POL SCI 1 Lecture 20: Public opinion and the media 4/6

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University of California - Berkeley
Political Science
Pierson Paul

The Michigan School ● Very low levels of political information ● "Fake attitudes" common ● Issue positions not highly correlated (no "constraint") ● Issue positions not stable Pluralist challenge ● How can (rationally) ignorant voters hold politicians accountable? ● "Old" pluralism: rely on interest groups ● "New" pluralism: rehabilitation of voters How can aggregate opinion seem so sensible? 1. The miracle of aggregation (the electorate is like the stock market) 1. Random individual changes tend to cancel one another out 2. As a result, the average remains the same if circumstances remain the same 3. Even if only 20% are paying attention and change in response to new circumstances, that still affects aggregate opinion 2. Cues and "heuristics" 1. Draw conclusions from areas you know well 2. Take cues from known individuals who follow particular issue closely (due to their job or personal interest in topic) 3. Rely on cues from opinion leaders 4. Simple cues like "how has the economy been doing?" (retrospective voting) 5. View of voters as "cognitive misers" 1. Party ID as a cue (heuristic) Aggregate opinion: limitations ● Aggregate opinion may be coherent (liberal/conservative mood) but not necessarily consistent (e.g. polls show majority of public): ○ Opposes tax increases ○ Supports higher spending for major programs ○ Favors reducing budget deficit ○ Note: these positions do not add up! Limitations of heuristics ● "Blind retrospection" (Bartels) ○ Penalize incumbent president for conditions beyond his control (e.g. droughts, shark attacks) ○ Economic performance in the year before the election counts more with voters than overall performance over four-year period (short memory) ○ Economic gains of the rich count for more than gains of the middle class ● Psychologists (e.g. Kahneman and Tversky "The Undoing Project") much more skeptical ● Heuristics often lead us astray ○ Easily attracted to shiny objects, even ones that are totally irrelevant ○ Very quick to accept simple causal stories ○ Bad at risk assessment ○ Vulnerable to framing ○ Circumstances that lead to learning are rare in politics (immediate feedback + repetition) Motivated reasoning ● Partisan bias: partisans' beliefs about objective conditions can be shaped (distor
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