Explain what it means to have a political ideology

Question 3. Explain what it means to have a political ideology, and how ideology is distinct from party identification. Then, discuss the motives for adopting an ideology (not specific ideologies, but any ideology in general). In 1964, Philip Converse published a study of political attitudes, in which he claimed that very few people were ideological. Do you think things have changed since then? What are the reasons for changes or the lack of them? Is party identification or ideology a larger determinant of people’s political attitudes?

Question 4. Conscientiousness, openness, and authoritarianism are three personality traits that have been shown to impact political attitudes. First, describe each trait and how it affects a person’s attitudes and behavior in general. Then, explain how each is linked to one’s political attitudes, ideologies, and views on particular political issues

Question 5. Two potential problems with surveys are double-barreled questions and sensitive questions. Explain what a double-barreled question is and why it would be a problem. Then, give an original example (i.e., not the one from the lecture) and explain how to fix it. Next, explain the ways in which survey takers can see a question as being sensitive and what the risks are of including sensitive questions in surveys. Finally, explain one technique for improving responses to sensitive questions.

Question 6. Throughout the course, we have compared three theories of democracy: democratic elitism, pluralism, and participatory democracy. Describe each of these views and explain how they are different from one another. Then, discuss how these three viewpoints affect opinions on political socialization, the necessity of political knowledge, and the role of the mass media

Each question must be answer as esay format (3 paragraph or more) with a minimum of 300 words count

Please answer each question based on the book attach

YOU ONLY NEED TO ANSWER 3 OUT OF THE 4 QUESTIONS POST

PUBLIC OPINION Fourth Edition

 

 

To my parents, Dale and Janice Clawson, for all their love and laughter.

To my mother, Rachel Oxley, whose encouragement and optimism never wavered, and to my entire family for supporting my endeavors.

 

 

Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE publishes more than 1000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. Our growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence.

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PUBLIC OPINION

Democratic Ideals, Democratic Practice

Fourth Edition

Rosalee A. Clawson

Purdue University

Zoe M. Oxley

Union College

 

 

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Clawson, Rosalee A., author. | Oxley, Zoe M., author.

Title: Public opinion : democratic ideals, democratic practice / Rosalee A. Clawson, Purdue University, Zoe M. Oxley, Union College.

Description: Fourth edition. | Thousand Oaks : Sage / CQ Press, [2021] | Includes bibliographical references.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020017438 | ISBN 978-1-5443-9020-8 (paperback) | ISBN 978- 1-5443-9016-1 (epub) | ISBN 978-1-5443-9018-5 (epub) | ISBN 978-1-5443-9015-

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Subjects: LCSH: Democracy. | Public opinion. | Political socialization. | Mass media and public opinion.

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BRIEF CONTENTS Tables, Figures, and Boxes Preface Acknowledgments Part I What Should the Role of Citizens Be in a Democratic Society?

Chapter 1 Public Opinion in a Democracy Appendix to Chapter 1 Studying Public Opinion Empirically

Part II Are Citizens Pliable? Chapter 2 Political Socialization Chapter 3 Mass Media Chapter 4 Attitude Stability and Attitude Change

Part III Do Citizens Organize Their Political Thinking? Chapter 5 Ideology, Partisanship, and Polarization Chapter 6 Roots of Public Opinion: Personality, Self- Interest, Values, and History Chapter 7 Roots of Public Opinion: The Central Role of Groups

Part IV Do Citizens Endorse and Demonstrate Democratic Basics?

Chapter 8 Knowledge, Interest, and Attention to Politics Chapter 9 Support for Civil Liberties Chapter 10 Support for Civil Rights

Part V What Is the Relationship between Citizens and Their Government?

Chapter 11 Trust in Government, Support for Institutions, and Social Capital Chapter 12 Impact of Public Opinion on Policy

Part VI What Do We Make of Public Opinion in a Democracy? Chapter 13 Conclusion

Notes Glossary Index About the Authors

 

 

 

DETAILED CONTENTS Tables, Figures, and Boxes Preface Acknowledgments Part I What Should the Role of Citizens Be in a Democratic Society?

Chapter 1 Public Opinion in a Democracy Theories of Democracy What Is Public Opinion? Defining Key Concepts Empirical Assessments of Public Opinion Themes of the Book Appendix to Chapter 1 Studying Public Opinion Empirically

Public Opinion Surveys Experiments Interviews Focus Groups Content Analysis Conclusion

Part II Are Citizens Pliable? Chapter 2 Political Socialization

Childhood Socialization Parental Transmission of Political Attitudes Generational and Period Effects Genetic Inheritance of Political Attitudes Conclusion

Chapter 3 Mass Media What Should Citizens Expect from the Mass Media in a Democracy? What General Characteristics of the Mass Media Shape News Coverage? What Specific Characteristics of the Traditional News Media Shape the Reporting of Political Events? What About Fake News? Are Citizens Affected by the Mass Media?

