Anti-regulation views are a defining feature of the two most Republican typology groups. About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research.
Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Highlights from the Report Typology Quiz: Learn which of the types is your best match Interactive: Compare typology groups on issues Political Polarization Survey Dataset. Table of Contents Beyond Red vs.
The Political Typology Section 1: Views on Immigration and Race Section 5: Foreign Affairs, Terrorism and Privacy Section 7: Global Warming, Environment and Energy Section 8: Political Participation, Interest and Knowledge Appendix 1: Typology Group Profiles Appendix 2: About the Political Typology Appendix 3: Related Publications Jun 12, Publications Jun 26, Publications Jun 27, For instance, officials have sometimes been able to discount the importance of what they hear from pressure groups when they have learned about the distribution of the opinions of the population as a whole on the same issues.
It is also probable that both governmental manipulators of public opinion and private groups seeking to influence official policy have been able to conduct their activities with greater sophistication because of increased knowledge about the nature of the relationship between the government and the public. The task of communication research has been defined by Lasswell as that of answering the question: Thus, communication researchers who follow this formula have not focused their attention directly on opinions regarding public issues, but they have made a number of important indirect contributions to the understanding of public opinion.
In particular, studies of symbol manipulators those who speak , audiences those who are exposed to communications , the role of the mass media, and the effects of the ideas that are communicated are relevant to such questions as how opinions take hold among large numbers of people, why they are distributed as they are, how they are related to each other, and how they change. Those who are concerned with the ways in which ideas are spread have studied the activities of government spokesmen, private publicists, and propaganda and news organizations as well as the relationships between communications and policy.
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Few adequate generalizations have been made about propagandists. One analysis found them to have abnormally strong cravings for power, highly extroverted personalities, unreasoning intolerance for rivals, and a gift for organization and management when these are related to self-aggrandizement B. This unflattering characterization was, however, based in large part on attention to Nazi, Fascist, and Communist spokesmen. Modern propaganda organizations are characterized by elaborate mechanisms for setting policy, operating media, studying audiences, and evaluating effectiveness Davison The task of coordinating the output of such vast organizations with the policy of the sponsoring group usually a government has frequently led to clashes between propagandists and policy makers.
Studies of news media have indicated that they, too, tend to structure opinions, even though usually unintentionally. One way this is done is by giving large numbers of people a common focus of attention. An operating definition of news used by most journalists is that a subject is newsworthy if it is already in the headlines. Thus, there tends to be a circular reinforcing process, in that a subject is featured if it is already being given attention and it is given more attention because it is featured Cohen News media also help to assure cohesion among members of major population groups.
It also serves as a forum for exchange of ideas among them. In , for example, a survey found that the New York Times was subscribed to by 60 per cent of American news editors, 46 per cent of utility executives, 30 per cent of college presidents, and 28 per cent of bank officers throughout the country Kraft Newspapers such as he Monde, Pravda, and The Times of London may occupy an even more central position. Propagandists and the mass media do not, however, have it all their own way.
Audience studies have shown that people give their attention selectively to the communications that are available to them and that they frequently derive meanings from these that are quite different from the ones intended. Even very intensive publicity drives have failed to increase knowledge about given subjects when people have no interest in acquiring more information. Conversely, news of events that are not given extensive publicity can circulate with amazing rapidity by word of mouth.
Attention seems to be governed primarily by two factors: As far as the effects of communications on opinions are concerned, a major finding of researchers has been that well-formed attitudes are highly resistant to change. On the other hand, casual attitudes can be changed fairly easily. In nonpartisan local elections, where the candidates are not well known, even a small amount of information or an endorsement by a respected newspaper can sway a substantial number of votes.
Similarly, the editorial stand of a newspaper can sometimes tip the scales for or against an issue in a community where opinions are fairly evenly divided and feelings do not run high. Communications can also reinforce existing attitudes and activate latent ones. Agitators frequently make use of activating and reinforcing communications in order to whip up enthusiasm for an idea and bring people to the point where they are willing to vote, demonstrate, or take some other action.
Such effects may also be achieved unintentionally. During , when a number of West German newspapers started to publicize crimes committed by American military personnel in West Germany, largely as a circulation-building device, they whipped up latent emotions to a point where at least one town council requested the withdrawal of American forces from the area.
Insights from communication research are used in both the political and the commercial realms. Political uses are made most frequently by those concerned with propaganda and psychological warfare. In democratic elections, for instance, the political propagandist frequently tries to find an issue that is favorable to his side or unfavorable to the opposition and about which there are widespread latent attitudes; he then tries to activate these attitudes by means of emphasizing the issue in the public media.
