POLI 172 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: George Gallup, List Of Ongoing Armed Conflicts, The Literary Digest
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Chapter 4: Public Opinion
Nature of Public Opinion
Public opinion defined as the collection of individual opinions about issues,
candidates, officeholders, and events of general interest (concern a significant
number of people).
oIt can be positive or negative (direction)
oIntensity- how strongly the opinion is held
Public opinion is not very intense on most issues
Formation of Public Opinion
People learn and develop opinions about government and politics through the
process of political socialization.
oAgents of political socialization
Parents, peers, schools, the media, political leaders, and
oPolitical learning begins at an early age.
oContinues throughout life.
oResearch on children and political understanding.
Political understanding comes with age.
By middle teens, positions or issues develop.
oIn adulthood, opinions about specific personalities and policies develop,
and political activity deepens.
oGenerally stable system; some violent rhetoric of a minority of the
population; some negative opinions by some about institutions and
Agents of Political Socialization
oPredilection toward political traits? Genetic?
oPolitical party ID
oParents and opinions
oPersonality of child
oParent influence is strong but not immutable
oEducation and formal school make a difference (skills and experience)
oMore education usually correlates with greater interest in and knowledge
oPatriotic rituals; political concepts: voting, majority rule, etc.
oTextbooks: positive depictions of government
oReading habits and language skills
oPeers may reinforce the opinions of family or school.
oConflict between peer and family; peer may win out, but only in some
oParental influence may be diminishing while peer influence increases.
oPrimary effect of the media on children is to increase their information
oPrimary effect on adults is to influence what they think about.
oAlso influence opinions about issues and individuals.
oResearch shows that changes in public opinion tend to follow sentiments
expressed by the news media.
Opinions develop and change throughout life as one experiences new and
Economic, political, and social events have the potential to change the way
Americans think about politics.
Ongoing wars in Iraq & Afghanistan and the 2007-2009 recession
Measuring Public Opinion
Pollsters measure public opinion by asking people to answer questions in a
survey or poll.
oOther informal ways to gauge public opinion; but incomplete; inaccurate.
oPolls are the best measure of public opinion, but they are not perfect.
May create public sentiment rather than measuring it.
May not capture what the public is interested in but what the poll
sponsors think is most important.
Early Polling Efforts
First attempts: straw polls
o1824 Harrisburg Pennsylvanian
Emergence of scientific polling
oUse by government
FDR became the first president to use polls on a regular basis-
focus on the war in Europe
Use of Polls