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In the 2008 presidential elections, Barack Obama carried the male vote by one percentage point and the female vote by a 13% margin. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: GOVT

  • Chapter 8
  • Public Opinion Voting

Learning Objectives
What is Public Opinion?
What Is Public Opinion?
  • We define public opinion as the sum total of a
    complex collection of opinions held by many
    people on issues in the public arena, such as
    taxes, health care, Social Security, etc.
  • Most people acquire their political attitudes,
    opinions, beliefs, and knowledge through a
    complex learning process called political

How Do People Form Political Opinions?
The Importance of Family
  • The familys influence is strongest when children
    clearly perceive their parents attitudes.
  • In many situations, the political party of the
    parents becomes the political party of the
    children, particularly if both parents support
    the same party.

The Schools and Educational Attainment
  • Education also strongly influences an
    individuals political attitudes. Generally,
    those with more education have more knowledge
    about politics and policy than those with less
  • Many Americans today believe that our schools are
    not fulfilling the mission of political
    socialization. Too many students are graduating
    from high school with too little knowledge of the
    American system of government.

The Media
  • The media newspapers, magazines, television,
    radio, and the Internet also have an impact on
    political socialization.
  • The most influential of these is television,
    which continues to be a leading source of
    political and public affairs information for most
  • Generally, the media tend to wield the most
    influence over the views of persons who have not
    yet formed opinions about certain issues or
    political candidates.

Opinion Leaders
  • Opinion leaders may be public officials,
    religious leaders, teachers, or celebrities.
    These people also often include politicians or
    former politicians.

Major Life Events
  • Often, the political attitudes of an entire
    generation of Americans are influenced by a major
    event. For example, the Great Depression
    (1929-1939), World War II (1939-1945), the
    Vietnam War (1964-1975), and the terrorist
    attacks of September 11, 2001.
  • The recent Great Recession and the financial
    crisis that struck in September 2008 will surely
    affect popular attitudes in years to come.

Peer Groups
  • Peer groups friends, classmates, co-workers,
    club members, or religious group members become
    a significant factor in the political
    socialization process.

Economic Status and Occupation
  • A persons economic status may influence her or
    his political views. For example, poorer people
    are more likely to favor government assistance
  • Where a person works also affects her or his
    opinion. Co-workers who spend a great deal of
    time together tend to influence one another.

Measuring Public Opinion
Measuring Public Opinion
  • The only relatively precise way to measure public
    opinion is through the use of a public opinion
    poll a numerical survey of the publics opinion
    on a particular topic at a particular moment.

Early Polling Efforts
  • Since the early 1800s, magazines and newspapers
    have often spiced up their articles by conducting
    straw polls, which try to read the publics
    collective mind by simply asking a large number
    of people the same question.
  • The problem with straw polls is that the opinions
    expressed usually represent an atypical subgroup
    of the population, or a biased sample.

Polling Today
  • Today, polling is used extensively by political
    candidates and policymakers.
  • Polls can be remarkably accurate when they are
    conducted properly. In the last fourteen
    presidential elections, Gallup polls conducted in
    early September predicted the eventual winners in
    eleven of the fourteen races.
  • Most Gallup polls sample between 1,500 and 2000
    people. If the sample is properly selected, the
    opinions of those in the sample will be
    representative of the opinions held by the
    population as a whole.
  • The most important principle in sampling is
    randomness. A random sample means that each
    person within the entire population being polled
    has an equal chance of being chosen.

Polling Today, cont.
  • Poll takers also want to ensure that there is no
    bias in their polling questions.
  • Poll results can differ depending on how the
    question is phrased. Polling questions also
    sometimes reduce complex issues to questions that
    simply call for yes or no answers.
  • Those interviewed may be influenced by the
    interviewer or may answer without having any
    information on the issue, affecting the
    reliability of the poll.
  • Any opinion poll contains a sampling error, which
    is the difference between what the sample results
    show and what the true results would have been
    had everyone in the relevant population been

Polling Today Misuse of Polls
  • Today, a frequently heard complaint is that,
    instead of measuring public opinion, polls can
    end up creating it.
  • One tactic of political campaigns is to use push
    polls, which ask fake polling questions that
    are actually designed to push voters toward one
    candidate or another.

Voting and Voter Turnout
Factors Affecting Voter Turnout
  • In the last decades of the 20th century, legal
    restrictions based on income, gender, race, and
    other factors were almost completely eliminated,
    and yet voter turnout in presidential elections
    still hovered around 55. In the last two
    presidential elections, turnout has exceeded 60.
  • According to a Pew Research Center survey, one of
    the reasons for low voter turnout is that many
    nonvoters do not feel that they have a duty to
  • Nearly 70 of nonvoters said that they did not
    vote because they lacked information about the
  • Some people believe that their vote will not make
    any difference.

The Legal Right to Vote
  • In the United States today, all citizens who are
    at least 18 years of age have the right to vote.
  • Those who drafted the Constitution left the power
    to set suffrage qualifications to the individual
    states. Most states limited suffrage to adult
    white males who owned property. By 1850, all
    white males were allowed to vote.
  • The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870,
    guaranteed suffrage to African American males.
  • For many decades, African Americans were denied
    the ability to exercise their voting rights by
    such methods as literacy tests, poll taxes, white
    primaries, and mob violence.

