Table of Contents
Political socialization is the process by which people acquire a set of political attitudes and form opinions about social issues.
Agents of Political Socialization
Peer group Career
Religion Community organizations
Media Life stage
Political values change throughout your life. The most important influences on your political values, however, occur during your early life. Your family, school, community (religious organizations, youth groups, civic activities) and your peer groups have the most profound effects. It is your family that gives you that basic attitude toward government that you will carry with you throughout your life.
-from National Election Study data
Family is the single most important factor in your political socialization. However, throughout your life, your political values are influenced by college, adult peers (workers, friends, neighbors, spouses), political leaders, media and your political experiences. Too, the maturation process alone will affect your political values. Until you have children, you will care little for public school issues. Until you own a home, you will care little for property tax issues. Political socialization, to a greater or lesser degree, will continue throughout your life.
The opinions you form exist at three basic levels.
1. values and beliefs
Sam Huntington – liberty equality, individualism, rule of law
2. political orientation
translation of values and beliefs into a systematic way of assessing the political environment
partisanship (psychological attachment to a party)
ideology (consistent set of values and beliefs about the purpose and scope of government)
3. political preferences
attitudes about specific issues / candidates
campaigns have little effect on voting choices ... routine personal contact with family, neighbors, co-workers and other acquaintances is the predominant influence
Public opinion is the collected attitudes of citizens on a given issue or question.
Governments tend to react to public opinion. The fact that a public official serves at the pleasure of the voters usually tends to make that official sensitive to public opinion.
American public opinion has some unique characteristics.
The public's attitudes toward a given government policy vary over time.
The majority of American voters stand somewhere near the middle ground on most issues in American politics.
Americans tend to fall into one of four categories based on how knowledgeable they are about politics and government.
American citizens are more than willing to express opinions about things of which they are totally ignorant.
American public opinion is pragmatic, rather than ideological.
We may often talk theoretically but we act practically. That does not mean we don’t have political ideologies but it does mean we probably aren’t ideologues in the true sense of the word.
American public opinion is:
Wlezien's Thermostatic Model: Government responds to public opinion but often overshoots it, causing the public to move in the opposite direction.
I. Public Opinion Polls
The population is the group of people you’re interested in studying.
The sample is that part of the population considered to represent the entire population.
A poll is a type of survey or inquiry into public opinion conducted by interviewing a representative sample of the population.
population vs. sample / target population vs. random sample
A random sample is the result of a process that selects a sample from the larger population entirely by chance.
A poll’s sampling error tells you how much confidence you can have in the findings of the poll. The smaller the sampling error is, the more confidence you can have that the findings are accurate. The larger the sample is in relation to the population, the smaller the error. In general, you should look for a sampling error of ±3% … any poll with an error larger than ±5% is probably not worth the paper it’s printed on. Properly conducted scientific polls are highly accurate and the data generated by an opinion poll are used to measure and analyze public opinion.
SLOPs (self-selected listener opinion polls), CRAPs (computerized response audience polling), intercept polls, FRUG polls (fund raising under the guise of polls) and push polls are neither scientific nor accurate. In fact, push polls only pretend to be polls in order to "push" you into believing something, e.g. "If you found out that the local community college has been overcharging students for their tuition, would you continue to attend your local college?" Push polls don't really care about your opinion ... they're trying to get you to believe their opinion.
II. Qualities of Public Opinion
I. Media-Politics Process
Information seldom full or complete.
Candidates exploit issues in advertisements.
Information becomes altered.
Information becomes short, simple and highly thematic.
Leads to the increasing importance of political advertising.
II. Network News Coverage
III. Political Advertising
What does the research say about negative advertising?
Political Advertising Strategies
1. Appeal to Authority
2. Appeal to Force
3. Appeal to Popularity / Bandwagon
4. Attacking the Person
5. False Dilemma
6. Hasty Generalization
7. Slippery Slope
I. Forms of Political Participation
Who participates in politics is an important issue. Those who participate are likely to have more political influence than those who do not. Higher education is the single most important factor in producing a high degree of participation. Older persons and men are also likely to be active. Blacks participate more than whites of equal socioeconomic status.