 

 

Media Effects in a Changing Technological Environment Conclusion

Chapter 4 Attitude Stability and Attitude Change Are Americans’ Attitudes Stable? Presidential Approval Psychological Approaches to Attitudes Conclusion

Part III Do Citizens Organize Their Political Thinking? Chapter 5 Ideology, Partisanship, and Polarization

Converse’s Claim: Ideological Innocence Ideological Identification Party Identification Polarization Conclusion

Chapter 6 Roots of Public Opinion: Personality, Self- Interest, Values, and History

Personality Self-Interest Values Historical Events Conclusion

Chapter 7 Roots of Public Opinion: The Central Role of Groups

Race, Ethnicity, and Public Opinion Rural Consciousness Gender and Public Opinion Conclusion

Part IV Do Citizens Endorse and Demonstrate Democratic Basics?

Chapter 8 Knowledge, Interest, and Attention to Politics How Knowledgeable, Interested, and Attentive Should Citizens Be in a Democracy? Are Citizens Knowledgeable about Politics? Measuring Political Knowledge Why Are Some Citizens More Knowledgeable Than Others?

 

 

What Are the Consequences of Political Knowledge? Are Citizens Interested in and Attentive to Politics? Conclusion

Chapter 9 Support for Civil Liberties Support for Democratic Principles Are Americans Tolerant? Sources of Tolerant Attitudes Contextual Influences on Tolerance Judgments Are Elites More Tolerant? Civil Liberties Post-9/11 Conclusion

Chapter 10 Support for Civil Rights Public Opinion and Presidential Candidates Support for Civil Rights Policies Conclusion

Part V What Is the Relationship between Citizens and Their Government?

Chapter 11 Trust in Government, Support for Institutions, and Social Capital

Trust in Government Support for Institutions Social Capital Conclusion

Chapter 12 Impact of Public Opinion on Policy Should Public Opinion Influence Policy? Is Public Opinion Related to Policy? Do Politicians Follow or Lead the Public? Public Opinion and Foreign Policy Conclusion

Part VI What Do We Make of Public Opinion in a Democracy? Chapter 13 Conclusion

What Should the Role of Citizens Be in a Democratic Society? Are Citizens Pliable? Do Citizens Organize Their Political Thinking? Do Citizens Endorse and Demonstrate Democratic Basics?

 

 

What Is the Relationship between Citizens and Their Government? What Do We Make of Public Opinion in a Democracy?

Notes Glossary Index About the Authors

 

 

 

TABLES, FIGURES, AND BOXES Tables

A.1 Question Wording and Response Options Matter 31

A.2 Support for the Death Penalty in a Survey-Based Experiment 39

2.1 Children’s Descriptions of the President’s Duties 52

3.1 Making Sense of Subtle Effects 108

4.1 Stability of Individual Political Attitudes from 1958 to 1960 119

4.2 Aggregate Opinion Can Be Stable While Individual Attitudes Change 124

5.1 Key Components of Black Political Ideologies 163

5.2 Measuring Political Ideology 164

6.1 Measuring Authoritarianism 189

6.2 Big Five Personality Traits 194

6.3 Ten-Item Personality Inventory 195

6.4 Measuring Egalitarianism and Individualism 201

6.5 Measuring Moral Traditionalism 203

7.1 Measuring White Identity 223

7.2 Latino and Asian American Party Identification among Registered Voters, 2018227

 

 

8.1 Political Knowledge, June 2017 242

8.2 Political Knowledge, 1989–2007 251

8.3 Measuring Political Knowledge 253

8.4 Traditional and Gender-Relevant Political Knowledge 255

8.5 The Perils of Measuring Political Knowledge: Short-Answer versus Multiple-Choice Questions 258

8.6 Demographic Differences in Political Knowledge 262

9.1 Assessing Public Tolerance of Atheists: Stouffer’s Survey Questions 281

9.2 Least Liked Political Groups, 1978 and 2005 286

10.1 Religion and Likelihood to Vote for a Presidential Candidate, 2016 311

10.2 Measuring Hostile Sexism 317

10.3 White and Black Support for Reparations, 2019 325

11.1 Assessing Public Trust: Survey Questions from the American National Election Studies 347

11.2 Focus Group Discussions of Members of Congress 365

Figures

1.1 Party Identification, 1952–2016 23

A.1 Public Opinion toward the Death Penalty, 1991–2018 34

 

 

