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POL101(Part3): The Public's Influence on National Policy
Transcript of POL101(Part3): The Public's Influence on National Policy
Chapter 10: Public Opinion
Ways of thinking about "publics":
"crowds" (assumes that folks are not rational)
"masses" (mere aggregations of citizens)
"publics" (rational actors who organize to communicate with government)
Chapter 12: Political Parties
Chapter 13: Interest Groups
Chapter 14: The News Media
The Public's Influence
on National Policy
Public opinion (PO):
What is it?
Where does it come from?
How do we measure it?
What is it about (i.e., what is the "stuff" or "content" of PO)?
What is Public Opinion (PO)?
PO Come From?
How Do You Measure It?
The "Stuff" of P.O.
What do we mean by “opinion”?
The expression of an
What do we mean by “public”?
matters or issues
Usually, public = political
Public Opinion = “those opinions held by private persons which governments find it prudent to heed.” --V.O. Key (1961)
The "information" environment
Attitudes = evaluations of things
e.g., I like this candidate, so I support his politics
Attitudes = loosely structured or internally consistent
Why we care about PO
PO influences civic action
attitude formation/change (individual effect)
policy mood political climate (aggregate effect)
What influences PO?
witnessing things for yourself
PO = influenced by (and influences)
social & political forces
Public opinion, politics, civic engagement,
and survey research go hand in hand
I'm talking to the government
I'm listening to the public
A crash course in
cognitive lenses = they shape perceptions
conceptual anchors = they guide thoughts
ideologies are comprised of:
core values = what you think is "important"
beliefs = what you think is "true"
What are parties?
What purposes do parties serve?
Parties = groups designed to:
win political power through elections
promote ideas about public policy
Parties are like "intermediaries"; they function as:
information sources (helping citizens understand complex political issues)
gate keepers (recruiting political leaders)
opinion organizers (aggregating diverse political viewpoints)
little things can have a big impact...
= people don't know about a topic, but they are still willing to offer an opinion
= "same-sex unions" vs. "marriage equality"
= [Ray's dissertation example]
= phone surveys get different responses than Internet surveys do
The "push" and "pull" of public opinion
= poll designers want to gauge how the public feels about an event
= polls can influence how people think about an event
Ex) Anti-McCain "whisper campaign" during the 2000 Republican Primary
Push polling happens because people are "cognitive misers" (they often believe stuff without fact-checking)
The art/science of polling:
Identify population of interest
Sample from that population
Construct and administer questionnaire
huddle up (in-class assignment):
What political topics have you recently seen or heard about?
If you had to design a survey question about that topic, what would your survey question look like?
A crash course on electoral politics:
What is [political] participation?
How do folks study it?
Why is participation important?
why do[n't] people participate?
the "logic" of electoral politics
("An Economic Theory of Democracy" )
Why is Political
Why Do[n't] People
Participate in Politics?
What is participation?
Activists = people who "participate" in politics
actions of "regular citizens"
designed to influence gov't.
Conventional Political Participation:
activism that works "within the system"
Ex) voting, campaign contributions, etc.
Types of Political Acts
Types of Political Acts
Non-Conventional Political Participation:
activism that works "outside the system"
Ex) protests, riots, etc.
Participation Gives A
"Voice" To Citizens
Voters to Leaders
Participation is Good for Democracy (We Think)
The reality: despite the fact that education levels are increasing, roughly half the electorate votes in presidential elections (give or take a few percentage points)
Political Scientists: "more citizens should!"
Economists: "it is odd that so many citizens do!"
The Paradox: which interpretation do you agree with?
get involved because...
They lack the "means"
translation: folks don't participate b/c they "can't"
no civic skills (learned in school, church, etc.)
structural barriers (voter dilution, suppression, disenfranchisement, etc.)
15th Amendment (African-American suffrage)
19th Amendment (women suffrage)
26th Amendment (young [18 and over] voters)
They lack the opportunities
translation: folks don't participate b/c "no one asked them to"
political mobilization/recruitment (no one invited them into politics)
They lack the "motive"
translation: folks don't participate b/c they "don't want to"
don't know much about politics (
politics is boring to them (
don't think system will do what's right (
trust in government
don't think politicians will respond to their needs (
don't feel like their actions will make a difference (
are not "oriented towards" politics (
The Logic of
: Utility of voting for candidate A vs. voting for candidate B
: Probability of casting a “decisive vote”
: Costs of political involvement
: Added benefit to citizen/democracy
Median voter theorem
Questions to ponder:
Are the folks who don't participate different from the folks who do
Put differently: If non-voters voted, would outcomes change?
