Public Opinion

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Key concepts
I. Public opinion
John Zaller states that mass opinion is made up of values (core, unchanging beliefs), attitudes (beliefs on broad policy issues), and opinions (more flexible views on specific policy issues). II. Four characteristics of public opinion

The characteristics of public opinion are direction (beliefs of the majority), stability (consistency over time), salience (importance), and strength (intensity of belief).
III. The public
The public may be categorized as the mass public (70–80%), the attentive public (15–20%), and opinion makers (3–5%). I. Public opinion
A. What is public opinion?
1. In The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, John Zaller states that mass opinion is made up of values, attitudes, and opinions.
2. Values are fundamental beliefs.
Examples: Beliefs in the sanctity of life, liberty, and individual privacy 3. Attitudes are beliefs about broad policy areas, derived from values. Examples: Opposition to abortion; support for the death penalty 4. Opinions are ideas about specific policy issues, shaped by attitudes. Examples: Support for parental notification of abortion; opposition to capital punishment for rape 5. Values, attitudes, and opinions are not always mutually consistent. Example: A person might believe strongly in the sanctity of life (a value), but believe that serial killers should be put to death (an opinion).

B. Where do values, attitudes, and opinions come from?
1. Values emerge from socialization, reflecting the influence of family and peers. 2. Opinions are influenced by polls, news reports, or other current information. II. Four characteristics of public opinion

A. Direction: the beliefs of the majority
B. Stability: the variability of the public opinion over time 1. High stability means that public opinion stays relatively constant. C. Salience: the importance of the policy issue to the public 1. High salience means the public considers the issue to be very important. D. Strength: the intensity...
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