2.1 Children’s Evaluations of the President’s Job Performance 53

2.2 Parent-Child Correspondence of Party Identification by Family Politicization and Parental Attitude Stability 62

2.3 Stability of Party Identification Over Time, Overall and by Preadult Parent-Child Correspondence 64

2.4 Generational Differences in Attitudes, 2019 70

2.5 Genetic Versus Environmental Factors Influencing Political Opinions 73

3.1 Where Do Citizens Obtain News Daily? 84

3.2 Sorting Out Causal Relationships 102

3.3 Political Tolerance by Framing Condition 105

4.1 Opinion Toward Government Spending, 1971–1989 122

4.2 Presidential Approval for Barack Obama and Donald Trump 126

4.3 Political Awareness in Zaller’s Attitude Change Model 133

4.4 Zaller’s Mainstream and Polarization Effects during Vietnam War Era 136

5.1 Levels of Conceptualization among the American Public, 1956 and 2000 154

5.2 Relationships between Issue Opinions for the American Public and Political Elites, 1958 157

5.3 Attitude Constraint and Attitude Stability among American Public and Elites 160

 

 

5.4 Ideological Identification over Time, 1972–2016 165

5.5 Symbolic and Operational Ideology Classifications, 2008 167

5.6 Party Differences in Issue Opinions, 2016 170

5.7 Hypothetical Portraits of the American Public 173

5.8 Public Attitudes toward Government Provision of Services, 1984 and 2016 175

6.1 The Effect of Authoritarianism on Political Attitudes, 2016 191

7.1 Black–White Differences in Party Identification and Issue Opinions, 2016 214

7.2 Racial Resentment among Whites, 1986 and 2016 217

7.3 Political Attitudes of Millennials by Race and Ethnicity 222

7.4 Gender Differences in Party Identification and Issue Opinions, 2016 232

8.1 Misperceptions by News Source 248

8.2 Interest in Politics and Current Campaign, 1964–2016 267

9.1 Importance of Democratic Principles 277

9.2 Tolerance of Political Minorities, 1954 282

9.3 Tolerance of Speechmaking, 1954–2018 283

9.4 Tolerance of Least Liked Groups, Communists, and Atheists, 1978 and 2005 288

9.5 Public Opinion: Civil Liberties versus National Security 296

 

 

9.6 Public Support for Counterterrorism Policies, 2009 and 2010 300

9.7 Counterterrorism Policy Opinions Vary by Identity of Target 301

10.1 Support for Presidential Candidates, 1937–2019: Religion 310

10.2 Support for Presidential Candidates, 1937–2019: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, and Sexual Orientation 313

10.3 Support for Same Schools, by Race 320

10.4 Support for School Busing, by Decade and Race 321

10.5 Support for Preferences in Hiring and Promotion for Blacks 323

10.6 Support for Gay Rights, 1977–2019 329

10.7 Support for Transgender Rights, 2017 and 2019 335

11.1 Public Trust in Government, 1964–2016 348

11.2 Trust in Government for Specific Demographic Groups, 2016 355

11.3 Racial Differences in Views Regarding the Police, 2016 356

11.4 Confidence in the Supreme Court, Executive Branch, and Congress, 1973–2018 361

11.5 Approval of Institutions and Members of Institutions, 1992 363

11.6 Membership Declines for Civic Associations between Peak Year of Membership and 1997 369

 

 

12.1 Public Opinion and Guns 379

12.2 Support for Gun Control Measures, by Partisanship 380

12.3 Consistency between Public Opinion and Public Policy 386

12.4 Citizen and Interest Group Influence on Public Policy 390

12.5 Foreign Policy Preferences of the American Public, 2014– 2019 404

Boxes

Box 1.1 Gendered Nouns and Pronouns 11

Public Opinion in Comparative Perspective

Box 2.1 Childhood Political Socialization in Europe 58

Box 3.1 Social Media in China 90

Box 4.1 Political Discussion in Social Networks 138

Box 5.1 Party Polarization across the Globe 179

Box 6.1 Authoritarianism across the World 193

Box 7.1 Attitudes toward Immigrants around the World 229

Box 8.1 Gender and Political Knowledge in Canada 256

Box 9.1 Support for Democracy around the Globe 278

Box 10.1 Support for Gay Rights across the World 331

Box 11.1 Levels of Public Trust in Other Nations 359

 

 

Box 12.1 Comparing Opinion-Policy Congruence across Democracies 391

 

 

 

PREFACE When we first tell people that we are political science professors, the most common reactions are to launch into a discussion of politics or to politely acknowledge our jobs and then change the subject. An especially memorable encounter happened to Zoe in the early 2000s. Upon re-entering the United States after a trip to Montreal, the U.S. border official asked about her job, which was expected. He proceeded to ask a most unexpected question: What did she think about then-president George W. Bush’s foreign policies? After babbling for a few sentences, she changed the subject!

Ever since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, different reactions have been common when people learn what we do for a living. “These are interesting times to teach politics” or “You sure have a lot to talk about these days” have become typical responses. Interesting political times these certainly are, and we have attempted to capture some notable political developments and trends in this fourth edition. These include partisan disdain and polarization, fake news, white racial identity, rural consciousness, and support for the norms of democracy. We have also incorporated exciting and important new public opinion data or scholarship on childhood socialization, Millennials and Generation Z, the effects of media ownership, news habits, the role of social media, ideological identification, polarization, the lingering effects of slavery, racial and ethnic opinion differences (including in the domain of athletics), immigration attitudes, interest in politics, transgender rights, disability rights, trust in the criminal justice system, public support for gun control, and foreign policy opinions. All the while, we maintain a focus on enduring questions in the study of public opinion.