This lecture will cover:
parties in the
Defining Political Parties
Parties = groups designed to:
win political power through elections, and
promote ideas about public policy
Parties are like "intermediaries". Specifically, parties function as:
information sources = they help citizens understand complex political issues
gate keepers = they recruit political leaders
opinion organizers = they aggregate diverse political viewpoints
From Elmer E. Schattschneider's book,
Party Government (1942)
...“political parties are created by democracy, and democracy is
save in terms of party."
From John Aldrich's book
Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties
“Schattschneider may have overstated the case, but it is fair to paraphrase him by saying that democracy is
save in terms of parties…
To be truly democratic it is necessary for any nation’s leadership to be harnessed to public desires and aspiration, at least in some very general sense…
No one person either can or should be held accountable for actions taken by the House, Senate and president together.
The political party as a collective enterprise, organizing competition for the full range of offices, provides the only means for holding elected officials
for what they do collectively.”
To quote George Washington in his Farewell Address (1796):
....Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.
The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Parties in the
Perspective: parties = institutions
Key characters: party leaders and activists
Determinants: history, election rules
Consequences: partisan rhetoric, negative campaigning, party realignment
Perspective: parties = elite-driven
Key characters: Candidates and elected officials
Determinants: candidate recruiting, campaign financing,
Consequences: principal-agent relationships (i.e., unified or divided government, gridlock, logrolling, etc.)
Perspective: parties = identities
Key characters: regular citizens
Determinants: demographic standing, parental socialization, political context
Consequences: heuristic ("party line") attitudes & actions; party stereotypes
Which side are you on (DEMobots or REPublicons)?
--Dave Barry, December 18, 2004
"As Americans, we must ask ourselves: Are we really so different? Must we stereotype those who disagree with us? Do we truly believe that ALL red-state residents are ignorant racist fascist knuckle-dragging NASCAR-obsessed cousin-marrying road-kill-eating tobacco-juice-dribbling gun-fondling religious fanatic rednecks;
or that ALL blue-state residents are godless unpatriotic pierced-nose Volvo-driving France-loving left-wing Communist latte-sucking tofu-chomping holistic-wacko neurotic vegan weenie perverts?"
why does the two-party system persist?
institutions (single-member districts; plurality election)
duality of interests (rich v. poor; industry v. agriculture)
evidence of a "big sort"?
value consensus (American Creed trumps [trivial] issue differences)
path dependency (parties keep the system the way it is)
Interest Groups (IGs)
What are IGs?
Types of IGs?
Characteristics and powers of IGs
What are Interest Groups?
powers of Interest Groups
Interest Groups Techniques
First, some context...
...and, now, a definition
What are [special] interest groups?
Associations of people who with common views/policy goals that:
work together to
tactics to achieve goals
Things to note:
IGs can be found at every level of gov't. (local, state, federal)
Unlike political parties, IGs focus on
narrow sets of issues
Interest Group Definition (Take 2)
Interest Group Definition (Take 3)
IGs are made of:
= “sell” the group; persuade others to join
= provide funding to the group
= can come from a variety of sources (foundations, wealthy people, etc.)
= there is no group without group members; IG members:
tend to be higher educated
tend to have sufficient discretionary income
tend to join more than one group
ironically: the people who might benefit the most from IGs (poor, uneducated non-joiners) are the least likely to belong
The dilemma: you may not like IGs, but you gotta respect them
Federalist 10 (James Madison)
On the one hand, "factions" are inevitable and essential components of modern democracies
On the other hand, they are also a continued source of problems for modern democratic politics.
The solution: pluralism (should) fix the IG problem
I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are
common impulse of passion, or of interest
, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
Liberty is to faction what air is to fire
, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.
