patterson9_sg_ch06 - Chapter Six Public Opinion and...

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Chapter Six Public Opinion and Political Socialization: Shaping the People’s Voice Chapter Outline I. The Nature of Public Opinion A. How Informed is Public Opinion? B. The Measurement of Public Opinion 1. Public Opinion Polls 2. Problems with Polls II. Political Socialization: How Americans Learn Their Politics A. The Process of Political Socialization B. The Agents of Political Socialization 1. Families 2. Schools 3. Mass Media 4. Peers 5. Political Leaders and Institutions 6. Churches III. Frames of Reference: How Americans Think Politically A. Cultural Thinking: Common Ideas B. Ideological Thinking: The Outlook of Some C. Group Thinking: The Outlook of Many 1. Religion 2. Class 3. Region 4. Race and Ethnicity 5. Gender 6. Age 7. Crosscutting Cleavages D. Partisan Thinking: The Line That Divides IV. The Influence of Public Opinion on Policy Chapter Summary Public opinion can be defined as those beliefs held by ordinary citizens which policy makers take into account. Officials have many ways of assessing public opinion, such as the outcomes of elections, but have increasingly come to rely on public opinion polls. There are many possible sources of error in polling, and surveys sometimes present a misleading portrayal of the public’s views. Yet a properly conducted poll can provide an accurate indication of what the people think and can dissuade political leaders from believing that the views of the most vocal citizens (such as demonstrators and letter writers) are also the views of the general public. The process by which individuals acquire their political opinions is called political socialization. During childhood the family and schools are important sources of basic political attitudes, such as beliefs about the parties and the nature of the U.S. political and economic systems. Many of the basic orientations that Americans obtain during their childhood remain with them in SG – 6 | 1
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adulthood; but socialization is a continual process. Major shifts in opinion during adulthood are typically the consequence of changing political conditions; for example, the Great Depression of the 1930s was the catalyst for wholesale changes in American opinions on the proper role of the federal government in the domestic economy. There are also short term fluctuations in opinion that result from new political issues, problems, and events. Individual opinion in these instances are affected by prior beliefs, peers, political leaders, and the news media. Events themselves also have a significant short term influence on opinions. The frames of reference that guide Americans’ opinions are their cultural beliefs, such as individualism, which result in a range of acceptable and unacceptable policy alternatives. Opinion can also stem from a shared ideology, although most citizens do not have a strong and
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patterson9_sg_ch06 - Chapter Six Public Opinion and...

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