Although voter turnout has decreased over the past twenty years, it seems that other forms of participation, such as writing letters to public officials and engaging in demonstrations, have increased. There are many ways in which Americans can participate in politics-ranging from voting, which a majority do with some regularity, to belonging to a political club or organization, which only a few do. In an elaborate analysis of the ways people participate, Verba and Nie discovered six different kinds of citizens.
Americans are less likely to vote than are Europeans. The reasons for this difference are complex. First, the US has an almost bewildering number of elective offices, an estimated 521,000 positions. Voters' enthusiasm for elections is surely deflated by the sheer volume of names with which they must familiarize themselves. In Europe, in contrast, each voter generally is confronted with only one or two offices to fill per election, so that electoral decisions do not impose a burden on the voter. Even in Europe, however, voter apathy increases with the number of elections. Too much democracy, in terms of either selecting government offices or making policy, is exhausting.
A second explanation for the poor turnout rate involves the mechanics of voting procedures. It is common in other countries for voting to be compulsory by law and for registration to be carried out automatically by the government. Mandatory voting would probably fail to survive a constitutional challenge in this country on First Amendment grounds. Just as people have a right not to speak (like refusing to salute the flag), it would seem to follow that they have a right to refrain from voting as well. Simplifying registration is a different matter. Republicans in particular have tended to resist any easing of registration standards. President Bush vetoed legislation designed to enable voters to register when obtaining a driver's license, legislation passed in 1993 and in effect as of 1995. As of summer 1997, the partisan breakdown of new voters remained unknown.
The weakness of political parties must also be considered. Unlike in the past, parties today lack the patronage and welfare incentives to mobilize voting blocs. Moreover, the impact of progressive reforms, such as the Australian ballot and stricter registration requirements for voting, have contributed to the loss of party influence over the electorate.
All these factors combine to explain why people do not vote in large numbers in the US. Yet it is equally important to comprehend the other side of the issue, namely, the factors that lead people to vote. Research underscores the significance of personal characteristics in motivating a person's decision to participate on election day. Education is the most critical variable. As their educational level increases, individuals develop a stronger sense of civic duty and a greater interest in, and knowledge of, politics. But education alone is not a sufficient explanation, since voting rates have continued to decline despite the proliferation of college degrees in recent decades. Another characteristic that correlates with voting is age; older voters are more likely to participate. But here again, overall voting rates have diminished while the population has aged. Something other than personal characteristics therefore seem to play a role in election turnout: the characteristics of the election itself. Most recent elections have presented voters with uninspiring candidates who failed to stimulate interest or excitement. The lack of a realigning issue has made politics boring. However, turnout reaches notable peaks in certain elections, as in 1964 (a sharp ideological choice between candidates) and 1992 (an economy in recession and the charismatic candidate H. Ross Perot). Voters participate when aroused to do so.
Considering how few tangible rewards participation produces, it is not surprising that over 40% of Americans either do not participate at all or limit their participation to voting. Compared to citizens of other democracies, Americans vote less but engage more in other forms of activity.
II. Voter Turnout Data
A. regional patterns
1. northern and middle states — higher
2. western and southern states — lower
3. link turnout to political culture
B. calculating turnout
1. voting age population (VAP) — all adults over 18
2. registered voters — citizens registered to vote
3. turnout based on registered voters higher than turnout based on VAP
Voting is the principal means of political participation for most Texans.
Years of formal schooling is the single best socioeconomic predictor of the likelihood of an individual to vote.
The primary source of campaign news in the US is television.
In a pivotal state (a large, populous state with many electoral votes that a candidate must win to be elected), presidential candidates are forced to rely on advertising.
Candidates try to sell themselves and their ideas on television since it is the surest means of reaching the largest number of people.
