Public opinion

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Public opinion is the views of a group of people on a given issue. The state of public opinion (since 1935) is measured through polls, and has always been sought by politicians who listen closely to their constituents. The American philosophy of Republicanism depends on the "consent of the governed" (as stated in the Declaration of independence), so public opinion ultimately shapes all democratic decisions, whether wise or folly.


Public opinion polls show that excitement for Obama was very high before people understood his plans; enthusiasm has plunged as criticism becomes sharper and strong opponents grow more numerous than strong supporters. The daily zig-zags represent sampling error--if the samples were 4 times larger the daily fluctuations would be half as large.

Manipulation

A much debated question is how much public opinion can be manipulated by advertising or the media. In an open society with many sources of news and opinion, people can choose their own opinions based on the information they select and the friends and family they talk to, and the sources they trust.

When no opposition voices are allowed (as in totalitarian governments, or in wartime in democratic societies), the published media all go the same way. But even then it is a question how much the people trust that manipulated media, or rely instead on rumors and information passed around quietly..

Further reading

  • Baldassarri, Delia and Gelman, Andrew. "Partisans Without Constraint: Political Polarization and Trends in American Public Opinion," American Journal of Sociology 2008 114(2): 408-446; advanced analysis findds greater use of party labels and the parties are more shaply separated. In recent years strong partisans and wealthier and politically sophisticated voters have grown more coherent in their beliefs.
  • Canes-Wrone, Brandice. Who Leads Whom?: Presidents, Policy, and the Public (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Clawson, Rosalee A., and Zoe M. Oxley. Public Opinion: Democratic Ideals, Democratic Practice (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Crespi, Irving. Public Opinion, Polls, and Democracy (1989)
  • Erikson, Robert, and Kent Tedin. American Public Opinion: Its Origins, Content, and Impact (7th Ed. 2006), standard survey by experts
  • Gallup, George. Public Opinion in a Democracy (1939), a classic early statement
  • Irwin, Galen A. and Joop J. M. Van Holsteyn. Bandwagons, Underdogs, the Titanic and the Red Cross: The Influence of Public Opinion Polls on Voters (2000).
  • Persily, Nathaniel, Jack Citrin, and Patrick J. Egan. Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy (2008) excerpt and text search


References

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