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Elites and public opinion: Analysing the interaction of public opinion, policy-making and party strategy

Participation
Policy
EDI10
Tinette Schnatterer
Institut d'Études Politiques de Bordeaux
Chris Butler
University of Manchester

Building: Appleton Tower, Floor: 2, Room: 2.11

Tuesday 09:00 - 17:00 (19/04/2022)

Wednesday 09:00 - 17:00 (20/04/2022)

Thursday 09:00 - 17:00 (21/04/2022)

Friday 09:00 - 17:00 (22/04/2022)


Policy makers in most democracies make extensive use of public opinion research (Belot 2012; Druckman & Jacobs 2015). Yet, the popularity of government leaders has never been so low and a growing number of studies identify a “crisis of representation”, rooted in citizens’ impressions that the representatives do not sufficiently take their expectations into account (Torcal & Montero 2006). This apparent paradox deserves to be examined, especially since the commissioning of public opinion research gives rise to contradictory interpretations. For some authors, it serves the imperative of democratic responsiveness, by allowing citizens' preferences to be considered during the formation of public policy (Manza & Cook 2002; Page 2002; Glynn et al. 2004; Burstein 2010), while for others, it favors the manipulation of opinion, particularly through mechanisms of persuasion (Jacobs & Shapiro, 2000; Druckman & Jacobs, 2015). While the debate is not new, relatively little is known about how political elites access opinion research and how it influences their behavior. Several studies have shown that political elites are relatively poor at estimating public opinion (Broockman & Skovron 2018; Pereira 2021) and that such judgements are affected by cognitive biases (Butler & Dynes 2016; Baekgaard et al. 2019). However, Blondiaux’s (1998) observation of a lack of “serious empirical analyses” on the subject of how political actors use opinion research remains relevant today (Belot & Schnatterer 2021) Existing empirical analysis into how elected officials use privately commissioned research is limited to a handful of case studies (Druckman & Jacobs 2006; Murray 2006; Hager & Hilbig 2020; Butler, 2021), mostly concerning US Presidents’ use of private opinion polls. These studies shed light on the relationship between the results of private polling and subsequent positioning or rhetoric by political actors. However, they reveal little about the process through which they make use of privately commissioned research. To explore the questions raised by political elites ‘use of public opinion research, we are inviting proposals linked to three lines of inquiry: The production of public opinion research, representational practises and selective responsiveness.

Bringing together both junior and senior scholars, we envision that this session will be a first step towards building an international network on political elites’ production, perception and mobilisation of public opinion. We therefore invite proposals linked to the following lines of inquiry: 1) The production of opinion research What research do individual policy makers, governments and parties commission? Are there patterns to when they are more likely to commission qualitative research, e.g. focus groups rather than surveys? Do they focus on the popularity of different positions, the salience of issues, or the popularity of rival frames for presenting the same policy choice? When do they use opinion research to test new ideas as opposed to evaluating existing policy measures and proposals? Which actors are involved in the process of commissioning and designing of research projects? How do elites make use of public opinion research commissioned by third party actors such as think tanks or interest groups? 2) Representational practises Are individual policy makers, governments and political parties more likely to respond to the electoral incentives identified in private polling than to the incentives identified by more publicly available information about public opinion? Is the information used to assist political elites in responding to voters’ preferences or as a tool for manipulating opinion? 3) Selective responsiveness Analysis of how political actors use privately commissioned public opinion research may also help us to understand the conditions which affect responsiveness. Are policymakers and parties more responsive to the preferences of the median voter or to the preferences of their own supporters? Are they more responsive in the run-up to an election (Canes-Wrone & Shotts 2004) or immediately after an election (Bonafont & Palau, 2011; Pardos-Prado & Sagarzazu 2019)? What other variables affect the likelihood of responsiveness? Studies have also shown that certain "target groups" can be "better represented" than others (Gilens 2009; Bartels 2008; Peters & Ensink 2015) leading to unequal representation (Elsässer & Schäfer 2016). We are interested in contributions that address the issue of representation around these "unequal voices." Proposals may freely evoke other research themes pertaining to the production of public opinion and its use by governments and parties, as well as methodological questions around strategies to access information around such research. Due to the emerging nature of this area of research interest, we anticipate that many proposals are likely to examine single-country or even single-government case studies but comparative research projects would be particularly welcomed. Thanks to the project “The construction of surveyed public opinion in France and Germany” financed by the French National Research Agency we are able to fund the attendance of one early career scholar at the workshop who would otherwise not be able to attend.

Title Details
Social Media, Extremeness and Elite Responsiveness: Evidence from Chile View Paper Details
Growing in confidence, but losing touch: how the Conservative Party’s public opinion research changed during Thatcher’s premiership View Paper Details
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Do Politicians Outside the United States Also Think Voters are More Conservative than they Really Are? A Comparative Study of the Conservative Bias in Elite Public Opinion Perception View Paper Details
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