Path: American Govt Home > Lecture Menu > Lecture 4-1
THE POLITICAL NATURE OF THE MASSES

 

Democratic government both assumes and requires extensive participation by citizens in the functioning of government.

  • The extent and nature of participation depends some on the model of democracy.
    • The majoritarian model puts more emphasis on mass participation.
    • The pluralist model emphasizes participation by intense minorities, those who are vitally interested in the policy options at stake.
  • To judge how well either model operates, we need to know what opinions are held by the public generally and specifically by groups within the public.
  • The best way to acquire this information is through survey research, or public opinion polls.
    • The basics of the theory behind a sample survey.
    • One does not need to examine every case in a population to draw some conclusions about that population.
    • One can draw inferences (estimates) about the population's characteristics from studying a sample of its cases.
    • The more cases in the sample one studies, the more accurate the inferences.
      • Moreover, if the sample of cases studied were drawn in a random fashion--one could compute the likely margin of error in the estimates or inferences.
      • The key feature of a random sample is that there is a known probably attached to the likelihood of each case appearing in the sample.
      • In a simple random sample, each case has an equal probability of occurrence.
    • For random samples of specified sizes, here are the likely error rates--you are 95% sure that your estimate will be within the range of error:
      • 200 cases7% error -- (196 cases, in truth)
      • 600 cases 4% -- (600)
      • 1,000 cases3% -- (1,067)
      • 2,500 cases2% --(2,401)
    • The percentage of error in the inference is called the sampling error, and it distributes so:

Interpreting the error rate:

  • Let's assume a sample size of 1,067 stating that 46% of the population approve of the job that Bush is doing as president:
    • This is called a point estimate
    • A sample that size has a 3% error rate, so we anticipate that the point esimate is not exactly right.
    • So we can be 95% confident that the true estimate lies within 43% and 49%
  • This is called the internal estimate at the 95% confidence interval
  • Implications of this relationship:
    • Most national samples have about 1,000 cases, which produces error rates of 3% about the point estimates reported
    • Note that sampling error is dependent on the sample size, and not on the size of the population being sampled.
      • To be accurate within 3%, you need a sample size of 1,067- regardless of whether you are sampling in the nation or in the smallest state.
      • Therefore, it costs as much to draw a sample in a state as in a nation.
      • We usually have better poll data for the nation than for any state.
  • There are many other errors in making inferences from survey research
    • Poorly worded questions
    • Lack of correspondence between the date of the survey and the prediction
    • Poor analysis of the data


The survey data available for our usage:

  • 1990-91 World Values Survey--described in Dalton on pp. 289-290.
    • Carried out in 42 nations with support from research foundations and national governments.
    • Dalton based his book on survey data from only five countries:
      • United States N= 1,839
      • Britain N= 1,484
      • West Germany N= 2,101
      • France N= 1,002
      • East Germany N= 1,336


How do people get their opinions

  • People acquire their values through political socialization, the complex process through which individuals become aware of politics, learn political facts, and form political values.
  • There are various agents of socialization:
    • Family
    • School
    • Community
    • Peers
    • Media
  • There are two operating principles that characterize early learning:
    • The primacy principle: What is learned first is learned best
    • The structuring principle: What is learned first structures later learning.
    • Learning in the family utilizes both of these principles.
      • Consider the example of religion.
      • This is acquired through the family.
  • Similarly, parental influences can also be seen in your party identifications.