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Mobilizing Public Opinion

Black Insurgency and Racial Attitudes in the Civil Rights Era

What motivates us to change our opinions during times of political protest and social unrest? To investigate this question, Taeku Lee’s smartly argued book looks to the critical struggle over the moral principles, group interests, and racial animosities that defined public support for racial policies during the civil rights movement, from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. Challenging the conventional view that public opinion is shaped by elites, Lee crafts an alternate account of the geographic, institutional, historical, and issue-specific contexts that form our political views. He finds that grassroots organizations and local protests of ordinary people pushed demands for social change into the consciousness of the general public. From there, Lee argues, these demands entered the policy agendas of political elites. Evidence from multiple sources including survey data, media coverage, historical accounts, and presidential archives animate his argument.

Ultimately, Mobilizing Public Opinion is a timely, cautionary tale about how we view public opinion and a compelling testament to the potential power of ordinary citizens.

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures
1. Elite Opinion Theory and Activated Mass Opinion
2. Black Insurgency and the Dynamics of Mass Opinion
3. The Sovereign Status of Survey Data
4. Constituency Mail as Public Opinion
5. The Racial, Regional, and Organizational Bases of Mass Activation
6. Contested Meanings and Movement Agency
7. Two Nations, Separate Grooves
Appendix One: Question Wording, Scales, and Coding of Variables in Survey Analysis
Appendix Two: Bibliographic Sources for Racial Attitude Items, 1937-1965
Appendix Three: Sampling and Coding of Constituency Mail
Appendix Four: Typology of Interpretive Frames


APSA Politics and History Section: J. David Greenstone Book Award

Southern Political Science Association: V.O. Key Book Award

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