The Legal Right to Vote, cont.
  • The Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920, gave
    women the right to vote.
  • In 1971, the Twenty-sixth Amendment reduced the
    minimum voting age to eighteen.
  • Some restrictions do still exist. For example,
    every state except North Dakota requires voters
    to register with the appropriate state or local
    officials before voting. Residency requirements
    are usually imposed, and most states do not
    permit prison inmates, mentally ill people,
    convicted felons, or election-law violators to

Attempts to Improve Voter Turnout
  • Attempts typically have a partisan dimension.
    This is because the people who find it difficult
    to register to vote tend to be disproportionately
  • The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the
    Motor Voter Law), simplified the
    voter-registration process by requiring states to
    provide all eligible citizens with the
    opportunity to register to vote when they apply
    for or renew a drivers license.
  • In 1998, Oregon voters approved a ballot
    initiative requiring that all elections in that
    state be conducted exclusively by mail.
  • In the 2008 presidential elections, 66 of
    eligible Oregonians voted.

Attempts to Improve Voting Procedures
  • Because of serious problems in achieving accurate
    vote counts, particularly in the 2000
    presidential elections, steps have been taken to
    attempt to ensure more accuracy.
  • In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote
    Act, which provided funds to the states to help
    them purchase new electronic voting equipment.

Attempts to Improve Voting Procedures
  • In the 2006 elections, about half of the states
    that were using new electronic voting systems
    reported problems.
  • Fewer polling places used the electronic systems
    in 2008.
  • One feature of the 2008 elections was the large
    number of states that allowed early voting at
    polling places that opened weeks before Election

Who Actually Votes
  • Certain factors appear to affect voter turnout.
  • Educational Attainment education appears to be
    the most important factor. The more education a
    person has, the more likely that he or she will
    be a regular voter.
  • Income Level and Age Wealthy people tend to be
    overrepresented among regular voters. Generally,
    older voters turn out more regularly.
  • Minority Status Racial and ethnic minorities
    traditionally have been underrepresented
    however, participation in recent elections has

Why People Vote as They Do
Party Identification
  • For established voters, party identification is
    one of the most important and lasting predictors
    of how a person will vote.
  • A large number of voters call themselves
    independents, although many actually support one
    or the other of the two major parties quite

Perception of the Candidates
  • Voters often base their decisions on the
    perceived character of the candidates rather than
    on their qualifications or policy positions.
  • Such perceptions were important in the 2008
    presidential elections, when Barack Obama was at
    first seen by some as aloof or even arrogant.
    However, his calm temperament during the economic
    crisis was viewed as presidential.
  • John McCain sometimes came across as angry, and
    his attempts to repeatedly change direction
    during the campaign, as well as his choice of
    Sarah Palin as running mate played into the
    impression that he was erratic and unpredictable.

Policy Choices
  • When people vote for candidates who share their
    positions on particular issues, they are engaging
    in policy voting.
  • Historically, economic issues have had the
    strongest influence on voters choices.
  • Some of the most heated debates in American
    political campaigns have involved social issues,
    such as abortion, gay and lesbian rights, the
    death penalty, and religion in the schools.

Socioeconomic Factors
  • These factors include educational attainment,
    income level, age, gender, religion, and
    geographic location.

Socioeconomic Factors, cont.
  • As a general rule, people with more education are
    more likely to vote Republican, although in
    recent years, voters with postgraduate degrees
    have tended to vote Democratic.
  • Businesspersons tend to vote Republican.
    Recently, professionals have been more likely to
    vote Democratic than in years past. Manual
    laborers, factory workers, and union members are
    more likely to vote Democratic.
  • Age differences in support for parties have often
    been quite small. Younger voters are noticeably
    more liberal on issues dealing with the rights of
    minorities, women, and gay and lesbian rights.

Socioeconomic Factors, cont.
  • Age had a striking impact on voters choices in
    2008. Voters under 30 chose Obama by a
    two-to-one margin.
  • Until about thirty years ago, there seemed to be
    no fixed pattern of voter preferences by gender
    in presidential elections. Some political
    analysts believe that a gender gap became a major
    determinant in the 1980 elections.
  • In the 2008 presidential elections, Barack Obama
    carried the male vote by one percentage point and
    the female vote by a 13 margin. John McCain had
    hoped to gain the female vote by naming Sarah
    Palin as his running mate. This does not seem to
    have worked.

Socioeconomic Factors, cont.
  • In recent years, regardless of denomination,
    white Christian voters who attend church
    regularly have favored the Republicans by
    substantial margins. Jewish voters are strongly
    Democratic, regardless of whether they attend
  • In todays presidential contests, states in the
    South, the Great Plains, and parts of the Rocky
    Mountains are strongly Republican. The Northeast,
    the West Coast, and Illinois are firmly

  • For many Americans, where they fall in the
    political spectrum is a strong indicator of how
    they will vote liberals vote for Democrats, and
    conservatives vote for Republicans.
  • The position between the political extremes has
    been described as the vital center. It is vital
    because without it, necessary compromise may be
    difficult, if not impossible.
  • In the 2008 elections, 89 of voters who
    identified themselves as liberals voted for
    Barack Obama, as well as 20 of self-identified

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