Our pedagogical goals for this edition remain the same. We want students to grasp how fascinating and important it is to study politics generally and public opinion more specifically. What better way is there to attain that goal, we think, than to discuss public opinion in the context of democratic thought? After all, it is the particular salience of public opinion within a democracy that makes its study so

 

 

vital and interesting. To that end, we situate the field’s empirical research within a normative framework, specifically theories of democracy, and focus on especially important and revealing studies rather than tediously summarizing every available piece of research. We organize the text into six parts, each of which poses a normative question that is significant for democratic theory: What should the role of citizens be in a democratic society? Are citizens’ opinions pliable? Do citizens organize their political thinking? Do citizens endorse and demonstrate democratic basics? What is the relationship between citizens and their government? What do we make of public opinion in a democracy? The chapters in each part present evidence to help students answer the question at hand, giving them both the content and context of public opinion. This organization encourages students to understand and interpret the empirical evidence in light of normative democratic theories, thus enhancing their critical analysis skills.

We want students to appreciate the thrill of conducting research and producing knowledge and to learn that conclusions about public opinion emerge from original scholarship on the topic. Yet we also want them to understand that no one piece of research is perfect and that the ability to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of research is a vital skill. So we devote attention to explaining specific studies in some depth throughout the text. Rather than presenting only the conclusions that are drawn from a study, this approach lets students see how those conclusions were reached, exposes them in a fairly organic way to the range of research methods used in the study of public opinion, and illustrates how the choice of method influences the conclusions that researchers draw. We thus use an “embedded” research methods approach throughout the book rather than consigning methods to one stand-alone chapter. In addition, we provide an Appendix to Chapter 1 that encapsulates the basic information students need about key public opinion methods.

This book includes other important pedagogical features. We focus heavily on American public opinion, but Chapters 2 through 12

 

 

contain feature boxes called “Public Opinion in Comparative Perspective” that highlight public opinion issues in a variety of countries and serve to deepen students’ understandings of American public opinion. A wealth of data is presented in more than eighty tables and figures throughout the book to help students grasp important research findings. Key concepts appear in bold in each chapter and are listed at the end of each chapter. The key concepts are also defined in the Glossary at the end of the book. Each chapter also contains a list of suggested sources for further reading. Brief explanatory annotations are provided with each suggested source to guide students as they delve deeper into a topic.

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS With each edition of this book, we find we require assistance from fewer people as we revise. Having said this, the help we did receive was extremely valuable. Rosie’s Human Basis of Politics students and students in Zoe’s Public Opinion and U.S. Politics Seminar on Partisanship courses provided useful feedback on the book, most especially pointing out when material was not crystal clear or organized well enough. For thoughtfully reviewing a chapter for this edition, we thank Molly Scudder. Thanks goes to Walter Schostak as well for helpful feedback along the way. Since the publication of the first edition, we have been approached by many professors who have used the textbook in their classes. We were heartened to hear their (mostly!) positive comments, were happy to learn we were on the right track with our approach, and welcomed their suggestions for areas in need of improvement.

Everyone we worked with at CQ Press was supportive, professional, and friendly, as had been the case with our previous books. We especially thank Monica Eckman and Scott Greenan for their enthusiasm for the project and guidance. Kate Scheinman and Sam Rosenberg carefully and efficiently managed the submission of our chapters as well as the preparation of material for publication. They were supportive and cheerful throughout, even as we kept missing our deadlines. For the excellent copyediting of this edition, we thank Colleen Brennan. As our production editor, Rebecca Lee shepherded the book through the final prepublication stages with ease. We also thank Elaine Dunn for her diligent and speedy copyediting on the first edition. Her initial feedback continues to shape our work. We worked closely with others at CQ on earlier editions of the book. For their never-ending encouragement and wonderful advice, we thank Brenda Carter, James Headley, Elise Frasier, and, most especially, Charisse Kiino.

We also thank the professors that CQ Press commissioned to review the book as we were preparing to revise it for the fourth edition. Their feedback was extremely helpful. They include Davida J. Alperin

 

 

(University of Wisconsin–River Falls), Ray Block Jr. (Penn State University), Gar Culbert (California State University, Los Angeles), Brian Frederick (Bridgewater State University), and David Kimball (University of Missouri–St. Louis). We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the invaluable guidance provided by the faculty who reviewed the manuscript for our earlier editions, including Scott Basinger, Mark Brewer, John Bruce, Erin Cassese, Gar Culbert, Johanna Dunaway, Howard Gold, Paul Goren, Richard Hofstetter, Ted Jelen, Mary Fran T. Malone, James Monogan, Kimberley Nalder, Tom Nelson, Shayla Nunnally, Kurt Pyle, Andrea M. Quenette, Adam Schiffer, Robert Y. Shapiro, Mike Schmierbach, and Matt Wilson.

