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American Public Opinion and Voter Behavior Essay


The five models of public opinion described as mechanisms of popular control

Public opinion is defined as “those opinions that are held by private persons which government does not find it prudent to heed” (Erikson and Tedin 7). It is the summation of people’s attitudes on different selected topics which are considered vital to the public. There are several models of public opinion, these are the rational-activist model, political parties model, interest group model, delegate model, and the sharing model.

The Rational-Activist model

This model is defined based on the degree of citizen participation in democracy. The core principle of this model is voting and it is only practical in a political environment where the citizens are well informed and play an active role in the political process. Voting in this process should be based on individuals’ preference and information about the candidates and the victorious candidate should be the one who garners majority votes. This model of public opinion bestows an immense burden on the citizens which they exercise through voting and gives the citizen an opportunity to influence public opinion on government policy. This model does not, however, guarantee measures for holding public officials accountable.

Political parties’ model

This model reduces the demands that are placed on the citizens and it only factors in the desire of political parties to win elections as an instrument to influence popular control. Unlike the Rational-Activist model where the key players are the citizens, political parties are the key players in the political parties’ model. The political parties state their position on a particular topic that is in the public domain, since political parties are driven by the interest to win elections, their stand on political matters should always appeal to the larger segments of the society.

Interest group model

The interest group model is the link between the elected officials and their constituents; they act as a medium of communication. This model informs the citizens of what their demands are and they ensure that the representatives are held accountable by their constituents. Interest groups are considered to be effective in a democratic country and they can deliver public opinion better than even elections and they can ease the work of individual voters. Political parties and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are also considered interest groups in an established political system.

Delegate model

Since elections are determined by policy issues, it is therefore imperative for politicians to seek the views of their voters and act according to the preference of the voters. In this model, when the elected leaders seek the opinion of their voters and take them seriously when elected, then they act as the agents or rather delegates of their voters and they can articulate the opinion of the voters in the political arena since they represent public opinion.

The Sharing model

This represents a scenario where the opinion of the elected leaders may be different from the opinion of the electorate. This model appreciates divergence in opinion, wishes, and attitudes among different individuals. In this model, politicians can act based on their personal preference notwithstanding the fact that voters may be apathetic and it can be a true reflection of how national matters can be shared, it also analyses how the similar opinions of the leaders can correspond to that of the public (Erikson and Tedin 21).

Different views about the effects and influence that public opinion has on political decision making

Walter Lippmann was among the pioneers in the field of opinion polling and even wrote about it before the development of opinion poll. He is also considered the first critics of an opinion poll. Gallup was the pioneer of scientific polling and a major proponent of opinion polls.

Lippmann considered opinion poll just as a popular opinion that can be influenced by individual passions and also which can be induced by elite propaganda. According to him, opinion polls can be manipulated and is a product of the psychological game.

Unlike Lippmann, Gallup was the chief proponents of opinion polling and considered it as an important channel in the art of decision making by the government. He also considered an opinion poll as the best way for ordinary citizens to express their ideas, wishes, and feelings freely. Gallup argued that the scientific opinion polling gave precision, flavor, and dependability to popular opinion and it was only through it that the wish and will of the people could be exactly determined and through the opinion poll, the public leaders could be in a position to convert the public will into public policy.

Consequently, Herbert Blumer and Lindsay Rogers are among the few people that launched assaults on the science of opinion polls. According to Blumer, an opinion poll is not exactly what it is and not truly reflective of the mass opinion. Blumer argued that opinion polls only qualify as opinion poll if they emanate from public forums and that which can be taken seriously by government officials.