In the commercial world, communication research makes it possible for the advertiser to select media that are already being given attention by the audience he wishes to reach and also to test the effectiveness of varying advertising appeals. The same principles of selection and testing can be used by those who are merchandising political ideas. One of the most important applications of communication research is in connection with national development.
The mass media play a critical role in turning traditional societies into modern ones by preparing people psychologically for life in an industrial society , by helping to build new political institutions engaging in mass education, and by providing information that is necessary for economic development Lerner ; Conference on Communication … Accordingly, modernizing nations have been advised to examine the channels for the flow of information within their borders and to plan for the growth of the mass media in phase with the growth in other sectors.
The mass media are necessary for development not only because they link people with government and disseminate information that is needed in educational and economic programs but also because they draw diverse people together around common national problems and interests and make it possible for them to participate in public affairs Schramm As societies have become more complicated and ever larger masses of people have become involved in political and economic life, students have felt a growing need for some concept that refers to collectivities failing between the undifferentiated mass, on the one hand, and primary groups and formal organizations, on the other.
In modern society people do not behave like isolated individuals, but neither can their behavior be explained exclusively in terms of their organizational and group membership. This became abundantly apparent just prior to and during the French Revolution , when the middle class began acting much as though it were an organized force, even though no principle of organization was immediately apparent. The ferment of the times could be explained only in terms of some greater force, and this force was labeled public opinion.
As a result of increases in literacy and proliferation of communication media, public opinion soon ceased to be exclusively a middle-class phenomenon in the principal industrialized areas of the world. Less-advantaged members of the community have also been able to achieve a consensus on some issues, although less frequently and intensely than those at higher socioeconomic levels. The civil rights movement in the United States has succeeded in mobilizing public opinion far beyond the middle class.
It is probable that public opinion in the developing countries will evolve in similar fashion but will take less time to do so.
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Public opinion has played a smaller role in communist countries than in the democracies. The efforts of the state to control the principal channels of public communication and to prevent nonoffi-cial links among the citizenry have made it more difficult for individual opinions to become related and for consensuses to develop. Nevertheless, this has occurred in some instances, either because independent-minded artists and writers have given expression to widely shared ideas or because it has been made possible by word-of-mouth communication. Both rebellious writers and interpersonal channels seem to have played a role in the growth of public opinion that led to the antiregime uprising in Hungary in Communist spokesmen occasionally assert that public opinion does exist in countries having a totalitarian-socialist form of government but that it is a common opinion in which the entire population shares and is adequately expressed in single-list elections and mass demonstrations.
It is improbable that such asseverations are made seriously, especially since public-opinion studies that recognize important differences among individuals and population groups have been reported from eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with increasing frequency. Our understanding of the role that public opinion plays in political, economic, cultural, and other areas can be expected to increase during the coming years as research and thinking at all levels is pursued throughout the world.
Further comparisons of public-opinion processes in various societies would be especially helpful. Even more important would be empirical and theoretical studies linking together the four approaches described above, so that each would contribute to an interlocking and mutually reinforcing whole. Only when this integration has been achieved will a coherent theory of public opinion be possible. Public Opinion Quarterly 1: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Bauer, Wilhelm Die bffentliche Meinung in der Weltgeschichte. Bryce, James The American Commonwealth.
New York and London: A Study in Public Opinion. A Guide to the Literature, by Bruce L. Smith and Chitra M. New Brunswick , N. Nature, Formation and Role. The Making of the Japanese Peace Settlement. Edited by Lucian W. A Study of the Larger Mind.
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Cooley, Two Major Works: Phillips International Political Communication. Published for the Council on Foreign Relations. Exposure to International Information. Public Opinion Quarterly Journal of Peace Research 1: Scientific American , July: A Study in Mass Persuasion. Russian Research Center Studies, No. Katz, Elihu; and Lazarsfeld, Paul F. A Series of Addresses. Edited by Lyman Bryson.
Verlag fur Literatur und Politik. Modernizing the Middle East. Lippmann, Walter Public Opinion. Maletzke, Gerhard Psychologie der Massenkom-munikation: Council on Foreign Relations. The Role of Information in the Developing Countries. A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Brewster The Combat Replacement. Pages in Samuel A. Combat and Its Aftermath. Papers in Political Sociology. The Cincinnati Plan for the United Nations. American Journal of Sociology Tocqueville, Alexis De Democracy in America. Paperback editions were published in by Vintage and by Schocken.
