Public Opinion

· Many Americans believe that our government representatives should be guided by the public’s views. Others claim that public opinion may be unreliable or simply wrong.


Primary question:  Should elected officials use public opinion to guide their decisions?

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In a 3 to 5 paragraph essay of about 400 words, address the following sets of questions in your answer:

1.  Why might observers of American society be skeptical of public opinion as a guide to public policy choices?  Briefly describe both the “Uninformed Citizen” tradition and the “Rational Public” tradition – use the Page and Shapiro chapter and the CATO article to learn about these perspectives and cite these works, especially if they support your answer.

2.  How do citizens acquire information about policy choices?  Do these sources provide citizens with high quality information?  (Be sure to review and reference – cite –  textbook coverage of both political socialization and the evolution of the media in your answers)

3. Based on the arguments you outline in (1) and your review of opinion formation in (2) how do you answer the primary question – should we rely on public opinion or no?  In other words, which perspective on knowledge do you find more compelling and how does what you learned about where knowledge comes from support your answer?

You do not need to consult any sources except for the text, the two readings on political knowledge and the slides

Do not quote liberally from the text or the readings, but it is good practice to support your arguments with brief quotes (with a citation that includes the page number) or a citation to a piece that you paraphrase.


At the end of the paper, include the full citation – you should cite the text, Page and Shapiro (1992) and Somin (2004).   The formal cites for the text and the  two readings on political knowledge are:


Krutz, Glen and Sylvie Waskiewicz.  2019.  American Government 2e.  Houston, TX:. OpenStax.

Page, Benjamin and Robert Shapiro.   1992.  The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Somin, Ilya. 2004. “When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss:  How political ignorance threatens democracy.”  Policy Analysis.  No. 525.  (September).  CATO Institute.