The manner in which people desire to be ruled is an important feature of how our democracy operates, raising the question of how this is decided. According to Aristotle, as discussed by Kirally, “we are “social beings,” and therefore there is a need for a public life that works for the general good of the whole” (Kirally, Mike). This means that knowledge of shared perceptions and values within a portion of the population-public opinion-must be adequately captured in order to better assess what the public really wants and is beneficial for everyone. The development of these attitudes and beliefs is referred to as political socialization. (Bardes, Barbara A et al.). The level of socialization among the electorate is of utmost importance. In order to put into perspective how public opinion and political socialization interact for the public good, an understanding of the Madisonian Model, the US electorate, and public opinion distribution is important. This discussion, therefore, highlights the political socialization of the US electorate and how this adds or detracts from the Madisonian Model.
The Madisonian Model is principally concerned with separation of power among the three arms of government. James Madison proposed this to address concerns by the delegates at the time who were worried that tyranny by the majority or minority was detrimental to the public good. In his view, the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary had to be detached such that none of the three could lord over the other. In this regard, the work of Congress was to ensure that law was passed, the presidency had to enforce and administer those laws and the courts function was to provide interpretation of these laws whenever there was need (Bardes, Barbara A et al.). Mike in his lecture summarizes this model as one that provides ‘checks and balances’ within government, he further says that ‘the structure’ and ‘the process’ of this model both provide the opportunity to ensure all opinion is considered, (Kirally, Mike). The overall purpose of this model of government adopted by America was, therefore, to guarantee that public good is achieved.
In order to form a democratic government which is considered as one that serves the public good, an election has to take place. Those who decide those who lead a country are referred to as ‘the electorate’. These are individuals who have the right to vote in an election. In our country, anyone who is 18 years and above is eligible to be a voter. The US electorate consists of the various demographics of eligible voters that cut across races, religions, genders, incomes, union status, the size of place of residence and educational attainment among others. This means that in our nation, the aggregate opinion of these groups actually forms the structure that supports the Madisonian Model which is the framework of the political setup in the US.
In the light of such demographics, the significance of public opinion in our nation cannot be underestimated. Public opinion begins the moment a private individual’s opinion is so overwhelming that the individual is ready to do something about it (Bardes, Barbara A et al.). Kirally in his lecture discusses the public as being made up of three groups: the mass public – 75% to 85% of the electorate who are not keen on details and can easily be convinced, the attentive public – 15% to 20% of the electorate who have a keen interest and have sufficient knowledge on issues and they vote to ensure their voice is heard, and the opinion makers – 5% of the electorate composed of political leaders, business executives, government leaders who are the most informed, tolerant and consistent in their views (Kirally, Mike). This means that opinion significantly affects the public in different ways.
This leads to the question as to how public opinion can affect a candidate’s behavior. Evidence suggests that a candidate who ignores public opinion is likely to fail in the elections, (Bardes, Barbara A et al.). A resultant implication thus is that a candidate would pay attention to public opinion in order to find middle ground on an issue with an aim to avoid offending the latent majority. This is because most candidates are not convinced that public opinion is the best way of dealing with issues but then ignoring the same is akin to political suicide. A key player in forming and reporting public opinion is the media.
Media includes using newspapers, television, the internet, and radio to transmit information. The issue focused on by the media forms the basis of discussion among the electorate, (Kirally, Mike). Apart from offering candidates a large audience, latent attitudes are likely to be activated. Opinion leaders who use media are likely to appeal to their portions to the electorate and gain. The media thus can form an opinion by simply focusing on an issue and making it news or picking someone with an issue to articulate and providing a wide audience through the channel.
The Madisonian model envisages that no one should feel disadvantaged in any way and hence provides checks for excesses at every level. The process aspect of this model where conversation – opinions are merited determines what adds value to this model. Public polling as a conversation channel can add or detract from the model depending on the approach. If poll standards are met and the electorate can make informed decisions that allow people to have sufficient say in government, it means people will play their role in ensuring that the president does what he is required to do, and this adds to the model. If there is inaccuracy in public polling, this cannot be achieved as people will not make informed decisions. The media too add to this model if they focus on issues or give media space to policy leaders who articulate issues that make people vote on issues that promote governance that is people-based and not leader-based. If the media takes advantage of their status to misrepresent issues and present unsuitable candidates, this detracts from this model. The electorate will add to this model if they apply accurate information from polling to pick leaders who will represent them well, perform assigned responsibilities and uphold the law. If the electorate makes decisions based on their own preferences with no regard to polls or public opinion, this detracts from the model.
In conclusion, public opinion expressed is largely influenced by how polling is conducted, how the media concerns itself with public issues and how the electorate affiliate themselves to issues. The political socialization resulting from these three if negative risks destabilizing the Madisonian ‘checks and balances’ through a weak executive or Congress. If positive, the result is a vibrant society in which the government plays its part effectively and citizens feel that their needs are taken care of.
Bardes, Barbara A et al. American Government And Politics Today. 17th ed., Boston, Cengage Learning, 2016,.
Kirally, Mike. “American Government “Political Socialization””. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-k6dXJzMwg.