So What's the Deal? What accounts for the widespread view of a polarized country? Wilson Polarization can't be measured by voting Explanations? Parties becoming more ideologically homogeneous: ...
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