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Polls and Politics

The Dilemmas of Democracy

Michael A. Genovese, Matthew J. Streb

Publication Year: 2004

This hard-hitting and engaging examination of polls and American politics asks an essential question: do polls contribute to the vitality of our democracy or are they undermining the health of our political system? Leading scholars address several key issues such as how various types of polls affect democracy, the meaning attributed to polling data by citizens and the media, the use of polls by presidents, and how political elites respond—or do not respond—to public polls. The contributors assert that while polls tread a fine line between informing and manipulating the public, they remain valuable so long as a robust democracy obliges its political leaders to respond to the expressed will of the people.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Polls and Politics

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pp. vii-viii

Tables and Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book stems largely from a conference held at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in February 2002. Each President’s Day, the LMU Institute for Leadership Studies convenes a conference on the overall theme Dilemmas of Democracy. The first conference focused on polling and democracy, and was headed by Matt Streb...

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1. Polling and the Dilemmas of Democracy

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pp. 1-14

On 21 January 1998, news media across the country became captivated by yet another alleged Clinton scandal, one that seemed more sensationalized and damaging than those of the past. Rumors quickly spread about a possible sexual relationship between Clinton and a young White House intern...

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2. Presidents, Polls, and the Paradox of Democratic Governance

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pp. 15-28

Winston Churchill, commenting on the view that politicians ought to be highly attuned to public opinion (that is, “keep their ears to the ground”) reminded us that “the British nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.” To lead, or to follow the will of the people; that is the question...

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3. Presidential Leadership and the Threat to Popular Sovereignty

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pp. 29-54

Competitive elections are a defining characteristic of representative democracies. Competitive and inclusive elections have long been heralded as establishing an institutional avenue for holding government officials accountable to the citizenry and, specifically, for exerting pressure on politicians to be responsive to the hard, substantive policy preferences of citizens...

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4. Continuing to Campaign: Public Opinion and the White House

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pp. 55-76

According to George Edwards, “the Clinton presidency is the ultimate example of . . . a presidency based on a perpetual campaign to obtain the public’s support and fed by public opinion polls, focus groups, and public relations memos.”1 However, using polls to appeal to the public dates back to the Nixon administration. In 1980, Sidney Blumenthal argued that bringing polls...

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5. Do Polls Give the Public a Voice in a Democracy?

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pp. 77-94

At the advent of the modern polling period, there was an extended debate about the role that public opinion polls could play in a democracy. It pitted the pollsters against some academics in a conversation about the contributions that polling could make to an informed debate about policy and the appropriate voice that the public could have in such deliberations...

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6. When Push Comes to Shove: Push Polling and the Manipulation of Public Opinion

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pp. 95-116

With each passing election cycle, polling has become a more integral part of candidates’ campaigns and has played an increased role in the media’s reporting of voting patterns. As the importance of polling to candidates, the media, and researchers increases, citizens must be aware of the quality of the polls being conducted. Many organizations...

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7. Are Exit Polls Bad for Democracy?

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pp. 117-144

The media and politics merge on the nights of U.S. presidential elections to provide one of the most riveting spectacles of our national politics. It provides the grandeur of a free people selecting their leaders in a democratic celebration of the peaceful transfer of power and combines this with suspense—at least in some years—of a national “who dunit,”...

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8. Deliberative Polling, Public Opinion, and Democratic Theory

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pp. 145-156

Democratic theory has struggled with how to combine two basic values—deliberation and political equality. Deliberation has long been thought to require a social context of small group, face-to-face communication, but political equality requires that everyone’s views be counted equally. As a result, when political equality is applied to the large-scale nation-state...

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9. Polling in a Robust Democracy

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pp. 157-164

A robust democracy requires an active, enlightened citizenry; free elections; equal access to the halls of power; equal power for all citizens (regardless of income, education, religion, race, or gender); open political institutions; and effective public officials. History suggests that democracies can be fragile and unstable...


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pp. 165-180


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pp. 181-184


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pp. 185-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485095
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791460832
Print-ISBN-10: 0791460835

Page Count: 204
Illustrations: 2 tables, 3 figures
Publication Year: 2004