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Public Opinion • Public Opinion is the aggregation of people’ view about issues, situations, and public figures. • Why is Public Opinion important? • Public opinion can shape public opinion by providing policymakers with information. – Provides outlet for citizen voice in Representative Democracy • Should elected officials pay attention to polls? – Trustee vs Delegate Models of Representation Trends in Opinion The Economy and the 2008 Election Presidential Approval Ratings Healthcare Reform Attitudes in NM What is your opinion regarding the current state of health care in New Mexico Fine as is Com ple te ly Re built (27%) M inor Change s (24%) M ajor Change s (45%) Measuring Public Opinion- Sampling • Public opinion polls are the primary tool used to assess how the public feels about particular issues, and is a critical tool for elected officials. • Because you cannot ask the entire public questions about any particular issue, pollsters must rely on samples. – Target Population : Group of people inferences will be drawn from. – Sample Population : Part of the target population selected for analysis. • Public opinion is unfortunately often inconsistent at the individual level, which raises questions about the validity of attitudes. • However, at the aggregate level attitudes seem to be rather stable. The Scientific Approach to Polling • There is a scientific method used to ensure that a survey is not biased. • When samples mirror the population they are said to be “Representative”. • Randomness is critical to sampling. – Randomness implies that each person within the entire population being polled has an equal chance of being chosen. Inferences about the Population • Values calculated from samples are used to make conclusions (inferences) about unknown values in the population • Variability – different samples from the same population may yield different results for a particular value of interest – estimates from random samples will be closer to the true values in the population. – how close the estimates will likely be to the true values can be calculated -- this is called the margin of error (usually +/- 3%) : The larger the sample size the smaller the sampling error (probability and rule of large numbers). Sources of Selection Bias • Selection Bias is bad because it systematically favors certain outcomes based on who is asked to participate. • Voluntary response sampling – allowing individuals to choose to be in the sample – Classic example is setting up a table in SUB • Convenience sampling – selecting individuals that are easiest to reach – often used for tough to reach groups (Dreamers, Homeless) – Both of these techniques are biased – systematically favor certain outcomes Simple Random Sampling • Each individual in the population has the same chance of being chosen for the sample • Each group of individuals (in the population) of the required size (n) has the same chance of being the sample actually selected • Random selection: – “drawing names out of a hat” – table of random digits – computer software - CATTI System Probability Sample • A sample chosen by chance • Must know what samples are possible and what chance, or probability, each possible sample has of being selected • A SRS gives each member of the population an equal chance to be selected Cautions about Sample Surveys • The following are all examples of measurement error, or the error that arises from attempting to measure something as subjective as opinion • Undercoverage – some individuals or groups in the population are left out of the process of choosing the sample • Nonresponse – individuals chosen for the sample cannot be contacted or refuse to cooperate/respond • Response bias – behavior of respondent or interviewer may lead to inaccurate answers or measurements • Wording of questions – confusing or leading (biased) questions; words with different meanings Undercoverage and Non-Response Bias • Doing internet surveys have become very popular due to costs and easy implementation. – How might this approach lead to undercoverage? • High non-response rates among particular populations can also be a problem. Response Bias Asking the Uninformed Washington Post National Weekly Edition (April 10-16, 1995, p. 36) • A 1978 poll done in Cincinnati asked people whether they “favored or opposed repealing the 1975 Public Affairs Act.” – There was no such act! – About one third of those asked expressed an opinion about it. Response Bias Interviewer Effect • Can you think of any ways in which people may be influenced by the people actually conducting the interview? • Some examples include: – Race and Gender of interviewer – Facial Expressions to answers given Wording of Questions • Questions should be simple and nonbiased in nature. They should not have different meanings. • Here is an example of a biased question: – If you found a wallet with $20 in it, would you do the right thing and return the money? – If you found a wallet with $20 in it, would you return the money? • You must also be cautious of “loaded” terms such as welfare or illegal immigrant. Order of Questions • How often do you normally go out on a date? About _ times a month? • Why is asking the following question right after this one a problem? • How happy are you with life in general? Polling Issues Facing 2008 Election • The “Bradley Effect” – Potential over-estimation of Obama vote due to social desirability. • The inability of most polls to capture first time voters, particularly the youth vote. • What do you think, can we trust the polls? • What are our alternatives? The Socialization Process • Political socialization is the process of acquiring political attitudes that begins at childhood. • Family has been most critical soc. agent – Children usually have the same party preference as their parents, especially when both parents have the same party identification. • Has changes in family structure decreased impact of family in socialization process? • What is the role of Education in Socialization? – Learn the “rules of the game” in politics – Exposed to different people and views – Increases general awareness and knowledge of political issues Are Schools Socializing Anymore? • Many argue that schools are not doing a good job of providing basic political concepts to students. • Perception vs. Reality (Studies of HS Students) – More than 50% did not know # of US senators – Over 60% could not name three branches of government – One third did not know that the first ten amendments are the bill of rights. • Recent studies suggest things might even get worse in college! • What are your thoughts? • What is the Media’s role in Public Opinion? • Most Americans get their political information from TV, leading many to call the Media the 4th branch of government. • Recent surveys of high school students indicate that television is more important in political socialization than family or school. • Others contend that media is not as powerful as we think because everyone has pre-conceived opinions. • How significant is the media in socialization? • Socioeconomic Status Differences – How does income influence public opinion? • The wealthy are more likely to be conservative, and less likely to support government aid programs. However, education tends to lead to more liberal views on policies. • There are also significant differences in public opinion by Race, Gender, and Religious affiliation.