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Public Opinion - Essay Example

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Public opinion can be defined as the collective evaluations that people express about individuals, institutions, policies, and political issues (Lowi et al, 2013). It is also the collective distribution about personal evaluation or preferences on a given individual, policy, or…
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Public Opinion PUBLIC OPINION Public opinion can be defined as the collective evaluations that people express about individuals, institutions, policies, and political issues (Lowi et al, 2013). It is also the collective distribution about personal evaluation or preferences on a given individual, policy, or issue. As with other democracies around the world, the public expects that their popular preferences will be accounted for by their government in making policies. Interest groups, on the other hand, are organized, voluntary associations seeking to publicly create advantages for and promote their cause by making appeals to the government regarding policy (Lowi et al, 2013). These associations also seek to influence public opinion as a way to achieve their ends.
In democracies like the US where operations of the government are dependent on the people’s consent in an election, leaders are obligated to take public opinion into account. Indeed, major policy change shifts tend to coincide with the occurrence of major public opinion shifts (Lowi et al, 2013). Generally, therefore, both Congress and the Executive respond to the preferences of the public, for example regarding government spending, welfare reform, and foreign policy issues. Still, the government should be responsive to public opinion because it needs the backing of the public for re-election. Essentially, therefore, government actions are consistent with public opinion with a study finding that significant shifts in public opinion tend to be followed by shifts in government policy within a year consistent with popular opinion shifts (Lowi et al, 2013).
Still, this does not mean that the government panders to all the preferences of the public. This is caused by inconsistency between commitment of the nominal majority and adherents of minority viewpoints, as well as inconsistency between public opinion and the character of the US system of government (Lowi et al, 2013). Overall, however, government actions do not digress from popular opinion for extended periods due to the electoral process. However, the government is also able to take leeway in its response to public opinion because the latter is not specific, while its measurement is not always accurate.
To meet this challenge, public interest groups representing a select population have risen in prominence. These associations attempt to pressure government through various methods, including mobilizing public opinion (Lowi et al, 2013). This involves the use of resources at their disposal to persuade a majority of the public to be more concerned about the issues they are raising concern over. In increasing their visibility and mobilizing support from the public, interest groups hope to focus attention to the importance of their issues to the government (Lowi et al, 2013).
Some of the efforts used by interest groups in mobilizing public opinion include grass-root lobbying efforts, protests, and advertising campaigns. One example of successful mobilization of public opinion by interest groups was the use of advertising by the Health Insurance Association of America, which caused the government’s national health insurance plan to fail by turning public opinion against the government plan (Lowi et al, 2013). Protests, on the other hand, attract attention by creating a sense of togetherness towards a common cause, while also disrupting the everyday activities of the public and forcing the public to pressure government to bargain with the protesters.
As can be seen from the discussion, the government tends to attend to public opinion, which is evidenced by the occurrence of major government policy shifts as soon as major public opinion shifts occur. However, this is not always the case, and the government may take leeway since public opinion is rarely consistent or accurately measurable. It is at this point that interest groups step in to shore up public opinion through protests, advertising campaigns, and grass-root lobbying, in order to influence government policy.
Reference
Lowi, T. J., Ginsberg, B., & Shepsle, K. A. (2013). American government: Power & purpose. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Read More
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