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Public Opinion and Political Action


Title: Public Opinion and Political Action Author: Sheryl Berkley Last modified by: Sheryl Berkley Created Date: 12/15/2008 1:28:37 AM Document presentation format – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Public Opinion and Political Action

Public Opinion and Political Action
  • Public Opinion
  • The distribution of the populations beliefs
    about politics and policy issues.
  • Opinion varies throughout the American population
    due to varying financial, racial, ethnic and
    cultural groups.
  • Difficulties in obtaining public opinion is due
    to uninformed population as well as interviewing
  • Least informed least active which creates
    imbalance in political action.

  • Demography
  • The science of population changes
  • Census
  • A valuable tool for understanding population
  • Required every 10 years by the Constitution
  • The first census taken in 1790
  • Census is not comprehensive Ex 1990 census
    estimated 4.7 million were not counted.
  • Reasons are due to people being suspicious of

  • Department of Commerce v. US House of Reps
  • Clinton wanted to include people who were not
  • Done through scientific estimation of
    characteristics of those who did not respond to
    census and then add people number to create final
  • Conservatives were against and filed action due
    to possible manipulation which would create
  • Supreme Court ruled that sampling could not be
    used to determine congressional districts but can
    be used for allocation of funds to states.
  • Not used by Bush or any other administration.

  • The Immigrant Society
  • United States is a nation of immigrants.
  • Three waves of Immigration
  • Northwestern Europeans (prior to late 19th
  • Southern and eastern Europeans (late 19th and
    early 20th centuries)
  • Hispanics and Asians (late 20th century)
  • 1980s 2nd largest decade of immigration.
  • Federal law allows 800,000 new immigrants to be
    legally admitted into the USA.

  • The American Melting Pot
  • Melting Pot the mixing of cultures, ideas, and
    peoples that has changed the American nation
  • Minority Majority the emergence of a
    non-Caucasian majority
  • It is predicted by 2060 that Hispanic, African,
    Asian Americans will outnumber Caucasian
  • Political culture is an overall set of values
    widely shared within a society.
  • Politically correct to say mosaic today.

The American People
The American Melting Pot
  • African Americans face a legacy of racism.
  • 1 in 8 people are descendents of African slaves.
  • This is the only group that came against will to
  • Culture has been created that has caused a higher
    proportion of economically and politically
  • Ex 2004 census stated 25 live below poverty
    line compared to 11 of Caucasians.
  • Number of African Americans in elected office has
    increased 500 since 1970.

Melting Pot
  • Hispanics are the largest minority group faced
    with the problem of illegal immigration.
  • 2000 Census first time Hispanic Americans
    outnumbers African Americans.
  • Largest area of growth is in the Southwest.
  • Hispanics gaining political power such as Bill
    Richardson who ran for President and present
    Governor of New Mexico.
  • Simpson-Mazzoli Act
  • Requires employers document citizenship of
  • Must be legal to work meaning US Citizen or
    documented visa
  • Civil and criminal action can be taken against
  • Problems difficult to prove employers knew they
    were accepting false or forged documents.
  • Act is considered to be futile.

The American Melting Pot
  • Asian immigration has been driven by a new class
    of professional workers.
  • Started coming due to 1965 immigration act which
    allowed highly skilled worked to enter US.
  • Asian American immigrants differ from others
    which equates to their high achievements in the
  • Overall little political success

The American Melting Pot
  • Native Americans indigenous and disadvantaged.
  • Prior to Europeans 12 to 15 million lived in US.
  • War and disease decreased numbers to 210,000 by
  • Today approximately 4 million list Native
    American heritage in US.
  • They are the unhealthiest, poorest, and least
    educated of all minority groups.
  • Nearly ½ on the Sioux reservation in the Dakotos
    live below the poverty line.

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Shared Political Culture
  • Political Culture
  • An overall set of values widely shared within a
  • In the USA we share the ideals of equality,
    justice and freedom.

The American People
  • The Regional Shift
  • Most of US History people lived north of PA, MD
    and DE.
  • Most of the population growth has been in the
    West and South.
  • Population shift from east to west (FL, CA TX
    major growth)
  • Reapportionment the process of reallocating
    seats in the House of Representatives every 10
    years on the basis of the results of the census
  • Ex House representation in CA in 1900 was 7 and
    2000 is 53.

Graying of America
  • Fastest growing age group is over 65.
  • People are living longer due to medical advances.
  • Birthrate has dropped in USA but immigration
    increases population.
  • 60 of all adult Americans grew up in families of
    4 or more children.
  • At current rate this will drop to 30 in near
  • Problems with Social Security
  • 1940 there were 42 workers per retiree.
  • By 2040 there will only be 2 for every retiree.
  • This is a pay as you go system
  • Largest group active political group are older
  • Politicians always state not to touch Social

How Americans Learn About Politics
  • Political Socialization
  • the process through which and individual
    acquires their particular political
  • Orientation grow firmer with age
  • Govt aim their socialization efforts at the
  • Ex Authoritarian Govt always target the young.
  • Hitler Youth, Soviet Union (Komsomols, the Young
    Communist League)

The Process of Political Socialization
  • Main areas of political socialization
  • Family, Mass Media, School, Peers, Community
  • Family role is most significant.
  • Two basic reasons Early years requires
  • time
  • commitment
  • Adolescents do disagree to some degree but
    overall there is more agreement across
  • Some believe political attitudes are genetic.