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Translated and edited by Charles P. A paperback edition was published in by Harper. Political Interests and Public Opinion. Public Opinion Quarterly 3: As the sampie survey and other instruments of social science research add precision to the concept of public opinion—defined as the distribution of personal opinions on public objects in the population outside the government—it becomes increasingly apparent that the opinion process is not identical with or completely determinative of the judgments of persons in a position to formulate and shape public policy.
The concept of political opinion is thus a shorthand expression for the relation or sets of relations between the opinion-forming and policy-making processes in society. In empirical terms, it leads to the following question: Philosophically, it also raises the question of meaning: Public opinion is sometimes considered to be a sanction legitimizing symbol , sometimes an instrument data , and sometimes a generative force directive and limit in the policy process. In a political setting, the relevant criterion is not the truth or falsity or the Tightness or wrongness of opinions but their significance for the electoral success or failure of officeholders and candidates, for the degree of popular support for existing and proposed policies aimed at the security and prosperity of the community, and ultimately for the viability of the constitutional and political system.
Insofar as opinions are expressed, it is useful to distinguish two categories of opinion statements:. The important characteristic of opinion statements, as distinct from postulates of knowledge, mystical or religious faith, and matters of belief beyond discussion e. Discussion can lead to agreement and can settle differences of opinion; only violence, authority, or an appeal to a metaphysical or a divine source can resolve differences in objects of faith and belief, which are literally nondebatable and thus fall outside the sphere of opinion.
There is a notable tradition in the history of normative thought about the relation of the public and the private in matters of opinion. Through most of the nineteenth century the dominant tradition assumed that the public sphere was defined by the legally coercive acts of government officials acting in the name of the monarch or representing the people organized as a political community.
First, it is not clear that an opinion consensus is a necessary or sufficient condition for a public to exist. Second, the problem of coercion is ignored. The range of individual and group opinions taken into account by political rulers, representatives, and public officials varies widely among political societies, historical and contemporary.
In primitive communities and in feudal, caste, or closed-class social systems, the range of political communication seems to have been narrowly confined within limits set by ritual, custom, and social structure. In fractionalized, transitional cultures the ruling group often restricts sharply the scope and subjects of public discussion and indeed controls more or less completely the channels of mass communication. Since World War i it has become fashionable for all governments to claim to be democratic, in the sense that a high degree of correspondence is imputed to exist between the acts of government officials and the majority opinion.
Under constitutional governments, public officials operate through prescribed, legal procedures for issuing and validating statements of public policy. In this context the acts of public officials are interpreted as symbolic, authoritative expressions of the public interest, legally enforceable until amended or rescinded by proper constitutional procedures after a period of public reaction, political agitation, and response.
To this end, the channels of public communication and conditions of group association are rigorously limited and controlled by governmental and party officials. Speculative theories of political opinion can be grouped into five classes; each has affinities to one of the two basic types above but may also resemble the other in some features. Perhaps the oldest theory of political opinion is that of the elite, or ruling class, according to which society is horizontally divided into leaders and followers and vertically divided into hierarchies of racial, functional, socioeconomic, or demographic groups.
The ruling class is composed of the leaders of the several vertical-group hierarchies. The consensual foundations of political community, according to elitist theorists, lie in ethnic ties, qualities of the people, ancient customs, glorious historical events, and symbolic documents embodying self-limiting agreements between the nominal ruler and the elite leaders.
In the elitist conception of political opinion, the status and opinion leaders outside government are seen as occupying a hierarchical position above the points of official decision, so that the lower-status governmental officials, by definition, simply execute the decisions made by the ruling class. Representative of this approach is the work of Gaetano Mosca [ See Mosca]. A second class of theories of political opinion includes those absolutist doctrines of sovereignty, both monarchic and popular, that view society as an abstract mass of individuals.
In the absence of rulers, the people are able to act only chaotically or in compulsive unanimity, for example, as a mob. These entities alone are capable of knowing and expressing the mystical, unifying will variously named volonte generate, Volksgeist, sovereign people, and mass proletariat. Interpreters of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Hegel can point to paragraphs and sections showing that these thinkers were aware that the social structure and opinion processes of society are more complex than the simple dichotomy of people and ruler; nonetheless, in answer to the question of where the source of supreme power in the political community is located, each postulated an unlimited governing authority, either in the mass-majoritarian consensus of the people or in the moral and political responsibilities of the state-ruler.
