Posted: March 22nd, 2022
The purpose of this assignment is to evaluate the most dramatic public opinion shift in the modern era, opinions on issues related to the LGBTQ+ community. Over time, the American public has become more accepting of the community itself as well as the extension of civil rights and liberties protections for individuals who identify as part of this group. The “Americans’ views flipped on gay rights. How did minds change so quickly?” article explains one family’s change in opinions on this issue. The discussion requires you to apply concepts from this week’s lesson to this opinion evolution. Must reference article and notes below: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/americans-views-flipped-on-gay-rights-how-did-minds-change-so-quickly/2019/06/07/ae256016-8720-11e9-98c1-e945ae5db8fb_story.html In a single Discussion Forum post (225 words), address the following: Do you agree with the author’s claim that the LGBTQ+ is different from other social groups (e.g. race, gender, political party, etc.), or do you envision a scenario in which another group experiences rapid opinion shifts? Use the lesson and reading to inform your answer (chapter notes below). L10 Public Opinion in a Democracy If you have voted in an election, recall the factors that influenced you to support a particular candidate or political party over another. These factors may involve the person or party’s policy proposals directed at a social group to which you belong, or simply sharing the same party or group identity was a sufficient reason to motivate you to turn out to vote. Political scientists who study public opinion aim to evaluate the factors that motivate individual vote choice, and they also analyze how opinions on candidates, parties, and political issues have changed over time. Recall that the Founders were skeptical of the public’s ability to hold elected officials accountable. The Constitution established political institutions designed to mitigate the rapid shifts in public opinion and instead develop a deliberative policymaking system based on checks and balances and separation of powers. Regardless of the Founders’ intent to limit the role of public opinion in the American political system, politicians have an incentive to at least consider public opinion when making decisions, as the public possesses the ability to remove elected officials from office. Public opinion refers to the preferences of the general public on political matters. Public opinion polls often study the opinions of eligible voters, as this portion of the public is most likely to participate in politics. Politicians vary in terms of how much time and effort they devote to analyzing these polls, as they possess distinct styles of representation. Recall that delegate-style representatives pay greater attention to the public than trustee-style representatives. Indeed, delegate-style representatives cater to public opinion even when the aggregate opinions of their constituents deviate from their own. Conversely, delegate-style representatives pursue their own convictions and vote in accordance with their conscience, which may or may not align with the views of whom they represent. L10 Public Opinion and Collective Dilemmas When politicians win their campaigns and begin serving in government, they are responsible for translating the interests of their districts into public policies. Critically, they are not only beholden to the interests of those individuals who voted for them in the election, but they are tasked with assessing the opinions of all constituents who reside in their districts. Because elected officials serve so many people, principal-agent problems may arise. Indeed, public opinion changes over time, and often, people change their minds on political issues not necessarily because of new information they consume about the issue. Overall, the American public is largely uninformed on political matters, which creates confusion for the politicians elected to represent the public’s interests. If the public does not possess a concrete understanding of politics, then political elites are serving as agents of multiple principals who are not able to communicate their opinions in a clear and concise manner. L10 Measuring Public Opinion While the American public remains ignorant on many political issues, politicians and elites in the media nevertheless must devote time and energy learning about the opinions of the public regardless of how uninformed they are. Measurements of public opinion have improved over time, which have eased the burden on political elites who care to learn the preferences of the masses. Evolution of Straw Polls Early efforts to study public opinion largely proved unscientific and ineffective. However, politicians still cared to seek information regarding constituent preferences, so they relied on these metrics when crafting campaign platforms and policy positions. News magazines and other outlets polled their readers, viewers, and listeners, conducting informal straw polls that merely demonstrated the opinions of some group of people that is unrepresentative of the general public. While unrepresentative, some straw polls, like those collected by magazines like the Literary Digest, accurately predicted election outcomes until the 1936 election between incumbent president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his opponent, Alfred Landon. The magazine collected responses from their readers during the Great Depression. Importantly, automobile owners subscribed to this magazine, and during the Great Depression, many families struggled to keep food on the table, much less make premium car payments. Thus, the sample of respondents to this straw poll were particularly unrepresentative of the general public. The poll predicted Landon winning the election by nearly 20%, yet President Roosevelt easily secured reelection. Improvements to Straw Polls The inaccuracy of the 1936 Literary Digest straw poll inspired improvements to public opinion measurement. Since the 1940s, public opinion polls have relied on random probability samples in order to capture a subset of public opinion that mirrors the preference of the general public. Politicians and members of the mass public alike pay close attention to these polls, especially as an election draws closer on the horizon. While public opinions polls have become more scientific over time, they are not without their issues. Sampling techniques have improved from the straw poll days, as surveys collect opinions from a random subset of the population. Pollsters aim to collect samples that mirror the demographic profile of the population, yet some surveys and polls are still prone to bias. When samples do not reflect the population, they are biased, as the results from the poll do not convey accurately the views of the general population. Survey methodology has become more sophisticated over time, though errors related to response collection continue to exist. Respondents who chose to complete polls and scientific surveys may not resemble those respondents who decide to drop out of a study. The questions themselves may be at fault, as the wording or phrasing of a particular question may confuse respondents, resulting in non-responses. Additionally, the question wording may offend some respondents, which may cause them to exit the survey itself. Questions that measure contentious topics like