Are the decisions of American policymakers informed by general trends in the public's ideology or by the public's policy-specific preferences? In this article we discuss two explanations for the types of public opinion information that politicians collect and use. Using a unique data set of private polls from the White House of Richard Nixon, we find that when opinion data on specific policies were available, the president relied on them and not on general ideology data. On less important issues, however, we find that the president often chose not to collect policy-specific data and instead relied on general ideology data. The differential collection and use of information by policymakers reflect varying strategic calculations. They also have profound implications for representative democracy and the demands placed on citizens and governors.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science
- Social Sciences(all)
- History and Philosophy of Science