None of the Leninist-Stalinist theories or their adaptations by Mao Tse-tung about the relations of the party to the masses overcomes the difficulty of the people-state dilemma. Closely associated historically with the concept of popular sovereignty is the idea that people have to be educated, guided, induced, or persuaded. In practical terms, this has led to the notion that issues can be created and that new cleavages and changes in the mass distribution of opinion can be brought about by events and adroit acts of opinion leaders, politicians, prestige figures, or persons who control the content of the mass media.
War propaganda during World War i, the tremendous increase in commercial advertising and public relations activities thereafter, the deliberate use of propaganda and agitation by totalitarian and revolutionary mass movements, and the conscious development of psychological warfare in World War n, all highlighted what may be called the mass-manipulation theory of political opinion. However, there was also a clear realization that social forces and public opinion are not independent, exogenous variables in the opinion-policy process but are affected by, and indeed are sometimes produced by, leaders and events.
The fourth category of political opinion models contains those theories of representative democracy which postulate the idea of a covenant or agreement among people who, by giving up their prepolitical freedom of action, are enabled to establish a government of limited powers in order to secure certain values union and independence, security of life and property, justice and liberty, the common welfare that individuals without government cannot obtain by themselves. It also provides guarantees of personal and private rights, requirements for insuring conformity between governmental acts and majority opinion free elections, freedom of speech and of the press, and the right of assembly and of petition , and a prescribed procedure for amending and revising governmental structures, procedures, and powers.
Such widely varying theories of political organization as monarchy, minority or restricted majority rule, and populist democracy have been reconciled with representative-democratic forms, when they admitted prior legitimacy and loyalty to a political order based on the principles of limited powers and the consent of the governed [ See Lindsay].
The fifth category, the rationalist-idealist model of political opinion, was perhaps best formulated by A. Maclver, who sought to identify the conditions necessary for individuals and groups to participate rationally in public affairs [ See Lowell and Maciver]. The specified conditions were 1 that the people be politically organized and act as a community rather than as a mass or crowd; 2 that the right of minorities to hold their opinions and to organize politically for peaceful opposition be recognized but that the minority submit to and obey majority decisions; 3 that majorities and minorities alike accept and abide by the structure and processes of governmental decision, including the rules for amendment and change; 4 that the members of the political community have access to the facts reasonably necessary to arrive at a rational decision on a given issue; 5 that they engage actively in discussion and participate in public affairs, so as to be capable of assessing political realities; and 6 that they explicitly adjust their votes and other political acts to their conception of the common good and public interest.
The division between speculative and empirical theories is not precise, nor are the two mutually exclusive. Certain obstacles confront all empirical theories of political opinion. One is the obvious methodological problem of systematically gaining access to persons in positions of public authority or private influence for purposes of observation. More important, conceptually, is the problem of variations in the setting in which the opinion-policy relation occurs.
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The two-way relation between opinion and policy formation, can be studied on the level of, and within, the individual personality; in the interactions of two or more persons in small groups; in leader-follower behavior within large groups, whether or not they possess formal structure and bureaucratic organization; and in the complex relationships between key individuals in the multi-group process of public, official policy making. Intensive studies of the conditions under which changes can be induced in individual opinion, personality, and behavior have great potential value for research in more inclusive contexts, but the variations of scale and setting often seem to reduce the applicability of concepts employed in personality and small-group studies to analogies and metaphors on the level of political and societal behavior.
On the macroscopic level of political society, studies of public opinion and policy formation do not agree about the analytical terminology for the different aspects of the opinion-policy relation, nor have they integrated the conceptual tools available. Past approaches to the study of political opinion can be grouped into four categories with respect to the focus of analytical attention: Among the social sciences political science has been largely preoccupied with 1 and 3 , sociology with 2 and 4 , psychology and economics with 3 and 4 , and cultural anthropology with 1 and 4.
Since , however, interdisciplinary communication, especially in the United States, has been steadily breaking through such conceptual jurisdictions. The location, organization, and exercise of formal, legal sanctions over the process of public opinion and policy formation has long been a central concern of conventional political theory, comparative government, and constitutional law and history. Not until the distinction between legal and political sovereignty was recognized, however, could public opinion become a respectable subject of academic research, and then new methods, concepts, and even disciplines became necessary.
Evidence of the role of political opinion as sanction has been found in 1 the demonstration of widely held faith among the population in the legitimacy of the structures and processes by which public policy decisions are reached; 2 the measurement of divisions of the electorate into organized parties and groups which provide support for, criticism of, or opposition to official government policies; 3 the estimates of the degree of popular satisfaction with the performance of the regime or party in power in promoting the security and prosperity of the political community; 4 the discovery of norms of behavior and procedure expected from public officials in promulgating and enforcing public policies; and 5 the analysis of the moods and qualities of opinion to which policy makers have to adjust their thinking and public behavior.
