HGov: Public Opinion Polls

Public opinion can be defined as those opinions held by ordinary citizens that they openly express. Public officials have many ways of assessing public opinion, such as the outcomes of elections, but they have increasingly come to rely on public opinion polls. Public opinion serves our democratic system of government in three key ways. First, it guides leaders as they make decisions about public policy. Whether conveyed through opinion polls, town hall meetings, letters, or e-mails, public opinion helps politicians know what their constituents are thinking. Public opinion also serves as guard against hasty or poorly understood decisions. Lastly, public opinion serves as a kind of glue in a diverse society like ours. Widespread agreement on basic political beliefs holds our society together, even in times of intense partisan conflict. There are many possible sources of error in polls, and surveys sometimes present a misleading portrayal of the public’s views. However, a properly conducted poll can be an accurate indication of what the public is thinking.

6.1 Nature of Public Opinion (read pp.183-191)
6.2 Political Socialization: How Americans Learn Their Politics (read pp.191-195)


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