Professor Mac Only

Chapter 6

Public Opinion & Political Socialization

Chapter Learning Outcomes-
By the time you finish reading this chapter, you will understand the following better

Identify ways we measure public opinion through polling

Analyze the quality of public opinion

Identify & examine individual & collective actions and evaluate issues of public concern.

Analyze & critique how one's own attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs (political ideologies and political socialization) are shaped by political policies, one's own cultural, ethnic, and racial heritage, socio-economic status, by gender, by age, by sexual orientation.

Students will learn from many different people, methods, and viewpoints by being actively involved in a learning community that includes people similar and different than one's self.

Public Opinion

  • Term not easily defined
  • Often literally no majority opinion
  • In public opinion, the “public” is usually a smaller segment of the populace.

Public Opinion

  • Consists of views held by ordinary citizens that are openly expressed
  • Often expressed by a direction (pro, con, for, against)
  • Sometimes well informed and sometimes not

Measurement of Opinion

  • Opinion Polls—Measurement of Public Opinion

Include a relatively small sample

Estimates populace views based on sample

Measurement of Opinion

Sample often chosen at random (better accuracy than focused group)

Sampling errors can occur when not enough folks are polled

The key to accuracy is the size of the sample (sampling error—the error that results from using a sample to estimate the population)

Opinion Dimensions

  • Direction: refers to whether people have a pro or con position on an issue
  • Intensity: how strongly people feel about a position
  • Salience: how important people feel an issue is compared to other issues


Problems with Polls

Sampling errors

Questions worded in a biased manner

Unfamiliarity of polling sample to question

  • Used and relied upon in American Government regardless of any problems.

Public Opinion/Video

  • PBS. (2015) CrashCourse. Public Opinion. Retrieved from
  • PBS. (2015) CrashCourse. Shaping Public Opinion: What Influences it . Retrieved from

Political Socialization

  • The learning process by which people acquire their political opinions, beliefs and values.
  • Usually starts in the family
  • Lifelong process

Agents of Political Socialization

Primary Social Agents:




Agents of Political Socialization

Secondary Socializing Agents:



Individuals in positions of authority

Frames of Reference

  • Party Identification: Refers to one’s sense of loyalty to a political party
  • Partisanship is not blind faith for the most part


  • Ideology: a consistent pattern of political attitudes that stem from a core belief (example: belief in environmentalism)
  • Ideologies can change as times change
  • Can be part of public opinion but not necessarily so

Economic Ideology

  • Economic liberals: believe that government should use its power to help people who are economically disadvantaged
  • Economic conservatives: believe that the government should leave the distribution of economic benefits largely to the workings of the free market

Cultural Ideology

  • Cultural (social) liberals: believe lifestyle choices should be an individual choice
  • Cultural (social) conservatives: would use government to promote traditional values

Other Ideology Terms

  • Populist: Person who is an economic liberal and a cultural conservative
  • Libertarian: Believe government should refrain from undue intervention in the economic marketplace AND in people’s private lives

Group Orientations

Many people see politics through the lens of a group affinity


Economic Class (aka Socio-economic Status


Race & Ethnicity



Groups can crosscut

Video Supplements

  • PBS. (2015) CrashCourse. Political Ideology. Retrieved from