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Congress, Social Movements and Public Opinion: Multiple Origins of Women's Rights Legislation

Anne N. Costain and Steven Majstorovic
Political Research Quarterly
Vol. 47, No. 1 (Mar., 1994), pp. 111-135
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the University of Utah
DOI: 10.2307/448904
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/448904
Page Count: 25
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Congress, Social Movements and Public Opinion: Multiple Origins of Women's Rights Legislation
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Abstract

Scholars often characterize congressional response to public opinion as either reflecting opinion and legislating accordingly or manipulating opinion for political ends. When the wider political environment contains an active, high-profile social movement with rapid shifts in public opinion occurring, the relationship between Congress and opinion appears to be less unidimensional than these options suggest. To test the relationship between Congress and public opinion on women's rights issues, we first coded and factor analyzed New York Times events data chronicling the degree of agitation on behalf of women's rights, 1950-86. We then compiled data examining legislative activity on laws addressing women as a group and public opinion about women's political role. These measures were used to evaluate alternative interpretations of the relationship between Congress and public opinion. Using a three-stage least squares model reinforced by several case studies of congressional activity on laws addressing women's issues, we conclude that during the time when there was an active women's movement, the relationship between Congress and public opinion was reciprocal. Congress and the women's movement competed for leadership of public opinion. Congress both led opinion and followed it, bringing about change that was swifter and less predictable than in normal periods of interest group politics.

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