Chapter 7 - CHAPTER 7 Public Opinion OBJECTIVES The purpose...

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CHAPTER 7 Public Opinion OBJECTIVES The purpose of this chapter is to explore what we mean by public opinion and to ask what sort of effects public opinion has on America’s purportedly democratic form of government. After reading and reviewing the material in this chapter, the student should be able to do each of the following: 1. Explain the role of public opinion in the American democratic system 2. Discuss the basic elements of polling and explain how polling reflects the attitudes of people generally 3. Discuss the role of the family in the political socialization of today’s youth 4. Explain why there are crosscutting cleavages between liberals and conservatives in this country; assess the significance of social class, race and ethnicity, and geographic region in explaining political attitudes 5. Define political ideology, and describe the ideological differences between the average public and the political elites. OVERVIEW It is difficult to speak of “public opinion” in the United States. This is partly because there are many publics, with many different opinions. It is also partly because opinion on all but relatively simple matters tends to be uninformed, unstable, and sensitive to different ways of asking poll questions. The chief sources of political opinion are the family, religion, information media, and schooling. Once occupation (or income) was a central determinant of opinion, but with the spread of higher education, the connection between occupational status (or income) and opinion is no longer quite so close. Today, greater cleavages in opinion are related to social class (in which schooling is an important component) and region. Political ideology guides political opinion, but measuring ideology is often difficult. Typically, Americans do not use ideological terminology when reporting or discussing their political opinions, and most survey instruments are incapable of fully measuring the relationship between ideology and political opinion. Furthermore, survey participants are often reluctant to share their ideological opinions if they perceive those opinions to be socially or morally unacceptable. Political elites are much more likely to display a consistent ideology, whether liberal or conservative. Elites are important because they have a disproportionate influence on public policy. They also influence mass opinion through the dissemination of information and the evocation of political norms. CHAPTER OUTLINE WITH KEYED-IN RESOURCES I. Public opinion and democracy A.Should government leaders do what the people want? B. Reasons for discrepancies between public opinion and government policies 1. Constitutional structure limits influence of public opinion: a) Purpose of government is not to do what the people want; purpose is found in the six items mentioned in the Preamble to the Constitution b) Government structure contains several checks on public opinion: representative government, federalism, separation of powers, and independent judiciary.
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Chapter 7 - CHAPTER 7 Public Opinion OBJECTIVES The purpose...

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