Tuesday, 31 August 2004

The fuzziness of public opinion

Laura McKenna of 11D links and discusses an interesting New Yorker piece by Louis Menand on political scientists’ research on public opinion. It’s good as far as it goes (focusing largely on Converse, Fiorina, and Popkin), but I think it would help to have incorporated more recent research like Zaller’s Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion and Alvarez and Brehm’s Hard Choices, Easy Answers, not to mention the whole “affective intelligence” approach, all of which take issue—in important, but differing, ways—with the Conversian public incompetence thesis.

I’d also argue that Converse’s more important and lasting contribution was “Attitudes and Nonattitudes,” (1970) rather than “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics,” since I think most contemporary political scientists who study public opinion would reject the concept of “constraint” as an indicator of political expertise or competence.