In an effort to affect large numbers of voters, candidates often rely on personal attacks on opponents ... negative campaigning. We complain about negative campaigning, but it works!
Texans are most likely to learn political information about candidates from and make their voting decisions based on advertising materials prepared by the candidates.
III. Low Turnouts in Texas
The legal voting requirements include 18 years of age, thirty days residency, registered, and no felony offenses. Approximately 45% of all eligible voters have turned out to vote in elections since 1960. The voter turnout among Hispanics and Blacks is usually low because they feel they have little stake in politics. As a general rule, whites vote; minorities do not. Older people and those with higher incomes vote, while the young and poor do not. Those with professional jobs vote; those with blue- and pink-collar jobs do not. This should not be surprising since various means to prevent these people from voting have been used throughout our history. Literacy tests and the white primary were aimed at minorities. The poll tax was used to prevent many lower income persons from voting during much of the 20th century. How frequent a voter are you? Do you fit the stereotypes above?
An interest group is an organization of individuals with similar views that tries to influence government to respond favorably to those views.
The principal purpose of interest group activity is to influence government to respond to the group’s objectives.
I. Types of Interest Groups
II. Techniques Used by Interest Groups
III. Interest Group Power
IV. Comparing Interest Group Power Across States
An interest group is any organized group whose members have common views about certain issues and so try to influence the government. There are a number of distinct differences between political parties and interest groups. For example, the purpose of a political party is strictly political. Parties want to win elections. The purpose of an interest group, however, is to represent its members' interests. This may mean supporting a winning candidate but it means many other things as well, such as influencing legislation. Interest groups differ on membership, as well. The membership of a political party is extensive (broad activity) and inclusive (everyone) – meaning they include everyone who is interested in a broad range of issues. By contrast, interest groups have a membership that is intensive (specific activity) and exclusive (not everyone) – only those people who share their opinions on a narrow range of issues are welcomed. Be careful, though, since in recent years the parties have from time to time been captured by small groups that act more like interest groups than political parties. The antiwar Democrats of the 1970s and the fundamentalist Christian Republicans of the 1980s and 1990s are two good examples. Because Texas has traditionally had weak political parties, it has had very strong interest groups to fill the gap.
All interest groups have three general functions. First, they act to identify, aggregate and express the interests of different segments of society. Second, they gather and disseminate information. Third, they provide expertise to the government and to their members. Depending on whom they are trying to influence, interest groups use a number of techniques to carry out these functions. In the executive and legislative arenas, interest groups engage in lobbying, which is presenting views directly to government officials. Lobbying is one of the most successful techniques that interest groups have. Therefore, a lobbyist's most important asset is access. Can he readily meet with legislators and executives? Lobbying is very effective because the legislature lacks independent sources of information. Interest groups also attempt to influence the legislative and executive branches by influencing elections with money, votes, volunteers and endorsements. This is known as electoral activity or electioneering. In order to circumvent campaign contribution laws, interest groups set up PACs, or political action committees. The central purpose of a PAC is to provide campaign funds for candidates. Most recently organized PACs are associated with corporations which are not allowed to make campaign contributions. Interest groups have become such a powerful force in the Texas legislature, they are often referred to as the third house.
In the bureaucratic arena, interest groups regularly attempt to influence the legislature in order to bring about an increase or a decrease in the appropriations to agencies that work with or against the interest group. Interest groups often have a direct involvement in developing and implementing programs run by the bureaucracy. We often speak of an iron triangle that exists between legislators, bureaucrats and lobbyists. These groups often become so intertwined and interdependent that it is hard to tell who is who.
