Public Opinion And Democratic Accountability

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2005-08-22
  • Publisher: Princeton Univ Pr

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Much of public opinion research over the past several decades suggests that the American voters are woefully uninformed about politics and thus unable to fulfill their democratic obligations. Arguing that this perception is faulty, Vincent Hutchings shows that, under the right political conditions, voters are surprisingly well informed on the issues that they care about and use their knowledge to hold politicians accountable. Though Hutchings is not the first political scientist to contend that the American public is more politically engaged than it is often given credit for, previous scholarship--which has typically examined individual and environmental factors in isolation--has produced only limited evidence of an attentive electorate. Analyzing broad survey data as well as the content of numerous Senate and gubernatorial campaigns involving such issues as race, labor, abortion, and defense, Hutchings demonstrates that voters are politically engaged when politicians and the media discuss the issues that the voters perceive as important. Hutchings finds that the media--while far from ideal--do provide the populace with information regarding the responsiveness of elected representatives and that groups of voters do monitor this information when "their" issues receive attention. Thus, while the electorate may be generally uninformed about and uninterested in public policy, a complex interaction of individual motivation, group identification, and political circumstance leads citizens concerned about particular issues to obtain knowledge about their political leaders and use that information at the ballot box.

Table of Contents

List of Figures vii
List of Tables ix
Preface xiii
One Issue Importance, Political Context, and Democratic Responsiveness 1(17)
Two Local Press Coverage of Congressional Roll Call Votes 18(17)
Three Context, Motivation, and Selective Attentiveness to the Clarence Thomas Confirmation Vote 35(19)
Four Perceptions of Issue Importance and Campaign Attentiveness 54(21)
Five Priming Issues during Senate Campaigns 75(20)
Six Issue Importance, Campaign Context, and Perceptions of Candidate Distinctiveness in Gubernatorial Elections 95(22)
Seven Issue Importance, Campaign Context, and Political Participation 117(14)
Eight The Role of Public Opinion in the Democratic Process 131(12)
Notes 143(12)
References 155(10)
Index 165

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