The capacity of a political system to respond to the preferences of its citizens is central to democratic theory and practice. Research and theory about the impact of public opinion on policy making in the United States, however, have produced decidedly mixed views. A number of analysts find a strong and persisting impact of public opinion on public policy. Others reject the idea that the public has consistent views at all or, even if it does, that those views exercise much influence over policy making. In this article, we evaluate the state of the art in the debates over the opinion-policy link in the rapidly growing body of research on public opinion and policy making. After an extensive review and critique of the theoretical and empirical research developing "strong" and "weak" effect views of the impact of opinion on policy, we conclude that a third "contingent" view, highlighting the historical, institutional, and political contingencies, provides the best understanding of the impact of opinion on policy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science