The concept of political opinion has stimulated inquiries into the distinctive calling vocation of the politician —the specialist in organizing political controversy, in formulating and discussing issues, in making decisions and taking protective policy positions in public, in return for which he obtains influence over or access to elective office.
Opinion research has provided objective data on the variability of popular moods, demands, expectations; on the scope for choice, error, and misjudgment in policy making; and on career opportunities and the rewards and dangers involved in estimating opinion distributions and trends. Of all research into political opinion, studies of social structure and mobility, group organization and activity, and processes of interpersonal and mass communication and their effects upon opinion formation and change have made the greatest advances in precision and sophistication since The sample survey has been a major vehicle of this progress, but for studying the personal transmission of opinions, the impersonal processes of organizational communication, and the relations between opinion leaders and policy makers, technicians have found it necessary to supplement the sample survey with sociometric, intensive-interview, and other observational methods.
The sample survey technique has not yet enabled social scientists to construct a satisfactory general model of how social structure and group organization activate, permeate, and respond to the policy process. It has, however, enormously enhanced their ability to verify, at points of time before, during, and after the process of public decision, the extent to which information, attention, and other attributes of opinion distributions conform to hypothesized statements, however derived.
It may be conjectured that the next major advance in our knowledge of the opinion-policy relation will emerge from developments in the fields of organizational theory and decision-making behavior, where sharper concepts of interaction analysis are being developed. Another large body of empirical inquiry into the opinion-policy process centers upon the behavior of persons in positions to make authoritative decisions that bind or control the acts of others. No more than in the previous categories has one single, unifying conceptual framework emerged. Decision-making theory does not specifically utilize the concept of public opinion but incorporates data on public opinions and policy communications into indexes of perceptual and informational influences upon the perspective of the decision maker.
Studies of the impact of public opinion on public policy makers have been focused on the following: Their estimates of public reactions may be refined by intelligence operations military, commercial, or political and employment of the skills of advertising and public relations agencies.
Political biographers, journalists, literary artists, and psychological experts have explored the internalized conflicts produced by motivational drives embodying strong compulsions to violate or to conform to societal norms. Whether the context of application be literary, scientific, or practical, empirical analysis supports the assumption of normative theory that public opinion is not a single source of authoritative command; rather, it has at least three different functions: The most pervasive issue dividing theories of the opinion-policy relation bears a striking resemblance to the problem of monism-pluralism in the history of philosophy.
The former assumption interprets individual, group, and official action as part of a single system and reduces politics and governmental policies to a derivative of three basic analytical terms: The pluralistic assumption retains the familiar dualism between society the interpersonal affinities of interest, loyalty, and opinion exhibited in spontaneous groupings and voluntary associations outside of government and the state the official role structures of government, based upon the institutionalized control of violence and bureaucratic performance of public duties. This approach elevates to the central focus of attention the political patterns of communication superior force, bargaining, competition, coalition, etc.
The monistic assumption is theoretically simpler and more easily verified, particularly in static, rural, local communities. The pluralistic model is more flexible, in that it allows for variations in the configuration of power, depending upon the nature of the issue, and accounts for more of the facts of urban, industrialized, technologically developed national states. Under either assumption, public policy is an end product of different patterns of communication between representative leaders of societal and of governmental opinion.
Pages in Luigi Petrullo and Bernard M. Bass editors , Leadership and Interpersonal Behavior. Archives europeennes de soci-ologie 1: Berelson, Bernard Communications and Public Opinion. Pages in Wilbur L. Schramm editor , Mass Communications: A Book of Readings. Pages in Heinz Eulau, S. Eldersveld, and Morris Janowitz editors , Political Behavior: A Reader in Theory and Research. Kris, Ernst; and Leites, Nathan C. Why People Get Involved in Politics. A Framework for Political Inquiry.
Yale Law School Studies, Vol. The Social Bases of Politics. Petrullo, Luigi; and Bass, Bernard M. An Introduction to Political Behavior. Pages in Roland A. Young editor , Approaches to the Study of Politics. A Book of Readings, by D. Interaction, Communication and Influence, Social Reinforcement.
Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. Retrieved September 21, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. The public's role in the American foreign policy process is a controversial subject. Generations of diplomats, political theorists, and historians have argued about the nature of the elusive opinion policy relationship.