Along with these CQ-commissioned reviewers, many others provided valuable and specific feedback on material for prior editions. Their suggestions then continued to shape this edition of the book. For that, we thank Ben Bauer, George Bizer, Richard Fox, Cary Funk, Ewa Golebiowska, Mike Grady, Jennifer Jerit, Suzanne Parker, Evan Reid, Walter Schostak, Keith Shimko, Bas van Doorn, Ryan Whelpley, Jeremy Zilber, John Zumbrunnen, and, most especially, Janice Clawson. For prior editions, we also received all manner of help from many others, including Carol Cichy, Michelle Conwell, David Hayes, Lisa Howell, Katsuo Nishikawa, Andrea Olive, Bill Shaffer, and Helen Willis. We must also mention our many Ohio State friends, who have supported and encouraged us throughout. John Clark, Larry Baum, David Kimball, and Staci Rhine, in particular, have shared their suggestions and wisdom along the way. Finally, we will always owe a debt of gratitude to our graduate school advisers—Paul Allen Beck, Thomas Nelson, and Katherine Tate—and to our undergraduate mentors—Janet Martin and Bruce Stinebrickner. Bruce Stinebrickner also gave us helpful feedback on Chapter 1, which strengthened that chapter.

Throughout this book, we present results from many published academic papers and books. We also incorporate public opinion data from organizations that, at great care and expense, conduct surveys of the American public. Fortunately for us and for all students of public opinion, they make their results and, at times, their

 

 

raw data publicly available. Thus, we gratefully thank the American National Election Studies, General Social Survey, Pew Research Center, Gallup Organization, and Bright Line Watch, as well as many news organizations, academic institutions, and commercial firms that conduct opinion polls. Without the public opinion data these organizations have gathered, our book would be much less rich.

Although it does not quite take a village to raise our children, we have needed help from many to care for our sons. Knowing that they were in the hands of loving and responsible caregivers and friends enabled us to write without worry. For this, Zoe thanks Anna Ott, Samantha Couture, Heather Hutchison, the talented teachers and staff in the Schenectady City School District, and a long list of former Union College students. Rosie thanks Pauline Wein, the wonderful staff at the Patty Jischke Early Care and Education Center, the dedicated teachers in the Lafayette School Corporation, numerous coaches, and most especially her parents, Dale and Janice Clawson, who are always willing to keep their grandson for days on end. Rosie also thanks Lori Norris and Sharon Phillips for their assistance with household matters.

Finally, we owe special thanks to our families. We were both raised by parents who placed priority on education and who encouraged us to pursue whatever channels most interested us. Their faith that we would succeed in our chosen career paths provided us with the confidence to try to do just that. Sadly, Zoe’s mother passed away before this book was first completed. She was very pleased to learn that we were writing a book, and we know that she would have been proud to read it. When writing the first edition, Rosie’s husband was deployed much of the time. He was around for most of the later revisions, although Rosie is quite sure there were times he would have preferred Iraq or Afghanistan to yet another conversation about public opinion. When he’s not around (and even when he is), Rosie depends heavily on her family—a big thanks to Dale and Janice Clawson; Tammy, Mike, Troy, and Jared Harter; Jill, Scott, Liv, and Sadie Castleman; and her Cleveland cousins. Our sons Alonzo and Owen bring us tremendous joy. We are thrilled to say they enjoy

 

 

discussing with us their views of the world, political and otherwise. We are fortunate to have very supportive husbands. Des and Dale not only enjoy talking about politics and have useful computer skills that we have put to good use, but they also do a disproportionate share of the household and parenting duties when we are immersed in writing. And they provide us with many needed distractions from our work. We don’t know how we got to be so lucky.

 

 

 

PART I WHAT SHOULD THE ROLE OF CITIZENS BE IN A

DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY?

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1 PUBLIC OPINION IN A DEMOCRACY AMERICAN NATIONALISM. Populism. Nativism. Identity politics. Racism. Sexism. Antidemocratic impulses. Support for authoritarianism. These are among the perspectives and attitudes of some members of the American public that received significant attention from political commentators and journalists during the lead-up to or since the election of Donald Trump as the U.S. president in 2016. Over this same time period, others have commented on the rise of political interest and attention, engagement in political protests, support for democratic socialism, and tolerance for diversity that have characterized some segments of the American public. These dueling characterizations of the citizenry also hint at other features of the contemporary political landscape: division and polarization.

