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Article

Francesca Vassallo

Social capital is created by engagement in groups or associations. As a product of social involvement inside and outside of the family, people trust others more. Social commitment leads to activism while expanding social trust and cooperation for mutual benefit. Social capital develops typically through interaction that happens face-to-face, locally, and over a period of time. A large variety of measures are used to assess quantity and quality of social capital in society. The number of associations, types of groups, and intensity of membership in a club are examples of social engagement generating social capital. Scholars are also employing empirical data from longitudinal and cross-national studies. Research looks at family interactions and membership in sports clubs, environmental groups, arts associations, nonprofit organizations, volunteer networks, and a variety of other state institutions. Since the development of social media, social capital also has been measured digitally. Users in online communities show that engagement connects to political action. Although operating electronically, people can still interact socially. Online individuals can become politically involved, and new digital movements have developed from simple social interaction via Twitter. A major concern is the type of social capital generated. Some associations create bridging social capital, a version of social engagement that is inclusive and supportive of bonding across social divides. In this situation, social trust benefits the most from individuals with different backgrounds interacting in a social activity. Other organizations generate bonding social capital, which is exclusive because it focuses on a social bond among similar individuals only, at the exclusion of others. This type of social capital represents the dark side of social engagement that may undermine democracy by creating trust within groups, at the expense of society at large. Social engagement at an early age inside the family, and later in life in recreational associations, generates social capital. As a resource that can benefit all members in a network, social capital creates a community across society.

Article

Traditional models of political decision making tend to focus on the subject’s information levels or information-processing strategy. One of the most common conceptions of political decision making assumes that voters who are informed by a store of factually accurate policy information make more optimal decisions—that is, decisions more in line with their supposed political interests—than those who lack such information. However, this traditional view of political decision making minimizes the roles of affect and social influence on judgment. No phenomenon underscores the primary place of these constructs more so than the meteoric rise of online social media use. Indeed, scholars working at the intersection of social media use and political judgment have made important revisions to the traditional model of political decision making. Specifically, the popularity of online social networks as a tool for exchanging information, connecting with others, and displaying affective reactions to stimuli suggest that new models of competent political decision making which take into account social, affective, and cognitive elements are replacing older, information-based and rational choice models. In this essay, I review some of the pertinent literature on social media use and decision-making and argue that motivation, emotion, and social networks are key components of political judgment and are in fact more relevant to understanding political decisions than political knowledge or political sophistication. I also propose that new models of political decision-making would do well to take into account automaticity, social approval, and the role of information in both rationalizing preferences and persuading others.

Article

Christina Ladam, Ian Shapiro, and Anand Sokhey

As the most common form of voluntary association in America, houses of worship remain an unquestionably critical component of American civil society. Major approaches to studying religion and politics in the United States are described, and the authors present an argument for focusing more attention on the organizational experience provided by religious contexts: studying how individuals’ social networks intersect with their associational involvements (i.e., studying religion from a “interpersonal” perspective) may actually shed new light on intrapersonal, psychological constructs like identity and religiosity. Evidence is presented from two nationally representative data sets that suggests considerable variance in the degree to which individuals’ core social networks overlap with their houses of worship. This variance exists within and between individuals identifying with major religious traditions, and such networks are not characterized solely by agreement (as theories of self-selection might suggest).

Article

Kerman Calvo and J. Ignacio Pichardo

The LGBT movement has been successful in improving the legal and social standing of sexual minorities in Spain; this includes the recognition of same-sex marriages, joint adoption, and the right to change identification in public registers. The movement has also contributed to a wider acceptance of LGBT diversity at the societal level. LGBT mobilizations in Spain started in the 1970s, with the transition toward democracy. The first political generation of activists believed in gay liberation, supported revolutionary ideas, and defended street protesting. This did not prevent activists from seeking collaboration with the state, as urgent legal action was required to end the criminalization of homosexual relations. After a decade of demobilization, a new generation of activists revamped LGBT activism in Spain during the 1990s, again with a well-defined political agenda: reacting to the devastation caused by AIDS, and also to the changes taking place in the international stage, the new “proud” generation demanded not only individual rights, but also family rights. The legalization of same-sex marriage (and joint adoption) in 2005 was the outcome of a vibrant cycle of mobilization. Contrary to some expectations, the Spanish LGBT movement has not become the victim of its own success. By shifting its attention toward the goal of substantive equality and by reaching out to new communities, the movement remains influential and vigilant against threats posed by the consolidation of new forms of conservative countermobilization.