They have been concerned about the abilities of American leaders to operate according to democratic precepts in a pluralistic international system often dominated by autocratic powers. In arguing for greater authority in foreign affairs for the proposed new Senate in the Federalist Papers , Alexander Hamilton saw the senior house of the U. Congress as serving as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions. Striking a similar theme almost a half-century later, that perceptive observer of the American scene Alexis de Tocqueville was not very sanguine about the prospects for a democratic foreign policy.
Writing during a period when the diplomatic activities of the United States were relatively unimportant, he explained:. Foreign politics demand scarcely any of those qualities which a democracy possesses; and they require, on the contrary, the perfect use of almost all of those faculties in which it is deficient …. It cannot combine measures with secrecy, and it will not await their consequences with patience …. According to Tocqueville and other so-called realists, diplomacy should be the province of a small group of cosmopolitan professionals who perform their duties in secret and with dispatch.
Leaders must not encourage their constituents to mix in heady matters of state because the uninformed and unsophisticated mass public is unable to comprehend the subtle rules of the game of nations. Democratic leaders are severely handicapped in diplomatic jousts with authoritarian rulers who are able to contain the foreign policy process within chancellery walls.
Defenders of popular participation in international politics maintain that despite the clumsiness and inefficiency inherent in open diplomacy, the alternative is worse. Leaders who employ devious means to defend a democratic system will, in the long run, pervert or transform that system. At the least, the public and its representatives must have as much influence in the making and execution of foreign policy as they have in domestic policy. A foreign policy constructed and controlled by the people is stronger than one that rests upon a narrow popular base. The victory of the United States in the Cold War can be offered to support that contention.
Historians are just as contentious as political theorists. Despite an enormous amount of rhetoric, speculation, and research, very little is known about the actual relationship between public opinion and foreign policy. Since the late s, survey researchers have explored the dimensions of public opinion while political scientists have considered the ways in which decision makers perceive opinion.
Nevertheless, a broad consensus about the nature of the opinion-policy nexus has yet to emerge. Many studies describe the power of the public and how it has forced presidents into wars and crises against their better judgments. The journalist Walter Lippmann , among others, felt that Tocqueville's prophecies have been fulfilled:.
The people have imposed a veto upon the judgements of informed and responsible officials. They have compelled the governments, which usually knew what would have been wiser, or was necessary, or was more expedient, to be too late with too little, or too long with too much, too pacifist in peace and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or appeasing in negotiation or too intransigent. Mass opinion has acquired mounting power in this century. It has shown itself to be a dangerous master of decisions when the stakes are life and death.
Lippmann's position is supported by a host of historical legends: Polk along in its wake into the Mexican War of ; that expansionist fervor and humanitarian impulses created by an irresponsible yellow press propelled William McKinley into war against hapless Spain in ; that myopic popular isolationism restrained Franklin D. Roosevelt's realistic anti-Axis program in the late s; that antiwar protesters humbled the once-omnipotent Lyndon Johnson in and forced both his withdrawal from public life and his de-escalation of the war in Southeast Asia ; and that the bitter memories of that war made it difficult for presidents to intervene militarily in the Third World during the last quarter of the twentieth century.
All of these examples lend credence to the principle that the public is sovereign in the United States , even when it comes to matters of weltpolitik. But all of those historical cases have been interpreted in a very different fashion. Many reputable historians contend that war hawks were not elected in and that an unimaginative Madison merely lost control and mindlessly drifted into war in ; that Polk was the prime instigator of jingoism in and with his blunt messages to Great Britain about the Oregon dispute and his provocative movement of troops into an area claimed by Mexico; that McKinley, who exercised weak leadership in and early , created a serious political problem for the Republicans — a problem whose solution depended upon a declaration of war against Spain; that Roosevelt underestimated his ability to move the nation and, in any event, was more of an isolationist than an internationalist; that Johnson backtracked in Vietnam because the military policies he had pursued for four years had failed on the battlefield; and that when necessary, as in Grenada in and the Persian Gulf in , presidents had little trouble convincing their constituents to accept their interventions.
To be sure, there is a certain degree of truth in both sorts of interpretations; but, in the last analysis, a careful reading of American history reveals few clear-cut situations in which public opinion has forced presidents to adopt important foreign policies that they themselves opposed. Furthermore, in most diplomatic confrontations, American decision makers were able to act in secrecy and with dispatch to meet challenges from rivals representing authoritarian systems.
