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Title:The politics of public opinion: Polls, pollsters and presidents
Author(s):Mattes, Robert Britt
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Kolodziej, Edward A.
Department / Program:Political Science
Discipline:Political Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Political Science, General
Political Science, International Law and Relations
Abstract:This study examines the impact of public opinion polling in contemporary American politics. I examine several foreign policy-cases from the Carter and Reagan administrations, asking three questions across these cases. First, how did syndicated, media and White House pollsters ask survey questions about these issues? Second, how were the results to these questions disseminated and interpreted by the news media as well as by government opinion analysts? And third, how was this data actually used by policy-makers?
This study finds that the way the pollsters asked their questions had a significant impact on the results they obtained. One could usually arrive at very different conclusions about the state of public opinion on what were apparently the same political issues. Yet these differences were usually not reflected by the news media. To be sure, there were often significant disagreements among the news media, or between the news media and government analysts as to what these data meant. However, the news media often reached consenses on what these data meant that cannot be supported by a retrospective examination of all available data.
These problems with measuring and interpreting opinion had important effects on political behavior. This is because poll data were widely used within the halls of government. They were used by the White House to support its allies, persuade uncommitted politicians, and delegitimate political opponents. Polling data were also a valuable political resource in intra-Administration arguments over tactics and strategy. And finally, such data were a crucial source of strategic intelligence in Administration public relations designed to shape popular opinion; poll results helped the White House choose appropriate themes, arguments and rhetoric.
More importantly, the news medias' interpretations of opinion affected politicians' images of what the public wanted or opposed. That is, the polls and the news media shaped perceptions of what was politically possible, or politically risky. In this way, polling has come to play an active role in politics by shaping the context of political judgment. Thus, pollsters and those who interpret survey data now shape political reality as much as they reflect it.
Issue Date:1992
Rights Information:Copyright 1992 Mattes, Robert Britt
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9236535
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9236535

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