Article

Abigail Vegter and Donald P. Haider-Markel

Religious tradition and religiosity affect attitudes toward LGBT people, their rights, and their position within religious communities. There is significant variability within the American context concerning how religious traditions approach issues related to sexuality and gender identity, with monotheistic religions holding more conservative positions. These positions and the elites who hold them often influence the attitudes of their congregants, but not always, as some congregations diverge from the official positions of their denominations in terms of attitudes toward LGBT rights, religious leadership, and congregational membership. As the religious landscape is consistently changing in terms of attitudes toward sexual minorities, understanding the special role of religion in LGBT-related attitudes remains important and an area ripe for future scholarship.

Article

Storytelling is a common and pervasive practice across human history, which some have argued is a fundamental part of human understanding. Storytelling and narratives are a very human way of understanding the world, as well as events, and can serve as key tools for crisis and disaster studies and practice. They play a tremendously important role in planning, policy, education, the public sphere, advocacy, training, and community recovery. In the context of crises and disasters, stories are a means by which information is transmitted across generations, a key strategy for survival from non-routine and infrequent events. In fact, the field of disaster studies has long relied on narratives as primary source material, as a means of understanding individual experiences of phenomena as well as critiquing policies and understanding the role of history in 21st-century levels of vulnerability. Over the past several decades, practitioners and educators in the field have sought to use stories and narratives more purposefully to build resilience and pass on tacit knowledge.

Article

Cigdem V. Sirin and José D. Villalobos

Numerous empirical works document that discrete emotions have substantive and differential effects on politically motivated processes and outcomes. Scholars have increasingly adopted a discrete-emotions approach across various political contexts. There are different theoretical paths for studying discrete emotions. Appraisal theories contend that cognition precedes emotion, where distinct cognitive appraisal tendencies elicit discrete emotional reactions associated with specific coping mechanisms. Affective Intelligence Theory, another dominant paradigm in the study of discrete emotions in politics, argues for affective primacy. Others are more concerned with the level of analysis issue than the emotion-cognition sequence. For instance, Intergroup Emotions Theory calls for differentiating between individual-level and group-based discrete emotions, asserting that the latter form is a stronger predictor of collective political actions. Scholars also need to consider which methodological strategies they should employ to deal with a range of issues that the study of discrete emotions brings about. For instance, one issue is how to effectively induce a specific emotional state such as hope without also triggering other related yet discrete emotions such as enthusiasm in an experimental setting. Beyond these theoretical and methodological choices, there are various opportunities to diversify the field of study. Above all, the field needs more cross-national replications and extensions of U.S.-based findings to help resolve the debate over the universality versus contextuality of discrete emotions. The field would also benefit from the study of a wider array of emotional states by expanding beyond its main focus on negative discrete emotions. Contemporary developments—such as the increasing use of social media by the public and political actors—further offer novel platforms for investigating the role of discrete emotions.

Article

The “sunk costs fallacy” is a popular import into political science from organizational psychology and behavioral economics. The fallacy is classically defined as a situation in which decision-makers escalate commitment to an apparently failing project in order to “recoup” the costs they have already sunk into it. The phenomenon is often framed as a good example of how real decision-making departs from the assumption of forward-looking rationality which underpins traditional approaches to understanding politics. Researchers have proposed a number of different psychological drivers for the fallacy, such as cognitive dissonance reduction, and there is experimental and observational evidence that it accurately characterizes decision-making in certain contexts. However, there is significant skepticism about the fallacy in many social sciences, with critics arguing that there are better forward-looking rational explanations for decisions apparently driven by a desire to recoup sunk costs – among them reputational concerns, option values and agency problems. Critics have also noted that in practical situations sunk costs are informative both about decision makers’ intrinsic valuation for the issue and the prospects for success, making it hard to discern a separate role for sunk costs empirically. To address these concerns, empirical researchers have employed a number of strategies, especially leveraging natural experiments in certain non-political decision making contexts such as sports or business, in order to isolate the effects of sunk costs per se from other considerations. In doing so, they have found mixed support for the fallacy. Research has also shown that the prevalence of the sunk costs fallacy may be moderated by a number of factors, including the locus of decision-making, framing, and national context. These provide the basis for suggestions for future research.

