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The Rational Public

Uploaded by vijayB69 on Oct 26, 2011

This paper analyzes the book on public opinion by Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro.

In their book The Rational Public, Ben Page and Robert Shapiro establish two theses: 1) the public is rational; and 2) it is possible to describe how Americans’ preference for government policies has changed over the years. Page and Shapiro base their book on a close examination of fifty years of public opinion polls, and have concluded that the American people are not as easily swayed, misled and unthinking as many have claimed. They wrote the book to show that “the collective policy preferences of the American public are predominately rational in the sense that they are real – not meaningless, random ‘non-attitudes’; that they are generally stable … they are coherent … [they] make sense … and when they change … they … do so in understandable and predictable ways…” (P. xi).
The authors devote the book to the proving these assertions, using, as I mentioned, public opinion polls from the past.
The authors first discuss politics, and point out that many Americans have little solid knowledge of their administration, how their tax money is spent; who their senators and representatives are, and other similar lacunae in their knowledge of the American government. (P. 13-14). However, they also argue that Americans generally have an idea of the broad outline of major current events, even if they are hazy on specifics.
But, they argue, when the statistical data of a number of opinion polls is put together, the aggregate result is not only sound, but is rational and intelligent, not merely foolish.
They suggest that numerous factors affect the answers a person gives to an opinion survey, and that the answers may change as the influencing factors change. (P. 16). If an individual’s responses are measured over time, the picture that emerges is likely to reflect the person’s true opinion. They continue:
“If this picture of individuals’ opinions is correct, then at any given moment the public as a whole also has real collective policy preferences … Moreover – and this is the key point – at any given moment the random deviation of individuals from their long-term opinions may well cancel out over a large sample…” (P. 16).

Thus, Page and Shapiro opine that by this mechanism, even frivolous opinions, when considered in the aggregate, do in fact...

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Uploaded by:   vijayB69

Date:   10/26/2011

Category:   Politics

Length:   4 pages (998 words)

Views:   1319

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