Political Science paper for 2 page

Professor

Matthew N. Beckmann


Public Opinion

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“How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right?”

just about always

most of the time

only some of the time

"Do you happen to know which party had the most members in the House of Representatives in Washington before the elections this month?”

Democratic Party

Republican Party

Outline

I. Introduction

II. The Concept of Public Opinion

III. Measuring Public Opinion

IV. How People Form Opinions

V. The Characteristics of Public Opinion

VI. The Death of Democracy?

The Concept of Public Opinion

Public opinion is what people think about person, event, issue, or whatever.

“Do you approve or disapprove of the way
Donald Trump is handling his job as president?”

The Concept of Public Opinion

The notion of “public” opinion, however, is a bit goofy. There is no “public.”

Instead, what we have is some combination of many “individual” opinions.

"Do you approve or disapprove of the way
Donald Trump is handling his job as president?"

Gallup Approval by party

http://www.gallup.com/poll/124922/presidential-approval-center.aspx

Measuring Public Opinion

When you hear a statement like “63% of Americans believe North Korea is not serious about nuclear diplomacy, ± 3” it sound very precise, very authoritative.

In fact, the business of measuring public opinion is really hard, and the results are far from precise.

Designing a Survey

Designing a Survey is One Part Science, One Part Art.

The Science: Whom to Interview? Statistical Sampling.

The Art: What to Ask? No Definitive Answer.

Measuring Public Opinion

Two Stages of Measuring Public Opinion

1. Designing a Survey

2. Executing a Survey

Measuring Public Opinion:
The Science

Designing

Whom to Interview?

Random Sample from target population (1 – 2k is good).

Executing

Problems

  • Missing Folks
  • Cell Phone Nation
  • Refusals (now about 50%)
  • Response Rate now about 5%

Why will interviewing people at a popular diner likely result in an unrepresentative sample?

A. It will result in a unrepresentative sample because it is most likely visited by similar customers with similar opinions. -- J

B. It might have a target crowd, for example, a Hipster Cafe would have a lot more liberals. -- C

Measuring Public Opinion:
Ring… Ring… Ring…

Cell Phone/Land Line

Cell Phone/Land Line

But Selection Bias Exists

1. Polls (esp. telephone) overstate people’s education.

2. Polls (esp. telephone) overstate people’s civic engagement, probably because of point 1.

Measuring Public Opinion:
The Art

Designing

What to Ask?

Executing

Problems

  • Question Wording
  • Question Order
  • Early Q’s Affect Later Ones
  • Response Set
  • Answer Options
  • “Don’t Know?”
  • “Independent”
  • Politically Incorrect

Measuring Public Opinion:
An Illustration

Say we want to find out about cheating among

UC Irvine undergraduate students.

Whom should we interview?

What should we ask?

Measuring Public Opinion:
An Illustration

“Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal or not?” (40% say legalize)

“Do you think doctors should or should not be allowed to prescribe small amounts of marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses?” (77% say legalize)

How People Form Opinions

Predisposition

+ Information Environment

= Opinion

How People Form Opinions

Predispositions

Socialization

Experiences

Events

Ideology?

Information Environment

Salience

Valence

Predispositions

Do you have the same party identification as your mom?

Yes

No

Information Environment

Predisposition + Information Environment

Characteristics of Public Opinion

“Chattering Class”

Interested

Informed

Ideological

“Ordinary Citizens”

Uninterested

Uninformed

Non-Ideological

Political Interest

Political Information?

Name Vice President.

Name Treasury Secretary.

Name Defense Secretary.

Name CIA Director.

Name Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Political Information?

Vice President – Mike Pence

Treasury Secretary – Steve Mnuchin

Defense Secretary – Mark Esper

CIA Director – Gina Haspel

Chair of the Federal Reserve – Jerome Powell

How’d you do?

0-1

2-3

4-5

Political Ideology?

Abortion

Taxes

Education

Defense

Social Security

Medicare

Energy

Banking Reform

Red/Blue Nation?

Pre-Election Polls

Connecting Opinions and Measurement

We can now better understand why measuring public opinion is so hard: people often don’t have them!

This is called the problem of non-attitudes.

Connecting Opinions and Measurement

Potential for Manipulation

Candidates

Reporters

Interest Groups

Corporations

The Death of Democracy?

Worrisome

Push incoherent policies

Lack information to reward or reprimand officials

Potential for manipulation

Not So Worrisome

Miracle of Aggregation

Pay Attention…

… when needed

… on important stuff

- Can Fix Mistakes

The Death of Democracy?

Also…

Highly informed citizens have many democratic virtues, but they also tend to be rigid, moralistic, and partisan. It is not obvious American democracy would work better if more citizens thought and acted like the most informed among us.

Go Vote!

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