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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define public opinion and political socialization
  • Explain the process and role of political socialization in the U.S. political system
  • Compare the ways in which citizens learn political information
  • Explain how beliefs and ideology affect the formation of public opinion

The collection of public opinion through polling and interviews is a part of American political culture. Politicians want to know what the public thinks. Campaign managers want to know how citizens will vote. Media members seek to write stories about what Americans want. Every day, polls take the pulse of the people and report the results. And yet we have to wonder: Why do we care what people think?

What is public opinion?

Public opinion is a collection of popular views about something, perhaps a person, a local or national event, or a new idea. For example, each day, a number of polling companies call Americans at random to ask whether they approve or disapprove of the way the president is guiding the economy.

Gallup. 2015. “Gallup Daily: Obama Job Approval.” Gallup . June 6, 2015. http://www.gallup.com/poll/113980/Gallup-Daily-Obama-Job-Approval.aspx (February 17, 2016); Rasmussen Reports. 2015. “Daily Presidential Tracking Poll.” Rasmussen Reports June 6, 2015. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/obama_administration/daily_presidential_tracking_poll (February 17, 2016); Roper Center. 2015. “Obama Presidential Approval.” Roper Center . June 6, 2015. http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/polls/presidential-approval/ (February 17, 2016).
When situations arise internationally, polling companies survey whether citizens support U.S. intervention in places like Syria or Ukraine. These individual opinions are collected together to be analyzed and interpreted for politicians and the media. The analysis examines how the public feels or thinks, so politicians can use the information to make decisions about their future legislative votes, campaign messages, or propaganda.

But where do people’s opinions come from? Most citizens base their political opinions on their beliefs

V. O. Key, Jr. 1966. The Responsible Electorate . Harvard University: Belknap Press.
and their attitudes, both of which begin to form in childhood. Beliefs are closely held ideas that support our values and expectations about life and politics. For example, the idea that we are all entitled to equality, liberty, freedom, and privacy is a belief most people in the United States share. We may acquire this belief by growing up in the United States or by having come from a country that did not afford these valued principles to its citizens.

Our attitudes are also affected by our personal beliefs and represent the preferences we form based on our life experiences and values. A person who has suffered racism or bigotry may have a skeptical attitude toward the actions of authority figures, for example.

Over time, our beliefs and our attitudes about people, events, and ideas will become a set of norms, or accepted ideas, about what we may feel should happen in our society or what is right for the government to do in a situation. In this way, attitudes and beliefs form the foundation for opinions.

Questions & Answers

how does one separate from State or government
Joni Reply
I do Not understand well, so if the abachis want. To seperate, acording to this declaration every one shoud Support them
Ich Reply
what is liberty
Luna Reply
You feel free and you decide and do and achieve the right for you
Ich
was the Bill of rights a necessary addtion to the constitution?
noor Reply
So, if I'm clear a member of the Congress CANNOT live in the state they represent?
Jeremy Reply
what is government
Seth Reply
why is today's government so corrupt?
Julius Reply
what type of government does American practice?
Joshua Reply
what type of government does American practice
Joshua
Representative Democracy
Digital
Democratic Republic
Jeremy
what is communalism
Yarhere Reply
suppression of the people and their rights.
Julius
Help me understand this please. Looks ok please 🙏 🙏 please
debbie Reply
which political party has had the most sucess
Damion Reply
In what ways can the media change the way a citizen thinks about government?
Justin Reply
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Cowboy
subliminal messages through the converged technological devices. and sourced profiles
Joni
Which of the following is not an agent of political socialization?
Vanessa Reply
What is government
AHMED Reply
how is the legislative work ?
Abdurahim Reply
law making
Cowboy

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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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