In American politics, public opinion is mostly a latent force that typically has no important bearing on national decision making unless citizens become unusually attentive to politics. Many citizens are uninformed, which leads to inconsistent opinions. In Tides of Consent, there are many factors that shift public opinion. Some changes are fast and responsive, such as spikes in presidential approval, and some changes are slow, and occur in increments that may be overlooked. Public opinion in American politics is meaningless individually, but aggregately, public opinion is meaningful.
Gradual, tidal opinion change is the type of change that is most important. Over the long term, what the public wants from the government is relativistic. Public opinion depends on what the government is doing. Therefore, public opinion works like a thermostat (Stimson 32). When the house is too warm, we send a signal and turn off the furnace, and vice versa (32). Stimson argues politics resembles a thermostat because when the public wants more from government, we turn up the heat and place liberals in power. But after seeing some policy change in the undesired direction, we turn down the thermostat and place conservatives in power. This trend continues indefinitely, but quite slowly. Therefore, American public opinion consistently moves contrary to the direction of the party of the White House (39). The two party system of politics is well organized for such a model of the influence of public opinion and is shown that the model fits well across certain issue domains. When new issues arise that are not covered within the dominant party cleavage, they are eventually incorporated through the process of “issue evolution.” Over the long haul, aggregate public opinion reacts to government actions and changes course, which results in changes in government, and then policy change in the direction indicated by the shift in public opinion. This makes movements in the aggregate highly...
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