Indeed, during his administration, the secretive Richard Nixon may have exercised more personal control over his nation's foreign policy than did his counterpart, Leonid Brezhnev, the ruler of the totalitarian Soviet Union. At the least, there was more genuine debate in his Politburo than in Nixon's National Security Council.
Historians, political scientists, and even the participants themselves report that American decision makers pay little direct attention to public preferences, especially in a crisis. Presidents have maintained that it would be unseemly to worry about the public's often uninformed views, and thus their own political futures, when the nation's security is threatened.
All the same, fear of outraged public opinion undoubtedly serves as an implicit veto against such extreme options as the preemptive bombing of North Korean nuclear facilities or unilateral disarmament. Moreover, popularly elected statesmen are loath to adopt policies that could lead to a loss of personal prestige.
Thus, with their votes U. Nevertheless, despite the occasional case of a Robert Kennedy who worried openly about popular reactions to a sneak attack on Cuba in the fall of , most decision makers do not consciously consider public opinion when they discuss responses to external threats. As for that ultimate club, foreign policy has rarely figured prominently in national or local elections.
The personalities of the candidates, party loyalties, and domestic politics have obscured such major electoral issues as imperialism in , the League of Nations in , the escalation of the war in Vietnam in , and the apparent renewal of the Cold War in It is true, however, that although elections may not frequently turn on foreign policy issues, foreign policy sometimes turns on electoral politics. That year, Lyndon Johnson announced a breakthrough in peace talks with the communists in Vietnam a week before what was going to be a very close election. Four years later, the shoe was on the other foot when Richard Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger , announced a breakthrough in his peace talks with the North Vietnamese in late October.
Other nations may also "participate" in U. The Russian leader Nikita S. Khrushchev claimed he helped elect John F. Kennedy by refusing to release U. In , as Vice President George H. Bush genuflected toward the anticommunists in his party during his run for the president, he sent a message to the Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to not pay much attention to his campaign rhetoric about U. The lack of compelling evidence for direct popular influence in diplomatic interaction does not necessarily make American foreign policy undemocratic.
On the contrary, theorists see the public as sovereign, because it establishes parameters for action and sets goals for presidents and their agents. Broad national policy is said to originate with the people. For example, during the Cold War, the public's foreign policy mandate was clear.
It included the desires to defend U. Theoretically, such a mandate was implemented by policymakers who developed shorter-term tactical programs. This widely accepted view is not without its logical and evidential flaws. In the first place, because of their preeminent roles in the opinion-making process, presidents generally define the relationship of the United States to international events.
Consequently, they can make almost any of their actions appear to defend the national interest and to be within the bounds of decorous democratic foreign policy. Further, the limits that the public ostensibly sets for them are remarkably flexible. They can be expanded because of the exigencies of a changing international climate that, according to the policymaker, demand new approaches.
In early , for example, Americans looked forward to a long period of normalcy and nonentanglement. Apparently, joining the United Nations was all the internationalism they desired. At the time, few would have approved of the permanent stationing of military units in Europe , nor would they have accepted giving away millions of dollars to foreign friends.
By , however, the impact of events — events interpreted by the foreign policy establishment — convinced a majority of citizens that unprecedented interventionist activities were needed to maintain national security. The limits that restrained American diplomats in were expanded by through a combination of events and propaganda. The view is also inadequate when analyzed from the bottom up. The abstract differentiation between the public's task of defining strategic interests and the government's task of developing tactical policies is difficult to make operational.
During the early s most Americans supported their government's general attempt to stop "communism" in Southeast Asia. Yet, the bombing of North Vietnam, putatively a tactical policy decision implemented to achieve that goal, became a matter for widespread public debate. Both hawks and doves refused to leave the bombing issue to the planners in the Pentagon. And rightly so, for most major military policies are fraught with serious political implications.
In sum, despite widespread scholarly agreement about its basic outlines, the dominant paradigm delineating the public's role is faulty. The suggestion that the public sets goals and limits while the president executes policy does not adequately describe the opinion-policy relationship in American diplomatic history. The public and the policymaker do interact in a more fundamental way. Historic periods are marked by unique climates of opinion. From time to time, Americans have been more isolationist than expansionist, more tolerant than intolerant, or more pessimistic than optimistic. Such general moods, which develop as a result of a concatenation of social, economic, and, to some degree, psychological factors, cannot be rapidly changed through elite manipulation.
Those who challenge the notion that national mood is impervious to sudden transformation point to the Spanish-American War and the manner in which the yellow press supposedly created mass interventionist hysteria. Interestingly, many of the explosive elements present during the crisis of — were also present during the Cuban Revolution of — However, the earlier stories of atrocities, gun running, assaults on American honor, and the struggle for Cuban freedom did not arouse a population recovering from its tragic and bloody Civil War.