In the judicial arena, small, not-so-popular interest groups that have little money and little chance of winning in the legislature are more active since these techniques are less expensive than other techniques. Interest groups frequently file amicus curiae briefs. These briefs express the opinion of the interest group on a case that is appearing before the court in an attempt to influence the judge’s ruling. The three largest filers of amicus curiae briefs are the US Attorney General’s Office, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP. A more extensive technique used in the judicial arena is sponsoring test cases. Often, interest groups will use a particular person or incident as a test case of the constitutionality of a particular law. Two excellent examples of test cases sponsored by interest groups were Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and Roe v. Wade. In those states where judges are elected, interest groups may engage in electoral activity although, as with the legislative and executive arenas, this technique can be quite expensive.
Finally interest groups attempt to influence you and me. In the public arena, interest groups engage in grass roots activities, which include a whole list of techniques from advertising to mass mailings. While interest groups are often vilified in the US, they play an important role in a democracy. They allow citizens to become actively engaged in influencing the government on issues that are of importance to them. In fact, one in three Americans are members of one or more interest groups. As with voting, higher educated, higher income professionals are most likely to be members of interest groups. Do you belong to or have you thought of belonging to an interest group? Why or why not? If you’ve never joined an interest group, give it a try! You might find that you like the experience.
Texas has weak parties and strong interest groups.
The principal purpose of political party activity is to gain control of government by winning elections.
I. 50 Two-Party Systems
A. state parties are independent of national organizations
1. few national offices, many state offices
2. common goals and similar issues, but separate organizations
B. state party ideology
1. competitive vs. noncompetitive states
2. policy-relevant vs. non-policy-relevant states
a. not competitive, Republican dominance
b. not policy relevant — old southern Democrats similar to new Republicans
c. traditional culture, small government, low taxes
II. Party Realignment in Texas
III. The State Party Organization
Political parties in the US are composed of two different structures. The permanent party structure is those people and organizations that keep the party functioning on a daily basis. The permanent party structure has three parts. The party organization is composed of all those activists, volunteers and party officials that are active in the day-to-day functioning of the party. The party organization is organized like the federal government – it has organizations at the national, state and local levels. That means it is decentralized – decisions and money flow from the bottom to the top. The party organization is also diverse – each organization has its own unique flavor. Among the people in the party organization are the party officials. Check with your text to find out the duties of the following party officials and how they are chosen: the national chair and vice chair, the national executive committee, the state chair and vice chair, the state executive committee, the county chair and county executive committee, and the precinct chair. The precinct chair is the basic level in the party organization in Texas.
The party-in-government, the second part of the permanent party organization, is composed of all those elected government officials of the party. You will frequently find conflict between the party organization and the party-in-government over who is in charge of the party and who should determine its course, beliefs, strategy, platform and so forth. Because of the rise of candidate-centered campaigns, candidates no longer need party permission or support to get elected. Too, the party cannot determine who uses its name. Thus government officials are elected with the label of the party, but without party support, endorsement or loyalty.
The party-in-the-electorate is all those people who identify with the party. Party identification makes it more likely that people will get involved in politics. Independents vote in much less numbers than do people who are self-identified as belonging to a party.
The second major structure of US political parties is the temporary party structure, sometimes called the Convention System. The temporary party structure occurs every two years beginning with the primary election and ending with the national convention. It may involve people who have no real connection with the party, but rather are ideologues or one-issue groups that do not necessarily represent the party as a whole (much less the voters). Nonetheless, because these people attend the party conventions in large numbers, it is these people who decide party issues. The convention system is described in detail in your text. It consists of the precinct convention/caucus, the county convention, the state convention and the national convention. Each convention level has its own responsibilities. The national convention adopts a national platform and rules, elects a national chair and vice chair, and selects the party’s presidential nominee every 4 years. The state convention adopts a state platform and rules, elects a national committeeman and committeewoman, elects delegates to the national convention, elects the state chair and vice chair, and elects the district committeemen and committeewomen who make up the state executive committee. The county convention adopts the county platform and rules, and elects delegates to the state convention. The precinct convention adopts precinct resolutions and elects delegates to the county convention. As we spend more time on elections, you will begin to see the how the role of the parties has changed over the last two hundred years.
