Public Opinion

Public Opinion - Public Opinion Thursday, September 16,...

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Public Opinion Thursday, September 16, 2010 Plan of attack - What is public opinion? - How do we measure it? - Where does it come from? - How well is it organized? - Can it be manipulated? What is public opinion? - B&C: “Citizens’ views on politics and government actions” - B&C: Views = attitudes = opinions? - That’s a simplification – and not a useful one - WARNING DANGER – I’m defining things differently than the book does - In this class, opinions come from attitudes - In this class, I care about attitudes, but can only see opinions Attitude - An attitude about something is an internal mental picture of whether something is good or bad or indifferent - “Valenced cognition towards an object” - Usually, attitudes are what I really care about o I want to know what people think of the President o I want to know how people feel about the war - Attitudes are at the root of lots of political activities - But I can’t measure attitudes directly Opinion - I want to know your attitudes, but I can’t measure those - What I can measure are your opinions o I ask you a question o Your answer is your opinion statement - Opinion statements are a result of attitudes - But opinions can be a function of many attitudes, some of which aren’t relevant to the researcher - “Do you approve of how President Obama is running things?” o Possible attitudes leading to opinion President Obama’s recent performance (what I care about) Northerners (I don’t care about) Black men (I don’t care about) Latent Opinion - Hence “latent opinions” - I don’t have an opinion ready for the interviewer - I’m not telling the interviewer my pre-existing opinion - Instead, I’m building my opinions on the fly, right before I answer the question Qualities of public opinion - Public opinion has: o Direction o Intensity
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o Salience Direction - Responses are positive/negative - Agree/disagree - Proportion who agree Intensity - Qn: “Do you approve of [gun control law]?” o I might say yes, but only a little bit o I might say yes, and really mean it o I might say no and really mean it o WARNING DANGER Intensity isn’t exactly how strongly you feel it Low intensity doesn’t mean I’m ambivalent, or on the fence Low intensity means that I wouldn’t give anything up to get my preferred position - Intensity is important - Lots of stuff happens because an intense minority opposes a non-intense majority Saliency - An issue is salient if it is generally important o Matters to lots of people o Matters to journalists o Matters to government - Not exactly the same as intensity o Salient sort of equals “politically relevant” o Intensity is just intensity o You can have intense opinions or attitudes about non-relevant low-salience matters Measuring public opinion - Most common method: polling o We want to know what everyone thinks about X This is impossible o So, ask some people about X o Turns out a relative few is okay - Sampling to the rescue! Polling FAQ
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Public Opinion - Public Opinion Thursday, September 16,...

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