Review: Public Opinion and the Media
Political Values
Democratic government assumes an informed, interested public. Knowledgeable citizens are more likely to participate than less knowledgeable citizens and are more likely to support democratic values. Accordingly, a well-informed citizenry serves the interests of the individual within a society.

  1. In what ways do Americans agree on fundamental values but disagree on fundamental issues?
    • Americans share a common set of values, including a belief in the principles of liberty, equality, and democracy.
    • Americans sometimes find themselves at odds with specific applications of these principles.
    • Public opinion, political ideology, and values influence political behavior.

  2. How are political values formed and what factors influence our political beliefs?
    • The attitudes that individuals hold about political issues, events, and personalities tend to be shaped by their underlying beliefs and values.
    • The processes through which these underlying political beliefs and values are formed are collectively called political socialization.
    • The agents of socialization include the family, social groups, education, and prevailing political conditions.

  3. What do the differences between liberals and conservatives reveal about American political debate?
    • Liberals generally support political and social reform, extensive government intervention in the economy, the expansion of federal social services, and more vigorous efforts on behalf of the poor, minorities, and women.
    • Conservatives generally support the social and economic status quo and are suspicious of efforts to introduce new political formula and economic arrangements. Conservatives strongly believe that a large and powerful government poses a threat to citizens' freedom.

Opinion Traits, Public Opinion, and Politics

  1. Public opinion's influence on national politics depends on intensity of opinion, opinion stability and fluidity, political knowledge, the role of leaders in trying to direct or manipulate opinion, and the role of private groups trying to alter opinion.
    • The more intense public opinion is, the more effective its support for a cause will be in terms of government policy.
    • Public opinion is generally stable and slow to change. When it does change rapidly, politicians pay attention (as occurred during the civil rights protests in 1963).
    • Citizens' political knowledge helps them develop consistent political opinions and realize their own best political interest.
    • Politicians—especially presidents—seek to lead public opinion to gain support, and can use public relations and the media to manipulate opinion.
    • Private groups, such as interest groups and religious denominations, often attempt to influence or manipulate public opinion to create support for their causes.

Measuring Public Opinion

  1. How can public opinion be measured?
    • Public opinion polls may be used to measure the attitudes of the public on issues, events, and personalities.
    • A representative sample is necessary to ensure a valid cross-section of the population.

  2. What problems arise from public opinion polling?
    • Reliability and validity of a survey may be weak if question bias, ambiguity of questions, or other inadequacies are allowed to exist in the polling instrument.
    • Push polling uses a poll format to advance a political agenda, not to find impartial results.

Public Opinion and Democracy

  1. How responsive is the government to public opinion?
    • Generally, the actions of government officials are consistent with the preferences of the public.
    • One study found that between 1935 and 1979, in about two-thirds of all cases, significant changes in public opinion were followed within one year by changes in government policy consistent with the shift in popular mood.
    • A committed minority can defend its political view successfully against a large majority that is less committed to its position.

The Media Industry and Government
It is impossible to imagine democratic politics without a vigorous media. The public depends upon the news media to publicize and assess the claims of political candidates, to examine government policies and programs, and to reveal wrongdoing on the part of government agencies and public officials. In addition, the media is essential to political socialization.

  1. How are media content, news coverage, and bias affected by the producers, subjects, and consumers of the news?
    • Journalists and producers impact the content of the news through their discretion or freedom to interpret stories, and influence how the stories are presented to the public.
    • The source of news can also influence its content by providing the "spin" of the story.
    • Since the media depends on advertising revenue for their profits, news stories that interest the upper and middle classes receive the most media coverage. Other groups can get media attention through protest.

Media Power in American Politics

  1. How do the media shape public perceptions of events, issues, and institutions?
    • The media may shape public perceptions of events, issues, and institutions through the angles and images that are presented.

  2. What are the sources of media power?
    • The media has the power to direct people's attention to certain topics for political discussion, known as agenda setting.
    • The media has the power to decide how events and the actions of individuals are interpreted, known as framing.
    • The relationship between the media and government has become more adversarial during the last three decades.
    • The media points out criteria for making public opinion judgements, an influential process called priming.

  3. In what ways are the media biased?
    • Both liberals and conservatives see the media as attacking their views and values; in reality, most people dislike some news they hear.
    • The most substantive media bias is institutional.
      • Some sources rely only on the government to provide information about itself, which serves the government's own interests.
      • Some media take an adversarial role, attacking whoever is in power.

Copyright © 2001W.W. Norton & Company