Placing so much high-profile attention on the views of the public reminds us that in a democracy, such as the United States, what the people think matters. Describing and analyzing citizens’ political perspectives is a worthy endeavor. More broadly, in democratic nations we expect the public to have a role in governmental decision making. Yet the precise role that citizens should play in a democracy has been argued about for centuries. Whether the public actually can and really does live up to democratic expectations is also a debatable topic. In the pages that follow, we explore the normative issues related to how the public ought to function in a democracy. Throughout this book, we review empirical studies of public opinion that describe how the public actually functions in America. We then link these studies back to the normative theories of how citizens should behave in a democracy. Focusing on public opinion from these two angles will, we hope, provide you with a broad understanding of this important topic. We will also devote attention to most of the views of the public mentioned in the opening paragraph, in particular describing whether these trends are unique to today’s political world or were present before the 2016 presidential election.

 

 

THEORIES OF DEMOCRACY A simple definition of democracy is “rule by the people.” What exactly, however, does rule by the people mean? Answering this and related questions about democracy is neither easy nor straightforward. In fact, many people across many centuries have devoted their lives to examining democracy and delineating the proper characteristics of a democracy. Democratic theory is “the branch of scholarship that specializes in elucidating, developing, and defining the meaning of democracy.”1 Among other topics, democratic theorists deliberate over how the people should rule in a democracy (by voting directly on all laws or by electing representatives for this task) as well as who should qualify as a democratic citizen (all adults, only those who are educated, or some other group). Democratic theorists also focus on citizens’ ruling capabilities and the role of the public in a democracy, as indicated by the following overview of major democratic theories.

 

 

Classical Democratic Theory The earliest Western democratic societies emerged in the city-states of ancient Greece. In Athens’s direct democracy, for example, governing decisions were made by the citizens, defined as all nonslave men of Athenian descent. All citizens were eligible to participate in the Assembly, which met at least forty times per year. Assembly members debated all public issues, often at great length, before making any final decisions. The Assembly tried to reach a consensus on all matters, and unanimous decisions were preferred, under the belief that the common interest would only be realized when everyone agreed.2 When unanimity was not possible, decisions were made via voting in the Assembly. The implementation of the Assembly’s decisions was conducted by smaller groups of men, who had been selected by lot or directly elected by the Assembly. These officials served for short periods of time and were not allowed to serve multiple terms in a row. These procedures ensured that many different men would serve in this executive capacity and that all citizens would have an equal chance of fulfilling these roles.3

One of the few surviving descriptions of Athenian citizens and their democratic participation is contained in Pericles’s oration at a funeral for fallen soldiers:

It is true that our government is called a democracy, because its administration is in the hands, not of the few, but of the many; yet while as regards the law all men are on an equality for the settlement of their private disputes, as regards the value set on them it is as each man is in any way distinguished that he is preferred to public honors, not because he belongs to a particular class, but because of personal merits; nor, again, on the ground of poverty is a man barred from a public career by obscurity of rank if he but has it in him to do the state a service. … And you will find united in the same persons an interest at once in private and in public affairs, and in others of us who give attention chiefly to business, you will find no lack of insight into political matters. For we alone regard the man who takes no part in public affairs, not as one who minds his own business, but as good for nothing; and we Athenians decide public questions for ourselves or at least endeavor to arrive at a sound understanding of them, in the belief that it is not debate that is a hindrance to action, but rather not to be instructed by debates before the time comes for actions. For in truth we have this point also of superiority over other men, to be most daring in action and yet at the same time most given to reflection upon the ventures we mean to undertake; with other men, on the contrary, boldness means ignorance and reflection brings hesitation.4

As Pericles portrays, Athenian democracy was characterized by the active participation of public-spirited men. In fact, he labeled “good for nothing” those men not taking part in public affairs. This passage also alludes to other key characteristics of democratic citizenship that appear in classical models of democracy, such as high levels of attention to and interest in political matters and the capability of deciding matters in favor of the general interest rather than only to advance one’s own selfish interests.

Writing centuries later, Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed a theory of democracy that has much in common with the classical model. Rousseau strongly advocated popular sovereignty, the principle that citizens hold the ultimate power in a democracy. He argued in The Social Contract that “sovereignty [is] nothing other than the exercise of the general will” and “since the laws are nothing other than authentic acts of the general will, the sovereign can act only when the people is assembled.”5 Rousseau also distinguished the “general will” from the “will of all”: “the general will studies only the common interest while the will of all studies private interest, and is indeed no more than the sum of individual desires.”6 In other words, the general will is not determined by simply adding up every person’s individual opinions but, rather, reflects what is in the best interest of the entire society. Procedurally, Rousseau favored a direct democracy in which all citizens (restricted to property-owning free men) were to meet, discuss, and decide on the content of the laws. As in the Athenian Assembly, Rousseau envisaged vigorous

 

 

legislative debate with a preference for unanimous decisions. Active political participation by the citizenry served multiple purposes for Rousseau. It was the only method by which the general will could be reached and enshrined in law. Active participation was also beneficial for the individual participants; in other words, political participation had “intrinsic value … for the development of citizens as human beings.”7