The many faces of pluralism
real power is held by very few IGs because of money and influence
big business and corporate interests tend to dominate
there are so many IGs for various issues that not one IG is powerful enough to dominate
therefore, different IGs take turns "winning" and "losing"
there are so many IGs with competing interests that nothing gets done
gridlock and stagnation in Congress
inability to solve national problems
Ideological or Single-Issue
Public interest Groups (PIGs)
Political Action Committees (PACs)
Primarily concerned with economic matters
Business (AT&T, Microsoft)
Trade Associations (Chamber of Commerce)
Professional Associations (American Medical
Association, American Bar Association)
Motivated for or against a particular issue
Gun ownership (NRA)
Abortion rights (Right-to-Life)
Marriage equality (Freedom To Marry)
Alcohol awareness (MADD)
Public Interest Groups:
Represent broad principles
The environment (Greenpeace)
Consumer protection (Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Groups PIRGs)
PACs and "SuperPACs":
organizations that campaign for/against candidates, ballot initiatives or legislation
At the federal level, an organization becomes a PAC when it receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election, according to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971
At the state level, an organization becomes a PAC according to the state's election laws
Foreign Policy Interest Groups:
Concerned with the relationship between the US and foreign nations
Council on Foreign Relations
AIPAC (the American-Israel Political Action Committee)
Represent the interests of government employees as well as elected officials from state and local governments
National Governor’s Association
National Association of Counties
Once consequence of these IGs is "Iron Triangles"
not just how large the organization is but how spread out its members are
note: small and concentrated groups are easier to organize than large and diffuse ones
Groups with more money can exert more influence
note: this is what makes "SuperPACs" so controversial
Groups usually contain:
Full-time, formal members (leaders)
Hard core (active) members
Passive members (t-shirt wearers)
Groups with strong organizational structures are more cohesive
address the interests of their members
get members to work together in the interest of the group
know when to lead and when to follow
How important are the issues covered by the group?
interests with much at stake are easier to organize than people with little at stake
note: often inversely related to group size (there are small groups out there with really high stakes)
Appeals to public and mass media
Exerting influence over rule making
[Third] party formation
Good ol' fashioned lobbying
Purpose: Influences voters
IGs provide funds to a candidate's election campaign
gain new members
manage existing members
inform potential ("leaning") members about the group
Groups can have access to agencies that make rules
support favored candidates
antagonize opposing candidate
The goal is to publicize a case, not win the election
Any communication directed at gov't. decision makers with the hope of influencing decisions
case summaries/briefs = documents that present the legal facts and rulings of past cases conducted through an appellate court
amicus curia = a brief filed with the court by someone who is not a party to the case
IGs are a type of "faction"
Factions = a group of people united to promote an interest (your grandma's quilting club, a fishing club, a book club, girl/boy scouts, etc.)
factions need not necessarily be political, but political factions are known as
[special] interest groups
Interest Group Definition (Take 1)
[the tendency toward membership in groups] "has been most successfully used, or applied to a greater multitude of objects in the US"
"... associations [in the USA] are established to promote public safety, commerce, industry, morality and religion."
--Alexis De Tocqueville
Video: The Carlyle Group
While watching this: Think "Iron Triangles"
The [extreme] solution (take 1):
Take away citizens’ liberty so that they cannot create factions (this is
Make it so that citizens no longer have diverse “interests”, hence eliminating the need for factions (this is
The [extreme] solution (take 2): use democracy to
a byproduct of democracy
democracy: minority factions are okay (the system can counteract them), but majority factions would be tyrannous
democracy (a.k.a., a “republic”): regular citizens elect leaders and therefore have indirect control over government;
this indirect control allows government to fight against the “tyranny of the majority” (which sometimes means fighting against the collective will of citizens)
What is (are) the media?
Media effects (The influence of the media)
The role of the media
The Role of the Media
What Is (Are) the Media
Defining the Media
“The media shines like a beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of the darkness into vision”—Walter Lippmann (1922)
Major types of media:
Mass media = means of communication that reaches the mass public
Newspapers and magazines
Television (broadcast, cable, & satellite)
Electronic communication (i.e. the Internet)
News media = think of it as a subset of the "mass media"
The News Media
News media = that part of the mass media that emphasizes the news
News shows (i.e. 60 minutes, Dateline, 20/20)
Talk shows (i.e. Geraldo, Oprah, Jerry Springer?!)
Night Shows (i.e. David, Conan, Leno)
Does the media have a "minimum" of "not-so-minimal" effect?
Psychology research on neural networks
The media highlight some issues and not others
Makes certain issues more mentally accessible and seemingly more salient
The content of one’s beliefs
The importance one attaches to beliefs
How the Media affects Elections:
Choice of candidates
How the Media affects vote choice
Campaigns = Horse races
Political advertising = Increasingly negative
The emergence of civic journalism
Increased influence over undecided voters
An intellectual history of participation research
Models Vote Choice
Set 1: External
affect the candidates and causes people support
Median Voter Theorem:
citizens in a majority-rule voting system tend to select the outcome most preferred by the "median voter"
candidates in a majority-rule voting system tend to favor policies most preferred by the "median voter"
Set 2: Internal
affect the candidates and causes people support
Economic Theory of Democracy:
political knowledge/information and cost/benefit calculations shape voter turnout
political knowledge/information and cost/benefit calculations shape vote choice
In this class, we will explore two sets of vote choice models
But first, a quick word about campaigns...