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Reading Public Opinion

How Political Actors View the Democratic Process

Public opinion is one of the most elusive and complex concepts in democratic theory, and we do not fully understand its role in the political process. Reading Public Opinion offers one provocative approach for understanding how public opinion fits into the empirical world of politics. In fact, Susan Herbst finds that public opinion, surprisingly, has little to do with the mass public in many instances.

Herbst draws on ideas from political science, sociology, and psychology to explore how three sets of political participants—legislative staffers, political activists, and journalists—actually evaluate and assess public opinion. She concludes that many political actors reject "the voice of the people" as uninformed and nebulous, relying instead on interest groups and the media for representations of public opinion. Her important and original book forces us to rethink our assumptions about the meaning and place of public opinion in the realm of contemporary democratic politics.

266 pages | 3 line drawings, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1998

Studies in Communication, Media, and Public Opinion

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Political Behavior and Public Opinion

Table of Contents

1: The "Construction" of Public Opinion: Looking to Lay Theory
2: Policy Experts Think about Public Opinion, Media, and Legislative Process
3: Journalistic Views of Public Opinion
4: Conceptions of Public Opinion and Representation among Partisan Activists
5: Meanings of Public Opinion: Lay Theory Meets Democratic Theory
App. A: Notes on Interviews and Building Grounded Theory
App. B: Interview Protocols
App. C: Survey Form

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