Rousseau’s theory did depart from classical democratic theory in two important ways. First, Rousseau preferred that the citizens not be as involved in implementing the laws as they were in crafting legislation. He placed less faith in the public’s ability to execute laws and proposed that a body of administrators be selected for this duty.8 The administrators would be selected by the citizens and would be expected to follow the general will but would be distinct from the citizen assembly. Second, Rousseau’s vision of democracy relied on relative economic equality among citizens, as enshrined by all free men having only a limited right to property. This does not mean that Rousseau favored strict equality of property but, rather, that he opposed unlimited accumulation of wealth. Short of this, some inequality was acceptable. Further, according to Rousseau, a citizen would not be able to make decisions for the benefit of all if he were motivated by fear of losing his economic independence. The right to enough property to make each citizen economically free from other citizens would prevent the formation of groups motivated by economic self-interest. Rousseau feared that the existence of such groups would undermine the creation of laws benefiting the common good.9 In short, economic inequality could produce undemocratic effects.

Later democratic theorists and practitioners have criticized classical democratic theory as unworkable for most societies. First, the city of Athens and Rousseau restricted citizenship rights to a degree that has become unacceptable for many democracies. In both cases, only free men were citizens; women and slaves were not given political rights. Further, the existence of a slave economy in Athens and the reliance on women for unpaid domestic labor created much leisure time for the free men to participate in government.10 The amount of time necessary to participate in the Assembly debates (forty times per year!) is simply not feasible for most contemporary working adults. Second, most democratic polities are larger than were the Greek city-states or the eighteenth-century towns of Rousseau’s Europe. In fact, both the Greeks and Rousseau assumed that “[only] in a small state, where people could meet together in the relative intimacy of a single assembly and where a similarity of culture and interests united them, could individuals discuss and find the public good.”11 One of the primary reasons more modern democratic theories, including those that follow, departed from the classical variants was to accommodate popular rule in large, diverse, and populous nation-states. In fact, and as will become clear as you proceed through the chapters of this book, some democratic theories have very much evolved away from classical democracy in an attempt to speak to actual conditions in present-day societies. In contrast, other theorists emphasize that classic democratic features are possible, even needed, in modern-day complex societies. Finally, contemporary democratic theorists differ along other criteria as well, such as their trust in the capabilities of the public.

 

 

Theories of Democratic Elitism and Pluralism In contrast to classical democracy, theories of democratic elitism and pluralism do not allocate to citizens direct involvement in governmental decision making. Rather, the citizenry exerts indirect control by electing officials to represent their views and make decisions. This, of course, is the defining characteristic of a representative democracy. Democratic elitists view frequent competitive elections as the primary mechanism by which citizen preferences are expressed. Voters select their preferred candidates, and the elected officials deliberate over and vote on the nation’s laws. These officials (or political elites) are accountable to the public in that they must periodically run for reelection. Thus, the elites have an incentive to represent the wishes of the public, and the will of the public will be reflected, to some degree, in governmental decisions. Yet the daily decisions are made by the elites, who, by their knowledge and expertise, are better able to make these decisions. Joseph Schumpeter outlines his theory of democratic elitism as follows:

Suppose we reverse the roles of these two elements [the selection of representatives and the decision-making power of the voters] and make the deciding of issues by the electorate secondary to the election of the men who are to do the deciding. To put it differently, we now take the view that the role of the people is to produce a government. … And we define: the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.12

Pluralists also view competitive elections as one important mechanism by which citizens hold elected leaders accountable. Unlike democratic elitists, however, pluralists emphasize the essential role performed by groups in representative democracies. Interest groups are collections of like-minded individuals that attempt to influence elected officials and other governmental decision makers regarding issues of concern to them. As intermediaries between the public and the elites, such groups are especially important for transmitting the wishes of the citizenry to government officials in between elections. According to pluralists, when many groups are actively engaged in debating public issues, bargaining ensues among the groups and the public policies that result are compromises among the various groups’ preferences.13 Because interest group leaders have the desire and knowledge to lobby government officials, members of the public do not need to be actively involved to have their views represented in lawmaking. For example, citizens who care about human rights do not need to write letters to their elected officials but can, instead, have their concerns vocalized by an interest group such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. Leader responsiveness to public concerns should result, argue pluralists.

Why have democratic elitists and pluralists proposed a more minor role for citizens in democratic politics? Simply put, “the individual voter was not all that the theory of democracy requires of him.”14 In practice, much evidence suggests that not all citizens are interested in or knowledgeable about politics, that levels of citizen apathy run high, and that many do not participate in politics. This evidence, collected by social scientists beginning in the 1940s, contributed to the development of democratic elitism and pluralism.15 Indeed, it was the disconnect between dominant democratic theories and the reality of life in existing democracies that focused theorists’ attention on actual democratic practices.16 Put another way, the theories of democratic elitism and pluralism were constructed by examining contemporary democracies to determine what features they shared, particularly the levels of political involvement and interest among the citizenry.17 Note that deriving a democratic theory based on observations from existing democracies results in a very different theory than that which emerged from ancient Athens. Having said that, other democratic theorists, such as the participatory democrats we profile in the next section, interpreted the same social science evidence rather differently.