opinions about race-related issues are especially prone to these errors. In the 2016 Presidential Election, many respondents did not voice their support for President Trump in the polls, but they turned out to vote for him on Election Day. They claimed the pollsters were biased, and they did not feel comfortable expressing their honest preferences. L10 Measuring Public Opinion: Continued Previously, public opinion surveys relied on collecting responses using a method called random digit dialing in which a polling firm would randomly dial about 2,000 people in the country to collect information. This process assumed the general public all possessed access to landlines, though subsets of the population did not. Thus, the samples did not represent the general population, as lower income Americans systematically were excluded from the analysis. Currently, pollsters rely on the Internet to reach the American public, but some groups still are without access, which threatens the validity of a study’s findings. A Colbert Robert clip featuring Scott Rasmussen, a professional pollster and political analyst, who explains the process of collecting random samples of the general public for his firm, can be viewed on The Comedy Central (Links to an external site.) website. Scholars regard surveys as an overall effective method to measuring public opinion, though alternatives exist that may prove more appropriate in a particular context. Interviews, focus groups, and opportunities to observe casual conversations provide more in-depth opportunities for scholars to learn about the preferences of the general public. In these contexts, respondents can deliberate extensively about the questions at hand, so researchers can retrieve more nuanced information about their views. Newer methods designed to improve our understanding of public opinion include conducting images of respondents’ brains via MRIs, collecting genetic information about respondents, and conducting experiments to observe how people respond to various stimuli in a political environment. L10 Political Socialization The previous section explained the purpose of consulting public opinion polls to comprehend the general public’s thoughts about salient political issues. While people disclose their political opinions on surveys and polls, they develop them over the course of their lifetimes as a result of many environmental factors. Scholars who study political socialization examine how members of the public learn and develop political opinions over time. Specifically, they evaluate the roles of various agents of socialization to assess the particular factors that shape how individuals process their surroundings and respond to political information. Schools serve as important socialization agents, especially during a child’s early education. Children attend classrooms with walls adorned with photos of the United States president, and they learn at a young age to respect the authority of the president. Indeed, survey research demonstrates that young children equate the president and God, claiming both figures as being in charge of the world. Children also learn to recite the pledge of allegiance, as American flags also exist in classrooms across the country. Some political scientists point to this early indoctrination into the American political system as a method to preserve stability and instill faith in the government, while others point to early education as an inhibitor of honest dialogues surrounding the historical and current problems that affect the country. As children age, school still serves an important role in their political development. Students learn the complexities of the American political system, and they increase their level of political knowledge as a result of increasingly sophisticated classroom discussions. Additionally, they may begin to discuss political issues with their peers at lunch and during other leisurely periods. These trends continue during college, as students “come of age” politically once they turn 18 and can begin participating in the political system by voting. L10 Partisanship Socialization scholars observe general trends in the public’s acquisition of political knowledge and levels of participation within the system, but they pay special attention to one particular political opinion over time, political party affiliation or partisanship. Partisanship functions as the most stable long-term attitude transmission that occurs between parents and their children. Importantly, parents serve as the most influential agent of socialization in shaping their children’s partisanship. Indeed, two-thirds of adults report belonging to the same political party their parents support. Critically, party identity serves as the best predictor of vote choice. Partisanship remains stable over time due to the psychological attachments children form to these political groups at an early age. On average, children trust their parents to provide for them and to care for them, so they develop bonds of trust and loyalty to their parents. They spend more time with their parents during their childhood, so parents have more of an opportunity to shape these early political attachments than peers and schools, which often are comprised of individuals who share the same partisan affiliation as a person’s parents as a result of self-selecting into demographically homogenous areas. Thus, while young children are not able to recall specific policy positions present in the Republican and Democratic Party platforms, they are able to recognize the group to which their parents belong, so they positively perceive their parents’ “team” and look down upon members of the “other side.” L10 Ideology Political ideology represents another political opinion that appears stable over time. Competing definitions of political ideology exist, but ultimately, scholars describe political ideology as a connection of interrelated preferences about how the political world “should look” in an ideal sense. In the American political system, most people tend to describe their ideology as liberal or conservative, though many other ideological identities exist. Scholars not only clash on the definition of ideology, but they also disagree on the extent to which the public actually possesses a concrete understanding of political ideology. Philip Converse (1964) studied ideological constraint in his seminal work, The Nature of Belief Systems in the Mass Public. Converse defines ideological constraint as the persistence of issue positions over time, and he concludes that while most people remain stable partisans over time, the majority of individuals in the American political system possess little understanding of political ideology. Converse supports this claim by analyzing public opinion surveys over time. He observed that people supported liberal issue positions in one wave of the survey, but those same people endorsed conservative positions on the same issues in a successive wave of the survey. Since the publication Converse’s controversial findings, scholars have debated the public’s ability to navigate the political environment and cast votes that reflect their interests. Linked closely to political ideology are the topics of: · political knowledge · party cues · group interests L10 Political Knowledge, Party Cues, and Group Interests Extremely skeptical of the public’s abi
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