From the end of Reconstruction until the late 1970s, the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics. The Republican Party began to grow, however, following WWII with the increased size and prosperity of the middle and upper classes in Texas. The first Republican official elected to a statewide office was John Tower, who was elected to the US Senate in 1961. The Republican base generally lies in urbanized, rapidly growing areas that contain lots of non-Texans. African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic. This has been true of Hispanics as well, although the latter may be changing.
The majority of American voters stand somewhere near the middle ground on many issues of American politics. Where do you place yourself politically? Now, most importantly, why? If you think you are a conservative ... why? If you think you are a liberal ... why? Don't look at only one or two issues. Look at a broad range of issues.
Campaigns and Elections
I. Ballot Rules
II. Primary Elections
IV. Modern Campaigns
A. old system
B. new system
C. role of consultants
D. role of the PAC
There are two electoral processes that occur in the US. The primary process is the stage at which the members of a political party decide which candidate will represent the party in the general election. In other words, all Republicans will decide which one Republican gets to run for each office. Today, the primary process is usually, but not always, conducted through elections. Originally, most states used a primary caucus, a meeting of the party’s leadership. The leadership then decided which candidates would represent the party. Many states eventually used a more inclusive method, the primary convention. In a convention method, party members choose delegates to represent them at a convention. Those delegates then choose the party’s candidates at convention. A few states still use some variation of the caucus or convention method. All states still use the convention to make party decisions. Too, this is how both major parties pick their party’s nominee for president.
Most states, however, have begun to use primary elections. Filing fees charged to the candidates pay for primary elections. These fees are subsidized by state funds. The administration of elections in Texas is the direct responsibility of the county. Primary elections have a number of characteristics that separate them from primary caucuses and conventions. Primary elections test a candidate’s popularity and his ability to organize early, but they do not test his ability to serve well if elected. Primary elections are lengthy. Only candidates who can afford to spend a lot of money and to not work are able to run for office. Primary elections have brought about an increased reliance on the media. Candidates who must reach not simply party leaders or convention delegates but the entire population from which they are being elected, have to turn to the media to get their message out. A candidate who is seeking statewide office in Texas is most likely to rely heavily on media advertising.
Primary elections have contributed to the rising importance of activists. For better or worse, ideologically extreme voters turn out for primary elections in much higher numbers than other voters. That means that ideologically extreme candidates can win the primary, but they can't win the general election. Or, if both parties offer ideologically extreme candidates in the general election, voters turn away from both candidates and from voting altogether. In the general population, conservatives support things such as the reduction or elimination of the graduated income tax, while liberals would support policies that protect women, gays and minorities. In the primaries, however, very extreme ideological positions are normal.
Finally, primary elections weaken the role of the party. Anyone can declare his candidacy in a party’s primary. This means that parties are often stuck with candidates with whom they do not agree or candidates they do not like. In recent years, the Democrats have been saddled with Linden LaRouche and the Republicans with David Duke.
The actual conduct of primary elections varies widely from state to state. There are, however, three basic types of primary elections. Closed primaries are most frequently used since they offer the parties the most control. Open primary elections allow broader choices for voters. The most voter-controlled primary is the blanket, or free love, primary. This is an excellent primary for offering voters a wide range of choices – which is precisely why parties dislike them. For complete definitions of these primaries, refer to your text. The Texas primary election is classified as a closed primary where the voter signifies party membership by voting in the primary.
Once parties have chosen their candidates, the general election is held to determine which candidate will hold the office. Unlike primaries, which are controlled by each state, federal law governs general elections. That means that the general election is held in the same way on the same day throughout the country. The general election is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even numbered years. Only a plurality (the most votes) is needed to win. That is why officeholders can be elected with only thirty-five percent of the votes, for example. It only takes one more vote to win a general election. (By contrast, in Texas you must get at least fifty percent of the vote (a simple majority) in order to win a primary election – thus often leading to primary runoffs.)