Political Socialization
Process of Political Socialization
  • Mass Media is known as the new parent.
  • Average elementary school child spends more time
    watching TV then at school.
  • Television is main source of information children
  • Today young adults watch less news and read fewer
    newspapers less political knowledge.
  • Nielson media reported in 2003 to 2004 that those
    that watched TV news were 18 years older (60 yrs
    old) compared to those who watched typical
    prime-time shows.

Process of Political Socialization
  • Schools are used to promote national loyalty and
    support basic values.
  • Ex Democracy, Capitalism, Equality etc.
  • Ex Nazi textbooks used to justify policies.
    (Proper visual of a German)
  • All types of Govt desire children to grow up
    with positive view their govt and be supportive
  • Idea positive feelings toward govt when young
    less disenchantment when older.
  • Better educated citizens are more likely to vote
    are more knowledgeable about politics and
  • In other words education leads to model citizen.

Political Leanings over a Lifetime
  • Political learning is a lifetime activity.
  • Due to the graying of society it is important to
    understand the impact of older Americans on
    political behavior.
  • As people age their attachment to a party and
    political participation increases.

Political Socialization
Measuring Public Opinion and Political
  • Public opinion polling is considered a new
  • Developed by George Gallup due to his
    mother-in-law running for office in 1932.
  • She was considered a long shot for Secretary of
  • She won with a landslide and he became more

Measuring Public Opinion and Political
  • Polls rely on sampling.
  • A relatively small proportion of people who are
    chosen in a survey so as to be representative of
    the whole.
  • Public opinion polls use about 1,000 to 1,500
  • Use of random sampling is key to accuracy.
  • It is a technique used by sophisticated survey
    researchers, which operates on the principle that
    everyone should have an equal probability of
    being selected for the sample.
  • Sampling error
  • Level of confidence in the findings of a public
    opinion poll. The more people interviewed, the
    more confident one can be of the results.
  • This sample size universe of potential
    voters. (1,000 to 1,500)
  • Typical poll has a 3 sampling error rate. (Note
    this would be for 1,500 to 2,000 people)

Polling Mistakes
  • Researches must follow proper techniques in
  • Literary Digest polled their readers and over 2
    million people responded.
  • Methods were flawed.
  • Magazine obtained list of names from telephone
    books and motor vehicle records.
  • Problem less than 40 of public had phones and
    less owned cars. (Not an accurate group of
    Americans during the depression.)

  • Telephones and computer has made surveying more
    commonplace and less expensive.
  • Originally people went door to door with a clip
  • Today the use of random digit dialing through
    computer use and telephones is routine.
  • This is about 1/5th less expensive
  • Pollsters randomly pick listed and unlisted
    numbers in random exchanges to call.
  • Two problems 7 of the public does not have a
    phone people are less willing to cooperate.
  • Concern of cell phone use may change this
  • Fed regulation does not allow calls without
    permission as it requires recipient to pay.

Role of Polls in American Democracy
  • Polls aid political candidates identify public
  • Policymakers are able to recognize changing
    opinions on issues.
  • Critics state representatives become followers
    instead of leaders due to polling.
  • Ex Polls would have told Seward not to purchase
    Alaska Sewards folly
  • Studies from the 1990s indicate that
    representatives track public opinion not to make
    policy but rather to identify how they should
    present their ideas and obtain public support.
  • Polls can create a bandwagon effect and twist the
    election process.
  • Polls are most helpful in selling media and
    creating a horse race.

Role of Polling
  • Exit polls are the most criticized.
  • Exit polls are public opinion surveys used by
    major media pollsters to predict electoral
    winners with speed and precision.
  • Voting places picked randomly around country.
  • Pollsters ask every 10th person how they voted.
  • Information accumulated and then projections
  • In 1980, 84, 88 96 networks declared winners
    while millions of people had not voted on West
  • Many believe this discourages voting and
    therefore affects state and local elections too.

Role of Polling
  • 2000 Election exit polls were blamed for the
    inaccurate call of Florida on election night.
  • In 2004 Kerry exit poll data leaked to internet
    but networks did not report.
  • Other problems with polling is the way in which a
    question is asked can change the results.
  • Ex Washington Post versus Harris poll and
    question about soldiers leaving Iraq.
  • Post stated that many more lives could be lost
    and Harris question did not.
  • Poll differential was 15 points

What Polls Reveal About Americans Political
  • What Polls Reveal About Americans Political
  • Americans dont know much about politics.
  • Less than 50 know the name of their rep in the
  • When issues flare with other countries most
    Americans do not know its geographical location.
  • Many experts blame schools for not teaching
    cultural literacy.
  • Americans may know their basic beliefs but not
    how that affects policies of the government.