During the s, a different generation of Americans was receptive to the inflammatory accounts in the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. The "psychic crisis" of the Gilded Age produced an audience primed for jingoist journalists and politicians. According to most indicators of public opinion, American citizens then would not have been willing to consider such a drastic reorientation of national policy.
No one could have been elected to a position of power in who talked openly about sitting down with Mao Zedong , the "aggressor" in the Korean War. Five years later, President John F. Kennedy , a Democrat from the party that "lost" China in , believed it impossible to alter U. A majority of Americans would first have to unlearn the propaganda lessons of the early s before such a dramatic program could be safely broached by a national leader.
In the years after the Vietnam War , the American public was in no mood to intervene in other distant struggles in the Third World. It is possible that had the public not felt so strongly about this issue, Ronald Reagan would have intervened with U. And while Americans had apparently licked their so-called Vietnam syndrome by , when George H. Bush led the nation into war in the Persian Gulf , Bush was convinced he had to terminate the war before marching on Baghdad because he feared his constituents would not support a longer war or more GI casualties.
The United States could not again participate in a lengthy, Vietnam-style war unless the public expressed enthusiasm about such a venture at the outset. Aside from participating in the development of a climate of opinion and possessing a latent electoral veto over major foreign policy decisions — two not insignificant functions — the public's direct influence in the making of foreign policy is minimal. Here, more than in domestic affairs, presidents are dominant over both Congress and the mass public. Their ability to create opinion and dominate the opposition assures them a relatively free hand in planning and executing foreign policies.
Because of the vast information-gathering and information-disseminating facilities at their disposal and because they are the only truly national spokespersons, presidents are the most important source of information on foreign affairs. Through their public attention to specific international problems, they can go a long way toward determining the agenda of the national foreign policy debate.
Although congressional committees and the mass media have developed their own informational and promotional capabilities, until recently they have not commanded the resources available to the president. It was only during the last decade of the twentieth century that round-the-clock cable television news and Internet sources, available everywhere around the world, began to level the information and propaganda playing fields.
The president's ability to conduct day-to-day diplomacy, free from public pressures, rests on the fact that most Americans are not very interested in esoteric international issues. Naturally, some obscure policies that the public does not care to monitor eventually become major issues. One such example was the unpublicized U. If presidents' freedom of action in the development of foreign policy depends in good measure upon public inattention, their power in a crisis depends upon public helplessness.
During sudden crises citizens must accept their accounts of fast-breaking events or risk further loss of American lives. In May , Americans had no option but to accept President Polk's misleading account of the way American blood had been shed on American soil by Mexican soldiers. Given the apparent need for immediate retaliation and Polk's relative credibility, the public rallied behind his policies and asked questions later.
In similar situations Americans supported their leaders during the Korean crisis in the summer of and the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August Surprisingly, the public does not always withdraw its support when crisis diplomacy or military intervention fails. Kennedy's popularity rose in the polls, as did Jimmy Carter 's after the failed rescue mission in Iran in April In noncrisis periods the president can develop support for a program by selectively suppressing or releasing secret information.
Madison published letters from a turncoat British spy in an attempt to demonstrate that Federalists who challenged his British policies had been conspiring with the enemy. More than a century later, Woodrow Wilson 's release of the purloined Zimmermann telegram contributed to the onrushing torrent of anti-German sentiment on the eve of American entry into World War I. As for the suppression of important information, Harry S. Truman decided to withhold General Albert C. More important, its conclusions ran counter to official policies.
From to , Richard Nixon suppressed information on the bombing of Cambodia while some of his aides participated in a cover-up that involved falsification of military records. In one of the most celebrated cases of all, Franklin D. Roosevelt concealed the extent of his involvement as a silent partner in the Allied effort in World War II for fear that such revelations might lead to his electoral defeat and a change in the direction of national policy.
His defenders contend that the president and his advisers had a better grasp of what constituted national security than did the well-meaning but untutored public. Like the doctor who tells his patient that the bitter but vitally important medicine tastes good, Roosevelt obscured the issues and misled the people for their own alleged best interests. Such a position might seem tenable in the light of the times, but its acceptance as a legitimate procedure for all presidents is unlikely.
Many of those sympathizing with Roosevelt's position were displeased when Lyndon Johnson was not entirely forthcoming with the electorate about his plans for the war in Vietnam during the election campaign.