Contemporary democratic elitism and pluralism can trace their intellectual roots to earlier theorists of representative democracy, such as the English philosophers Jeremy Bentham and James Mill and the

 

 

American James Madison.18 These earlier theorists, especially Madison, advocated that most people are not capable of the democratic citizenship captured by Pericles in his funeral oration. In Federalist No. 10, written in 1787, Madison argues that humans are self-interested and will pursue what benefits themselves rather than the nation as a whole. In societies where the liberty of individuals to form their own opinions and pursue their own goals is ensured, groups of similarly interested people will form. By Madison’s definition, such groups, or factions, consist of citizens “who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”19 To overcome the negative effects of such factions, the causes of which are “sown in the nature of man,” Madison proposes a republic in which a few citizens are elected by the rest of the public to serve in the national government.20 In his own words,

The effect of [a representative democracy] is … to refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.21

Similar beliefs in the decision-making superiority of elite officials are reflected in the writings of contemporary democratic elitists and pluralists. In an especially uncharitable view of the public, Joseph Schumpeter states as fact “that the electoral mass is incapable of action other than a stampede.”22 More broadly, he argues that the public is capable of voting but little else and that therefore the elites should be allowed to make decisions in between elections without public interference. Elite control over decision making should also result in more stable governments, with fewer changes in policy due to public impulses. Some theorists also emphasize that elites are more supportive of democratic norms and values, especially the civil rights and liberties of marginalized and/or unpopular groups, than are members of the public. In general, they suggest, this support for rights and liberties is beneficial to a democracy where decision making is in the hands of the elite.23 The elites are not immune from public pressures to restrict individual liberties but will typically sort out such issues among themselves, with a preference toward maintaining such liberties.

Critiques of democratic elitism and pluralism have come from many quarters. As previously mentioned, participatory democrats interpret the empirical evidence related to citizen participation vastly differently than do democratic elitists and pluralists. Others have contradicted the pluralist assumptions that interest groups will represent all points of view and that governmental officials are responsive to these groups. Government officials can choose to ignore a group’s demands, especially when they believe the group lacks widespread public support. For example, public outcry in favor of the principle of net neutrality contributed to decision making at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In the spring of 2014, the FCC proposed rule changes that would have permitted the content on some websites to be transmitted more quickly than on other sites. Initially, a few interest groups and Internet companies were active in opposing the proposed rules. Once word of these possible changes spread more broadly, thanks in part to coverage on John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week Tonight, the FCC received millions of public comments. Most people advocated for an open, neutral web whereby Internet service providers cannot speed up or slow down the delivery of a website’s content. The FCC changed course. In February 2015, they dropped their original proposal and instead voted in favor of new regulations that promote net neutrality.24

Further, some groups possess more resources than others and thus have more influence over policymaking. As well stated by political scientist E. E. Schattschneider decades ago, “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.”25 This fact did not go unnoticed by pluralists. Some accepted the inequality of political resources and argued that the inequalities did not accumulate within certain types of people but, rather, were dispersed throughout

 

 

society. In other words, “individuals best off in their access to one kind of resource are often badly off with respect to many other resources. … Virtually no one, and certainly no group of more than a few individuals, is entirely lacking in some influence resources.”26 Pluralists, however, did not fully develop the implications of group inequalities, an oversight that has been somewhat rectified by more recent theorists in this area.27 Assumptions about noncumulative inequalities have also been challenged. Business groups, these critics contend, occupy a privileged position in U.S. politics due to their wide array of resources28 and indeed are more likely than the public or other types of interest groups to have their wishes enshrined in public policy.29 For an example, let’s return to the topic of net neutrality. After Donald Trump was inaugurated as president in 2017, he appointed a new chair of the FCC, one who favors business deregulation. In pursuit of this goal and with the support of interest groups representing the cable and telecommunications industries, yet despite millions of public comments that urged the opposite, FCC members voted to overturn the net neutrality rules that had been adopted in 2015.30

Finally, Jack Walker’s assessment of democratic elitism takes quite a different form. He charges the democratic elitists with changing “the principal orienting values of democracy.”31 Earlier democratic theorists stressed the importance of citizen participation and the personal benefits that accrue to individuals from this participation. In contrast, under democratic elitism, “emphasis has shifted to the needs and functions of the system as a whole; there is no longer a direct concern with human development. … [Elitists] have substituted stability and efficiency as the prime goals of democracy.”32 Participatory democracy, the final democratic theory we examine, represents a shift back toward the developmental functions of democracy that Walker supports.

 
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