The American Democracy, 10th Edition (Patterson)
Public Opinion and Political Socialization: Shaping the People's Voice
The focus of this chapter is on public opinion and its influences on the American political system. A major theme of the chapter is that public opinion is a powerful yet inexact force. The policies of the U.S. government cannot be understood apart from public opinion; at the same time, public opinion is not a precise determinant of public policies. The main points made in this chapter are these:
- Public opinion consists of those views held by ordinary citizens that are openly expressed. Public officials have various means of gauging public opinion but increasingly use public opinion polls for this purpose.
- The process by which individuals acquire their political opinions is called political socialization. This process begins during childhood, when, through family and school, Americans acquire many of their basic political values and beliefs. Socialization continues into adulthood, during which peers, political leaders, and the news media are among the major influences.
- Americans’ political opinions are shaped by several frames of reference, including ideology, group attachments, and partisanship.
- Public opinion has an important influence on government but ordinarily does not directly determine exactly what officials will do.