Reading Public Opinion: How Political Actors View the Democratic Process

Paperback | October 11, 1998

bySusan Herbst

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Public opinion is one of the most elusive and complex concepts in democratic theory, and we do not fully understand its role in the political process. Reading Public Opinion offers one provocative approach for understanding how public opinion fits into the empirical world of politics. In fact, Susan Herbst finds that public opinion, surprisingly, has little to do with the mass public in many instances.

Herbst draws on ideas from political science, sociology, and psychology to explore how three sets of political participants—legislative staffers, political activists, and journalists—actually evaluate and assess public opinion. She concludes that many political actors reject "the voice of the people" as uninformed and nebulous, relying instead on interest groups and the media for representations of public opinion. Her important and original book forces us to rethink our assumptions about the meaning and place of public opinion in the realm of contemporary democratic politics.

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From Our Editors

Anticipating public opinion is a risky business and its role in the democratic political process in not fully understood. Susan Herbst reveals that public opinion often has little to do with the mass public in Reading Public Opinion. Herbst examines how legislative staffers, political activists and journalists evaluate public opinion.

From the Publisher

Public opinion is one of the most elusive and complex concepts in democratic theory, and we do not fully understand its role in the political process. Reading Public Opinion offers one provocative approach for understanding how public opinion fits into the empirical world of politics. In fact, Susan Herbst finds that public opinion, su...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:266 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:October 11, 1998Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226327477

ISBN - 13:9780226327471

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Customer Reviews of Reading Public Opinion: How Political Actors View the Democratic Process

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Are polls the only measure of public opinion? How do policymakers assess public opinion when they make or change public policy? In this groundbreaking study, Susan Herbst asked three groups of political actors -- staffers serving elected members of the Illinois state legislature, journalists covering legislature business, and state party activists -- about their views on public opinion. Interestingly, staffers and journalists have little faith in polls, because polls cannot give a useful or meaningful picture of how the public views complex policy issues. Instead, these actors rely on other sources. Staffers rely on lobbyists and the media; journalists on an imagined "composite reader." Social scientists have long been reluctant to use the media as a record or predictor of public opinion. But Herbst’s study suggests that key actors, to whom public opinion is simply those sentiments the government must heed, have no such qualms. Staffers read public opinion in the media, and journalists construct it by combining impressions gathered in their daily conversations with their images of the composite reader. All of which puts the media’s role in an interesting new light. By analyzing media coverage of certain issues more closely, perhaps policymakers could get a fuller picture of public opinion.
Date published: 2001-04-25

Extra Content

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1: The "Construction" of Public Opinion: Looking to Lay Theory
2: Policy Experts Think about Public Opinion, Media, and Legislative Process
3: Journalistic Views of Public Opinion
4: Conceptions of Public Opinion and Representation among Partisan Activists
5: Meanings of Public Opinion: Lay Theory Meets Democratic Theory
App. A: Notes on Interviews and Building Grounded Theory
App. B: Interview Protocols
App. C: Survey Form
Notes
Bibliography
Index

From Our Editors

Anticipating public opinion is a risky business and its role in the democratic political process in not fully understood. Susan Herbst reveals that public opinion often has little to do with the mass public in Reading Public Opinion. Herbst examines how legislative staffers, political activists and journalists evaluate public opinion.