The politics of public opinion and other political happenings

Like pretty much every other thing, there’s never been so much easily accessible information about politics and public opinion.  With all the great websites presenting and analyzing so much public opinion data, to borrow a phrase, why this blog? 

One piece is simple: As a political scientist and inveterate politics-watcher, I often have plenty of opinions and I’d like to share them with a wider audience.  And folks have encouraged me, just like a good cook gets told, “You should start a restaurant,” (advice, which if followed, turns out anywhere from great to terrible).

Another part is more complicated: My standpoint is a bit different from most pundits and most social scientists. While most of my scholarly work focuses on public opinion, I don’t crunch large datasets.  Instead, like a relatively few other political scientists (such as Susan Herbst and Jean Converse), my writings emphasize the shifting role and democratic place of opinion studies.  

As Pathways to Polling shows, the prevalence of polls and surveys today reflects the large scale of our media, government, and business.  Still, polls’ adoption was not smooth or even across and within sectors.  Businesses were pretty enthusiastic early on, since market research and media audience studies would tell them about their customer pools.  But in governing with the polls, presidents used polls far before congressional leaders.   Over the last seventy-five years, all sorts of organizations and decision-makers have devoted considerable assets to polls and surveys to find out what people think and to try to shape their views and behaviors, or to otherwise engage in the politics of public opinion.

The “politics of public opinion” basically comes down to the idea that politicians and others in the rough-and-tumble of politics are always interpreting and translating the public voice.  (See my writings about this here, and here and here).  But unlike professional translators in business or diplomatic settings, these interpreters are self-interested; they make claims about what “the people” think that aren’t necessarily supported by the data.  In one metaphor I’ve used, the voice of the people is “muffled.”  Why do they do this? Well, public opinion is a political resource; if these translators can convince other elites that most people agree with them, this may help them with their political and policy goals. 

This blog is not just going to be about public opinion and, when it is, it will cover all sorts of angles.  But I expect that my approach to discussing politics and polls and public policy often will be different from what others offer.  

Welcome — I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.