Chapter Study Outline

  • Public opinion is the term used to denote citizens’ attitudes about political issues, leaders, institutions, and events. Values (or beliefs) are a person’s basic orientation to politics. Political ideology refers to a complex set of beliefs and values that, as a whole, form a general philosophy about government.
  • Often for reasons associated with demographics, Americans’ opinions differ widely on a variety of issues.
  • The processes that form political beliefs and values are collectively called political socialization. Social institutions, including families and schools, help to shape an individual’s basic political beliefs and values.
  • Most people acquire their initial orientation to politics from their families.
  • Membership in both voluntary and involuntary social groups can affect an individual’s political values. Consider the influence of personal experience, group leaders, and political interests in the context of a social group.
  • Conditions under which individuals and groups are recruited into political life help to shape political orientations.
  • Many Americans describe themselves as either liberal or conservative in political orientation.
  • How We Form Political Opinions

    1. Although ideologies shape political opinions on particular issues, they seldom fully determine one’s views.
    2. Political opinions are influenced by an individual’s underlying values, his/her knowledge of political issues, and external forces such as government, private groups, and the media.

    Measuring Public Opinion

    1. Politicians and public officials make extensive use of public-opinion polls to help them make decisions.
    2. In order to construct public opinion from surveys, the polling sample must be large, and the views of those included in the sample must accurately and proportionately reflect the views of the whole.
    3. Push polling can be used to shape the opinion of the person responding to the poll.

    Thinking Critically About Public Opinion and Democracy

    1. Government policies in the United States are generally consistent with popular preferences. There are, however, always some inconsistencies.
    2. Disagreements between opinion and policy come about on some issues, such as gun control, because an intensely committed minority can defeat a more apathetic majority. Moreover, the American system of government is not designed to quickly transform changes in opinion into changes in government programs.