Polling the Attentive Public

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  • 0:01 Attentive Public Definition
  • 1:09 Who Are the Attentive Public?
  • 1:52 Attentive Public vs.…
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson focuses on a specific group of people that stay educated on complex political issues. You'll learn who they are and why their opinion matters to policy makers and officials running for public office.

Attentive Public Definition

If someone were to come up to you and ask you, 'How do you feel about teachers giving more than two hours a night of homework to students?,' you would probably have plenty to say on the matter because we are all or have been students at some point in our lives who have gotten homework. Now, if someone were to ask you instead, 'How do you feel about the United States' stance on the policies of OPEC?,' you might now be sitting there with a blank stare on your face. If that's the case, your reaction would be pretty understandable because the general public doesn't usually take the time to educate themselves on complex political issues. There is, however, a small portion of the public who make it their purpose to stay current with complex political issues.

We call groups of people who understand the nuances of politics, who stay on top of political events, and who vote in most, if not all, elections the attentive public. The thoughts and opinions of this specialized group is important for policy makers and for officials running for public office. An easy way to remember this would be to remember that you pay more attention to things you are interested in or already know a lot about. This is similar to how the attentive public is formed, too.

Who Are the Attentive Public?

It is important to understand that anyone can become part of the attentive public. The attentive public do tend to be more educated than the general public, but being well educated doesn't automatically make someone part of the attentive public. For example, a nuclear engineer may be interested in issues of nuclear power policies, but may not be interested in a debate over international aid for sub-Saharan African countries. Thus, the attentive public is really a collection of smaller, specialized groups. There is not just one group of people that make up the attentive public; instead, there are attentive public groups for each type of political issue because it would be unreasonable to expect people to know everything about every issue.

Attentive Public vs. General Public

How people feel about a particular issue, policy, or candidate is known as public opinion. It is extremely important in politics because it has a direct effect on the biggest concern for politicians: reelection. For example, how you feel about your favorite TV show has a direct effect on how long it stays on the air. If people start to dislike the plots and characters on a show, then the likelihood of that show getting cancelled becomes greater because people may stop watching it and convince others to stop watching it as well. The same is true for politicians. If public opinion for a politician starts to decline, then the likelihood that the person will get reelected significantly decreases. Since the attentive public tends to vote more than the general public, politicians may want to address attentive groups directly.

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