The Relationship Between Political Culture and Public Opinion

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  • 0:01 Public Opinion Defined
  • 1:32 Political Culture Defined
  • 3:04 Relationship Between the Two
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Politicians are always trying to take the pulse of public opinion, either to follow it or to try to change it. In this lesson, you'll learn about public opinion and its relation to political culture. A short quiz follows.

Public Opinion Defined

Nathan works for a research firm that specializes in conducting surveys to determine public opinion on issues important to his clients. Public opinion is an important concept for democracies as democratic governments are ideally there to serve the public, which makes public opinion often quite important. Let's take a look at what public opinion really is and what affects it.

Perhaps the simplest definition of public opinion is that it constitutes the collective preferences and attitudes of citizens concerning matters of government and public policy. Some examples of these preferences and attitudes include the proper extent of government regulation, foreign policy, education, health care and taxes. Nathan knows that the formation of public opinion is complex and involves the interplay of many different factors. Race, gender, education, social class, religion, culture, political ideology, civic memberships and the media all affect the formulation of public opinion.

Nathan knows that one of the most important factors that can move public opinion is the media. The media can shape public opinion. It can do this because it often sets the agenda by deciding what issues and events to cover and how much coverage to give them. The media also tends to report on the views and interests of those individuals and groups in power over the views of others. This is the case, in part, because large corporate business interests that align with the dominant political and economic elites in society control most mainstream media.

Political Culture Defined

A society's political culture is an important component that can affect the formulation of public opinion. Political culture is the deeply rooted norms, values and beliefs a society has about political power and legitimacy and plays a large role in determining the relation of citizens to their political system. One of the most important studies undertaken on political culture was performed by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba in their 1963 tome entitled The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Almond and Verba found three patterns in political culture:

  • A parochial political culture is locally based. Citizens don't recognize a distinct political sphere of life, and there is little interest in politics. This type of political culture probably only exists today in relatively underdeveloped countries where lives are lived in rural communities with little or no interaction with the country's central government.

  • A subject political culture is one where citizens have knowledge of the political system, but either don't participate in politics much or are given little to no right of political dissent. This type of political culture may be found in the old monarchies of Europe or in authoritarian regimes where people are 'subjects' more than citizens.

  • A participant political culture is one where citizens are not only aware of the political system but are active participants in politics. Modern Western democracies, such as the United States and Great Britain, are examples.

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