Article

Robert Mattes

With the worldwide wave of democratization, scholars interested in the preservation of the new democracies dusted off old theories of regime maintenance. While commonly sharing the assumption that democracy requires democrats, researchers proceeded in different directions, depending on their image of the ideal democrat. Today, we know a great deal about who supports democracy, and why. However, the state of our knowledge is incomplete at the point where it matters the most. As might be expected in any emerging area of research, different sets of scholars based their research instruments on contrasting understandings of what it means to be a democrat, and how democrats are best identified and measured. More importantly, they proceeded from differing understandings and underspecified theories as to why democrats are important, how many are needed, and how they actually affect the level and stability of democracy. Thus, while the intuition that democracy requires democrats is strong, the actual state of the evidence is still mixed, at best.

Article

Survey research is often interpreted as an exact science, but its role in assessing the social world—and its foundation in statistics—make it a methodological tool less about absolute certainty and more about estimation, choice, and trade-off. Much like any other research method, the survey process involves a number of important decisions for a researcher to make, and every decision affects not only the end result but also all of the subsequent choices along the way. Some of the most important issues that any researcher conducting a survey should consider include sampling, questionnaire design, and modality—and how these decisions, in turn, affect the thought processes and responses of survey takers. Each of these broader categories involves a multitude of choices that are dictated by research goals, as well as time and budget constraints. These aspects of the survey process have become more complex—and thus decisions have become more challenging—in the face of rapidly declining response rates and skyrocketing costs. There is no singular survey formula or path that all researchers follow; survey research is instead an accumulation of knowledge and best practices, trial and error of new techniques, and continual adaptation—all in an effort to say something with some level of statistical confidence about a particular population.

Article

In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of public opinion surveys in Africa. While experts on economic development and health had long been collecting individual-, household-, and community-level data on the continent, efforts to gather information on what Africans thought about their governments, societies, and political and economic situations, more broadly, were limited before the late 1990s. Certainly, this expansion was enabled by the wave of political liberalizations that hit most African countries at the end of the Cold War, thus creating conditions under which citizens could be more open in discussing attitudes and behaviors, particularly with regard to politics. However, it also coincided with a growth in the popularity of public opinion surveys globally. The distribution of data-collection efforts has not been uniform across countries: more surveys have been conducted in countries with higher levels of economic development, political openness, and security, such as Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, than in more challenging settings, such as Eritrea, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus, our knowledge of what Africans think about politics and economics varies significantly from country to country. Myriad organizations have been involved in these efforts. Academic organizations, both on the African continent and overseas, have been at the forefront of such work in Africa. The most prominent among these has been the Afrobarometer, which has conducted dozens of surveys, in about two thirds of the continent’s countries, since 1999. The majority of studies, however, are made up of contributions by other entities, including for-profit companies, media houses, and even political campaigns. In total, these surveys vary in their methodologies, focuses, quality, and the accessibility of their data for researchers, policymakers, and the general public. These developments have had significant impacts on academic studies, policymaking, and even countries’ domestic politics. Surveys have improved understandings of Africans’ attitudes, assessments of the status quos in their respective countries, decision-making processes, and hopes and priorities for the future. For academics, these data have provided new opportunities for testing theories—oftentimes upending or at least complicating extant conventional wisdom—and catalyzing the development of new research programs. Candidates and parties use enhanced understandings of the electorate to develop different persuasive strategies. Governments frequently attempt to control, limit, or strategically use survey enterprises. Media in some countries regularly report on popular attitudes and campaign-time “horse races.” In some instances, the release and interpretation of public opinion data have become quite politicized. And election observers frequently propose collection of public opinion data before elections as a guard against flagrant rigging. In sum, these developments have, in myriad ways, fundamentally changed how African countries are studied and governed.

Article

To understand Latin American politics, one must view it through the eyes and minds of Latin Americans. Since the middle of the 20th century, pollsters in academia, government, and industry have fielded public opinion surveys in an attempt to do just that. Although they are not typically considered political institutions, polls and surveys influence a variety of political processes directly and indirectly thanks to the legitimacy they enjoy among academics, policymakers, and publics. Large strides have been made toward making surveys more methodologically rigorous and toward improving the quality of survey data in the region. Scholars have leveraged the data to advance the theoretical understanding of a range of topics, especially political support, partisanship, and voting behavior. Despite these gains, public opinion surveys face clear challenges that threaten their hard-won legitimacy. To the extent that these challenges are met in the coming decades, public opinion polling’s role in shaping Latin American politics will remain, if not strengthen.

