Public Opinion

Governmental policy that contradicts public opinion

    1. By Design. Framers didn't want government that would vary with "what the people want" from day to day; they formed a government that would achieve substantive goals listed in the preamble.

It is hard to know what the public thinks. Opinion polls are a relatively new invention.

The more people who are knowledgeable, the more government listens. Political elites know more and act differently, but they are also more able to get the government's ear.


Public opinions are affected by question order, wording, etc.


The Role of Family and religion in political attitudes

Family -- most younger people identify with their parent's political party. However, people don't agree as often on social issues (welfare, civil rights)

Religion -- Religious tradition transmits political ideologies. Religion impacts social issues much more than economic ones. Possibly due to

social status -- certain religious groups were persecuted, etc. upon immigration, hence they identify with whichever party was more tolerant.

Religious tradition -- religions transmit values; values shape political opinion.

Religion and religious identification is becoming less of an issue.


The Gender Gap

Gender gap -- differences in political views between genders.

Biggest change has been in which party benefits from it.

Dissappears in years where gender-sensitive issues (war, gun control, abortion, porn) are not in the limelight

Welfare is the predominant issue.

It is the unmarried women that create the gender gap, esp. unmarried with children. "The closer people see themselves as needing financial support,

Education and attitudes

College students are more liberal; better institution = more liberal

"Some combination of temperament, intelligence, and family background may lead to greater liberalism"

more information = more liberal, but this might be because those producing the information are liberal themselves

Colleges might teach liberalism. Intellectuals are more open to new ideas, idealism, etc.


Cleavages in public opinion

Differences in public opinion. They do not follow any single political issue, but rather crosscut a multiplicity of issues.

Social class: the question lies in how to define it (via income? Education?) In the 1950s, people had similar opinions with others in their occupation; in the 1960s it changed to reflect more issues. Social class has become less important because of more equal education, and non-economic issues now play a greater role in helping decide which party one favors.

Race: has become more of an issue. Whites: More likely to support the death penalty for murder, favor increased spending on defense; blacks: more in favor of national health plan, were more anti-Vietnam-- have been the most consistently liberal group within the democratic party. Many issues are similar, however : most oppose racially-based quotas. Most black leaders deny the progress of blacks; average black citizen things progress is being made. Latinos: mostly democrats, but less than blacks. Asian-Americans: similar to whites. Note: Many of these ethnic groupings cover up important differences (i.e. Japanese vs. Korean)

Regionalism: south is an odd-duck. Generally more conservative, Sun Belt.

Political Ideology

Political ideology: a coherent and consistent set of beliefs about who ought to rule, what principles rulers ought to obey, and what policies are important. Measured via how often people use ideological labels, and how consistent people's ideas and actions are with certain ideologies (how often can you predict someone's political behavior).

Many feel that Americans don't think about politics ideologically, but rather issue-wise.

Others feel Americans have ideologies even though they don't necessarily use terms like liberal.

America's political inconsistency. Different questions get different responses. Basic political culture amounts to an ideology.


Liberals, Conservatives, and categories.

Have nearly switched meanings. Once, liberals wanted both personal and economic liberty. FDR led liberals to want big government aid. Goldwater et. al. Helped conservatives want smaller government.

Liberals are. . .

Economy: those who want government to favor government involvement in insuring jobs, etc.

Civil rights: liberals favor strong federal action against desegregation, and strong civil rights enforcement.

Conduct: liberals favor legalization of victimless crimes, are more tolerant of protest, protection of the rights of the accused.

Political ideologies

Category name




Pure Liberals

Liberal on both personal conduct and econ. Policy. Government should reduce econ. Inequality, guarantee civil rights.

Young, college-educated, Jewish or non-religious


Pure conservatives

Conservative on both econ and conduct. Want less of a welfare state; pure capitalism, curb anti-social conduct

Older, higher incomes, white, midwest,.


Libertarians (YEA!)

Conservative on econ, liberal on social matters. Free markets, free borders, free people. Less government involvement all-around

Young, college-educated, white, higher incomes, no religion, live in west


Populists (scary. . . )

Conservative on social and liberal on econ. Want government to control economy, reduce unfairness, and regulate personal conduct.

Older, poorly-educated, religious, female, live in south or midwest, low-income.



Political Elites

Elites have a disproportionate amount of some resource (See chapter 1)

Aka. Activists. Generally more educated about political matters and hold a more consistent ideology. Congressmen are more pure than general voters.

The new class: people who possess advantages thanks to Big Brother. Claims Politicians, bureaucrats, media, etc. are wealthy but pro-government (liberal) -- hence "The New Class"

Education and politics

More education => more liberal.


Eric Jonas's 1998-1999 AP American Government Notes
This material copyright Eric Jonas, 1999.
These notes have been taken from American Government, 7th edition, by Wilson and DiIulio, and from in-class lecture by Mr. Greg Sandmeyer at Timberline High School.