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Bringing the Public Back in: Should Sociologists Consider the Impact of Public Opinion on Public Policy?

Paul Burstein
Social Forces
Vol. 77, No. 1 (Sep., 1998), pp. 27-62
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.2307/3006009
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3006009
Page Count: 36
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Bringing the Public Back in: Should Sociologists Consider the Impact of Public Opinion on Public Policy?
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Abstract

The struggle for democracy, central to Western politics for hundreds of years, is predicated upon the belief that democratic institutions give citizens considerable power over their government. Whether this belief is correct is a key question in the study of democratic politics. This article argues that this question is neglected by sociologists who examine the determinants of public policy; they neither address theories of democratic responsiveness nor assess the impact of public opinion on public policy. This neglect is problematic for two reasons: there is much evidence that public opinion strongly influences public policy, and there is reason to believe that adding public opinion to sociologists' empirical analyses of policy change would undermine some of their conclusions about the influence of other factors. Two ways of responding to these findings are presented.

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