Measuring Public Opinion and Political Information
  • Citizens Show Little Knowledge of Geography

Decline of Trust in Government
  • The American public has become more dissatisfied
    with govt over the past 40 years.
  • After election of 1964 there was a large drop in
    confidence toward govt.
  • Vietnam, Watergate, economic troubles in mid to
    late 70s and then Iran hostage crisis finalized
  • By 1980 25 of Americans trusted govt.
  • During Reagan administration some increase and
    then up and down since that period.
  • Decline in trust has caused public support for
    poverty and racial inequity.

  • People need to trust the government when they
    pay the costs but do not receive the benefits,
    which is exactly what antipoverty and
    race-targeted programs require of most
  • Mark Hetherington

Measuring Public Opinion and Political Information
Who are Liberals and Conservatives
  • More Americans choose the ideological label
    conservative over liberal.
  • Difference between U.S. and Europe is the
    attitude of conservative. Hence U.S. is not as
  • There are liberals. People under 30 tend to be
    more liberal.
  • Young people are more likely to be liberal but
    since they do not vote conservatives win at the
  • Groups that have been helped by the govt tend to
    be more liberal than those who have not.
  • Ex African Americans and the equality laws
    passed in the 1960s.
  • Today many African Americans want to retain
    social welfare and affirmative action programs as
    govt has been very helpful.
  • Women make up approximately 54 of American
    public and support social programs much more than
    men due to their own political and economic
    disadvantages. Tend to oppose military spending,
    conservatives support.

Gender Gap
  • A regular pattern by which women are more likely
    to support Democratic candidates.
  • Bill Clinton carried the womens vote in 1996 but
    96 of men preferred Bob Dole. Clinton was the
    first to be elected by one gender.
  • Gender gap prediction is very new. During the
    1980s (Reagan years) the division between
    conservative and liberal was separated by income.
  • Today the correlation between income and ideology
    is very weak.

Religious Influence
  • Role of religion in politics has changed over the
    past few years.
  • Catholics and Jews (struggled for equality) in
    the past use to be very liberal compared to
  • Jews still most liberal demographic group in US
  • Today Catholics and Protestants are more closely
    related ideologically.
  • Christian right (born again or fundamentalist
    Protestants or Catholics) have brought the
    policies of morality and traditional family
    values and tied them to politics.
  • 1/10th of the population in U.S. is not
    religiously affiliated and they are more liberal.

Political Ideologies
Do People Think in Ideological Terms?
  • The American Voter investigated if people rely on
    ideology to guide their political thought.
  • Divided voters into 4 groups.
  • Ideologues 12 thought by ideology.
  • Ex looked at groups and favored because of broad
    policy decisions i.e. Republicans and small govt
  • Group Benefits 42 thought of groups they liked
    and disliked.
  • Ex Democrats are the party of the working
  • Nature of the Times 24 of voters made decision
    whether times are good or bad.
  • Ex Vaguely link party in power with countrys
    fortune or misfortune.
  • No Issue Content 22 of the voters did not look
    at the ideology or issue in evaluation.
  • Ex People voted for a party or judged candidate
    by personality.
  • Overall Americans care little about Conservative
    or Liberal
  • Last time these methods used was 1988. Today
    there would be a slight increase in ideologues.
  • Looking at Americans today we are not red or blue
    but centrists.

Participation in Politics
  • Citizens voices are heard through political
  • Political participation are the activities used
    to influence the selection of political leaders
    or the policies they pursue.
  • Ex Voting, protest, civil disobedience, letter
  • Participation can be violent and peaceful,
    organized or individual, casual or consuming.
  • Political participation varies and voting in
    local elections draws about 10 of potential

Conventional Participation
  • Two types of participation in Govt
  • Conventional participation widely accepted
    modes of influencing govt.
  • Voting, trying to persuade others, petitions, and
    running for office.
  • Unconventional participation activities that
    are dramatic in nature.
  • Protesting, civil disobedience and even violence.
  • Most Americans do not make political
    participation part of their everyday life.
  • 2008 Election has changed the amount of people
    participating in politics.
  • Obamas campaign is attempting to keep the people
    involved as they ran a grass roots election.
  • Bloggers, canvassers, and others who helped him

  • Civil Disobedience a form of political
    participation that reflects a conscious decision
    to break a law believed to be immoral and to
    suffer the consequences.

  • Protest A form of political participation
    designed to achieve policy change through
    democratic an unconventional tactics.
  • Media covering events make them valuable.

How Americans Participate in Politics
  • Class, Inequality, and Participation
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