According to Rogers, the public is not well informed, the public is not fit intellectually and emotionally to contribute to opinion polls and hence opinion poll is not the right parameter for ascertaining public messages. Rogers believed in the opinion of Edmund Burke that elected leaders should only follow the wish and the direction of their conscience and which can lead to the right determination of public interest. Rodgers criticized the science and the methodology of opinion polls and he argued that with the methodological flaws, it could not really be easy to measure public opinion, since opinion polls do not allow for deliberation of issues and sophisticated understanding which according to him is the main purpose of opinion polls (Erikson and Tedin 6)…

The fundamental defects of the sampling procedures that characterized the presidential elections in 1936 and 1948

It is in two instances that the sampling theory has been ignored by pollsters. Polls that concern political opinions often lack a reality test. Most of the surveys in 1936 and 1948 may have been conducted in a bad manner or they may have been off the mark but, these are often ignored. Most of the pre-election opinion polls have a strong reality test

The first case of bad sampling was manifested in the digest; they failed to apply a random selection or any other methodological instrument of sampling. Despite the fact that they distributed many questionnaires, they drew much of the sample from telephone directories. The digest did not also specify the sample population. Another factor that led to bad sampling by the digest was the time of the sampling. The questionnaires were sent in early September hence making it impossible to capture late changes that could favor one candidate in the wee moments of the campaign and hence hindering any detection of the poll outcome. This bad sampling only captured the wishes of the middle and upper class that had telephones.

In another incident, the digest sends out 10 million ballots and out of this 2.4million ballots were returned hence the response rate was very low because it targeted the educated class thus the sample was biased. In 1948, the reasons associated with the bad sampling are the use of telephone and quota sampling which lead to oversampling of those people with telephones, and since phones were very expensive not all people had phones and this ignored that segment of the population (Erikson and Tedin 263).

The key features of the contemporary multistage cluster sample method

Multistage sampling applies to such samples that cannot be listed for conventional sampling purposes which may include among others the population of a state, city, or nation. In this case, the sample design can be put into a cluster in a multistage design called cluster sampling. This type of sampling is only applicable when it is hard to compile an exhaustive list of the elements that make up the target population

The features of multistage sampling are:

First, it has different categories of the sample or rather portions classified as the primary, secondary or tertiary cluster. The first set of the sample is referred to as the primary sample whereas the subsequent ones are secondary or tertiary.

Multistage sampling is efficient in terms of cost and speed and also it is convenient since it only demands the listing of clusters and the individuals in a selected manner. Consequently, multistage sampling is only used where there is an absence of the list of the located objects and also where the levels of analysis do not match the unit list.

Multistage sampling involves drawing repeated samples from various series of other samples that may not be reflective of a similar target population. In this case, each stage defines the population narrowly up to the final phase of the sampling. Sampling in this method is undertaken in two stages: first is the selection of the primary units and second is the selection of the unit inside the primary sample. The major fields of research that suit this method of sampling are habitat studies, behavioral studies, and also wildlife surveys (Buddenbaum and Novak 57).

Pre-election polls, their accuracy and the challenges of “allocating undecideds” and “deciphering who votes”

The process of allocating the undecided respondents in an opinion poll especially the pre-election poll is a perpetual problem that faces opinion polls and researchers in pollsters and four major ways have been proposed to deal with this problem as explained below.

The accuracy of pre-election polls has been a subject of interest since they bridge voters’ expression of attitude and their voting behavior. Voting behavior can be correctly predicted through pre-election polls. The Gallup is the most credited among national opinion polls due to their degree of accuracy and the fact that they publish their accuracy record in all elections. The accuracy of Pre-election polls is determined by methodology and political environment.

The majority of the surveys consider the population of the undecided to be fifteen percent at any given presidential elections and the number may narrow to around five to eight percent during the sunset days of the campaigns. Basically, Pollsters often deal with the issue of undecided voters by adjusting the questions. The other ways of dealing with the undecided voters are through the repercentaging of the votes for major candidates after eliminating the undecided and allocating them to the trial heat support that candidates obtained in the poll; secondly, they may decide to allocate the undecided vote to the challenger; thirdly, they may opt to repercentage the major candidates after eliminating the undecided; and lastly, the undecided may be allocated through the discriminant analysis assignments (Walden 234).

Works cited

Buddenbaum, Judith and Novak Catherine. Applied communication research. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001. Print.

Erikson, Robert and Tedin, Kent. American Public Opinion. New York: Pearson, 2011. Print.

Walden, Graham. Survey research methodology, 1990-1999: an annotated bibliography Volume 28 of Bibliographies and indexes in law and political science. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. Print.

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