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Political Science Department

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Public Opinion and Survey Research

"Public opinion is fundamental in a democracy. Although public opinion may not be the prime mover in the policy-making process, it is a crucial element. Without public support, no policy, indeed no democratic government, can survive for very long. Public opinion is rooted in political culture and shaped by ideology. It is communicated to policy makers in a variety of ways, from informal, unscientific means to sophisticated scientific surveys."

"Public opinion is not just a cause of political action; it is also an effect. Public opinion is affected by whatever the government does, whether it is the adoption of a new civil rights statute, the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice, or a presidential decision to intervene militarily in another country. Indeed, public opinion is subject to some manipulation by those in power, both through strategic “leaking” of information to the media and by outright propaganda. In the United States, however, as in the other democracies of the world, public opinion has more influence over leaders than leaders have over public opinion."

From Lyons and Scheb, American Government: Politics and Political Culture, 3rd ed. (Atomic Dog Publishing 2003), Chapter 6.