Public Opinion as the Main Political Basis

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Public opinion is the main political basis of support for politicians. People in any position of political office must consider the public belief in their efforts to govern properly and enforce policy. However, the public’s collective preference is very complex. The state of what the public understands about politics and the way political elites influence the public opinion causes a variety of perspectives. The level of influence the public opinion has on how the American government behaves is what the articles in part ten of Serow & Ladd’s The Lanahan Readings in the American Polity Fifth Edition discuss. V.O. Key begins by stating that he believes polling is moderately correct; however, it does not accurately account for the political elite’s leverage. The number of people who hold notable power is limited. For this reason, any statement they give in a poll is essentially irrelevant in comparison to the public opinion. Key adds that political elites do not consistently agree on problems. He wrote, “Not all persons in leadership echelons have precisely the same basic beliefs; some may even regard the people as a beast” (Key 420). Therefore, there is a general notion that public opinion should hold the overall power.

The specific limitations on political competition helps to maintain the democratic aspect. Lawmakers could enforce class or socioeconomic discord, but they do not because they can see how such a thing would terminate the democracy. The different elite leaders have their own specific group and followers, which is based on socioeconomic level. This causes a balance with other political heads. Key also brings up the term “opinion dikes”. Opinion dikes would direct public action and set respectable grounds for arguments to be disputed. Ultimately, the public mass does not corrupt itself. The true corruption comes from the political aristocracy. “If a democracy tends toward indecision, decay, and disaster, the responsibility rests here, not in the mass of the people” (Key 424). In Direct Democracy, Thomas Cronin shows that recall, referendum, and initiative give the public a direct voice in the government. They are nonviolent forms of political participation. Even though the United States government is a representative system, aspects of direct democracy on the state and local levels have been slowly popularized. This direct voice will neither help nor ruin the government. “Political reformers contend that more democracy is needed and that the American people are mature enough and deserve the right to vote on critical issues facing their states and the nation” (Cronin 425). Recall, referendum, and initiative caused a more responsible state legislator to be made. However, the state legislator did not become more effective so it could take away the public’s direct democracy, but it did this to restablish the representative government. All Americans are politically equal; but when it comes to actually using their political freedom, some groups have more influence over the government than others. Conclusively, direct democracy is not the solution for all political problems; however, it is a moderate solution for the misuse of legislative power.

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Cronin concludes, ‘Like any other democratic institution, the initiative, referendum and recall have their shortcomings” (Cronin 432). ‘Whatever the shortcomings of direct democracy, and there are several, they do not justify the elimination of the populist devices from those state constitutions permitting them” (Cronin 432). In Politicians Don’t Pander, Lawrence Jacobs and Robert Shapiro give a close analysis of American politicians actions toward the public opinion. One thing they found is that politicians use the public opinion to help form a stronger policy that favors their own personal wants. In other words, politicians do not care about the general opinion. They ignore and try to alter it to fit what their goal is. The word that describes this is “pandering”. In 1998 and 1999, the President of the United States was Bill Clinton. Clinton was in the process of impeachment. The public did not approve of what President Clinton did; however, there was a sufficient amount of the public that still liked Clinton’s policies. Despite this, the congressional Republicans disregarded the general opinion.

“Commentators and the American public were visibly struck by the unyielding drive of congressional Republicans to remove Clinton from office in the face of clear public opposition. The Republicans’ disregard for the preferences of the great majority of Americans contradicted perhaps the most widely accepted presumption about politics-that politicians slavishly follow public opinion” (Jacobs and Shapiro 433). This was an example of the popular belief being overlooked. The government’s responsiveness to the general opinion is still a shortcoming. Shapiro and Jacobs show that officeholders are no longer truly representing the public. Politicians care about what their specific party wants more than the condition of public opinion. The public’s opinion is only good for politicians when they are making their policies. David Moore shows how public ignorance and viewpoint can be easily affected, which leads to inaccurate polls. Polls are supposed to give insight into what Americans are thinking across-the-board. However, a single question poll does not accurately display the entire public opinion. In 2008, the outcome of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s New Hampshire primary was 39% Clinton over 37% Obama. However, because of previous polls, many forecasted Obama as the winner. What caused this change were last-minute television ads.

The media played a huge role in the outcome of that primary. “The frequent broadcasts of these two videos during the final hours leading up to the primary almost certainly influenced New Hampshire voters” (Moore 445). Another factor is the non-responsiveness of the public in polling. Therefore, Hillary Clinton’s supporters may have not been willing to be interviewed by pollsters. Polls can increase democracy by guaranteeing that the voice of the people is heard. Still, the media only wants to report poll results that exhibit clear preferences, not indecision. The pollsters goal is to provide what the question asked. Thus, polls misrepresent what the true general opinion is because the public opinion is never exact. Pollsters need to accept ambiguity, so a more honest estimate is publicized. In conclusion. The mass media relies too firmly on the polls. Polls aim for unanticipated outcomes and division. Moore proves that one must depend less on poll reporting.

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