Article

In the early 21st century the public debates about the inclusion of gender identity in public accommodations municipal ordinances and statewide and national laws represent another step in the ongoing struggle of the social movement seeking to advance the rights and liberties of lesbians, gay men, bisexual, transgender, and other queer (LGBTQ) people. Situating these current debates in the larger context of the LGBTQ movement connects this emergent issue to that broader struggle. The LGBTQ social movement and its counter-movement, often referred to as the Religious Right, have had numerous battles over social policy since the late 20th century. Importantly, movements and their counter-movements identify winning strategies and, at times, tactically innovate so as to effect a shift in current tactics in light of a failing strategy. Tactical innovation includes shifting policy debates, which has been a primary tactic of the counter-movement to LGBTQ rights. Transgender rights broadly and public accommodations policies specifically represent a tactical innovation in the ongoing development of LGBTQ rights in the United States. How has gender identity inclusion in public accommodations been addressed in politics, policy, and law? There are numerous dimensions of gender identity public accommodations policies as understood in social movements, American law, public policy and administration, public opinion, and sociology and social psychology. Public accommodations are a constant source of public contention. The legal landscape in constitutional, federal, state, and municipal approaches to these policies remains uncertain, and there are competing interpretations of law in whether gender identity protections are covered in existing federal statutes. The rhetoric of the policy debates in both state legislatures and initiative and referendum campaigns primarily focuses on the potential harms to women and girls brought about by men taking advantage of such laws to assault them in sex-segregated public facilities. An account of public opinion about these policies also shows that American adults are far more divided about transgender people using restrooms consistent with their current gender identity than other aspects of transgender rights such as employment nondiscrimination policies. Experimental interventions, such as in-depth conversations encouraging people to consider the day in the life of a transgender person, reduce transphobia and make people more resistant to arguments opposed to the inclusion of gender identity in public accommodations laws. Finally, some have questioned whether sex classifications are needed in public policy and how current nondiscrimination laws achieve their stated goals without such a system. Further development and inquiry absolutely are needed in all these areas.

Article

It is established that values influence public opinion and political behavior. Multiple points of difference have emerged in the study of values and mass politics. First, different groups of scholars emphasize different sets of values. At the most fundamental level, researchers distinguish between core political values and core human values. Core political values are abstract beliefs about government, society, and public affairs. This line of research developed in political science. Core human values are abstract, transsituational beliefs about desirable end states and modes of conduct that can be rank-ordered in terms of personal importance. Human values are associated with research from social and cross-cultural psychology. The presence of two distinct streams of research raises questions about the conceptual, methodological, and theoretical differences between core political values and core human values. The principal differences are as follows. First, social psychologists define human values with greater conceptual precision, depth, and breadth than political scientists define political values. Second, the degree of semantic separation between the measures of values and political judgments is much greater for human values. This makes it harder for analysts to establish that values predict political opinions, and thus, serves as a conservative force in testing hypotheses about values-politics linkages in the public mind. As well, the empirical foundation validating the measurement of human values far surpasses the evidentiary basis validating political values. Third, theories of value-based reasoning and political choice are more plausible and possess greater analytical utility relative to political value theories. In short, human values are preferable to political values on conceptual, methodological, and theoretical grounds.

Article

Matthew M. Singer and Gabriela Ramalho Tafoya

Voter choices in Latin America have structural roots that are similar to what is observed in other regions, but these structures are weaker and more fluid than in more established democracies. In particular, while cleavages emerge in the average Latin American country and voters’ choices vary across demographic traits, issues, ideologies, and partisanship, these cleavages are weaker than in Western Europe and the United States. These cleavages are particularly weak in countries where parties do not take ideologically distinct positions from each other and instead emphasize clientelism, which suggests that the overall weakness of these cleavages in the hemisphere reflects the weak commitment of political parties to programmatic competition. Elections in Latin America are strongly shaped by government performance, especially economic trends, but these forms of accountability are weakened in countries where the party system makes it hard to identify the degree to which any specific party is able to dominate the policy process or where identifying a credible alternative to the incumbent is difficult. Thus, while voters are trying to use elections to hold politicians accountable and to ensure that their policy preferences are represented, the weaknesses of Latin America’s party systems often make this difficult.