Date of Award

8-9-2014

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

David Darmofal

Abstract

Public opinion plays an important role in democracy. A system of government designed specifically to be by the people, for the people and of the people must by necessity listen to the opinions of the people. Accordingly, an important research agenda is determining conditions under which public opinion is listened to and translated into government responsiveness. Most of the public opinion literature answering this question focuses specifically on individual opinion. I argue that this is problematic because politics is ultimately carried out in terms of the collective. Further, I argue that collective opinion is often voiced through groups in society such that groups are an important and often overlooked mediator of public opinion. I present a model of group influences on public opinion, arguing in three parts that groups first shape individual opinion through social identity effects or the desire of individuals to feel connected to others, government is theoretically likely to listen to groups rather than individual or overall opinion because politics is ultimately carried out in terms of the aggregate, but government is only likely to listen to group opinion if the group holds intense preferences and can therefore signal their opinion to individual group members and to government. I test this theory in three separate cases where public opinion is evidenced, political parties, state Supreme Court decision making and ballot initiatives. I find support for my theory in two of the three cases, political parties and state Supreme Court decision making. Overall, I demonstrate the continued importance and role of groups in American politics and to public opinion in particular and show the necessity of testing the breadth and depth of theory.

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