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American Public Opinion, Advocacy, and Policy in Congress
What the Public Wants and What It Gets

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  • Date Published: January 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107684256

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About the Authors
  • Between one election and the next, members of Congress introduce thousands of bills. What determines which become law? Is it the public? Do we have government “of the people, by the people, for the people?” Or is it those who have the resources to organize and pressure government who get what they want? In the first study ever of a random sample of policy proposals, Paul Burstein finds that the public can get what it wants – but mainly on the few issues that attract its attention. Does this mean organized interests get what they want? Not necessarily – on most issues there is so little political activity that it hardly matters. Politics may be less of a battle between the public and organized interests than a struggle for attention. American society is so much more complex than it was when the Constitution was written that we may need to reconsider what it means, in fact, to be a democracy.

    • The first book to examine a random sample of policy proposals addressed by Congress, and so can generalize about congressional action in a way no other book can
    • Shows that Congress is not responsive to public opinion on most issues - not because the public loses out to special interests, but because on most issues the public has no opinions
    • Searches much more widely than others for evidence of publicly reported attempts to influence Congress - and finds that on most issues there is almost no political activity at all
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "Paul Burstein makes fundamental innovations in the fields of public policy, advocacy, public opinion, and congressional studies. But more important than any of these particular advances, he pushes the frontiers of how to do research, asking basic questions about how we should define and measure key concepts that others have simply taken for granted. For example, what is a public policy? On how many public policies is there anything that could be remotely called public opinion? What types of arguments prove successful in congressional hearings, affecting the likelihood that a bill will eventually be adopted? This book should be read not only by its primary audience of those concerned with public opinion/public policy responsiveness. It should be read by all those interested in public policy, broadly defined, and all those concerned with good research designs, good measurements of fundamental variables, and taking the time to do political science right."
    Frank R. Baumgartner, Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    "American Public Opinion, Advocacy, and Policy in Congress is a wonderfully bold and timely piece of work. Focusing on policy proposals in the 101st Congress, Paul Burstein presents new and challenging evidence about the frailty of democratic accountability and the surprisingly limited reach of interest groups. These results, alongside Burstein’s case for the use of sampling methods, make this book essential reading for scholars of public opinion, social movements, and U.S. political institutions."
    Clem Brooks, Professor of Sociology, Indiana University, Bloomington

    "Clear, challenging, interesting, informative, and innovative: rarely have I seen all these features in a single book. Paul Burstein’s American Public Opinion, Advocacy, and Policy in Congress offers a fresh view on whether and why policy makers respond to the public. The main lessons I draw from this book - that the public cares less about policy than democratic theory both assumes and wishes, that there is less advocacy than students of social movements have thought, and that we need to study policy changes based on sampling strategies in order to be able to generalize about the policy process - should inspire future research in this field."
    Marco Giugni, University of Geneva

    "The key to the importance of Burstein’s work is his notion of policy proposal. Many studies of the effect of public opinion have examined broad measures of government such as expenditures or the enactment of landmark public policies, but Burstein starts with a sample of policy proposals and examines their progress through the policy process. This allows him to study the speed and probability of adoption and relate it to public opinion and interest group advocacy. This makes the book critical reading for students of policy processes and public opinion. I hope others will adopt his approach."
    Bryan D. Jones, J. J. ‘Jake’ Pickle Regents’ Chair in Congressional Studies, Department of Government, University of Texas, Austin

    "Scholars have long wrestled to understand the influences on Congressional lawmaking. Paul Burstein’s volume offers a fresh take on the question with a comprehensive yet highly nuanced examination of the roles of public opinion and advocacy groups in policy making. For instance, Burstein, unlike many scholars, attends to core sampling concerns and carefully links causes and effects. The results are truly fascinating and a must-read for anyone interested in the democratic process."
    Holly J. McCammon, Professor of Sociology, Vanderbilt University

    "Paul Burstein’s book makes (at least) two significant contributions to the burgeoning literature on public opinion and public policy. First, while work on opinion-policy links tends to focus only on salient policy domains, Burstein argues that we can get a more accurate view of the opinion-policy connection by looking at a representative sample of policies, salient or not. Second, Burstein examines not just the direct effect of public opinion, but the impact that opinion may have through advocacy. In each case, Burstein adds to what we know about political representation and policy making."
    Stuart Soroka, Professor of Communication Studies and Political Science, University of Michigan

    "Paul Burstein adopts a novel approach that involves defining and measuring the ‘policy proposal’ and then sampling randomly among the proposals - that is, he does not let public opinion pollsters or interest groups or his own judgment define which he examines. Having sampled policy proposals, he analyzes the effects of public opinion and, especially, interest group advocacy on the advancement of proposals. The results are powerful - solidifying the growing understanding that public opinion does not influence policy on all issues (and does not do so completely even when it does) and providing a strong challenge to conventional wisdom, both public and academic, about the role of interest groups in American politics."
    Christopher Wlezien, Hogg Professor of Government, University of Texas, Austin

    "This book is an innovative examination of the American public policy process. The analysis considers whether the public policies enacted by Congress are the result of public opinion or the outcome of advocacy efforts … Summing up: recommended."
    J. D. Rausch, Choice

    "If the big findings of the book are the absence of large effects for opinion and advocacy, there are still a host of interesting nuggets along the way … Throughout the book the reader is reminded of both how much work went into designing the study and collecting the appropriate data, and why so few scholars have gone this route."
    Marc Dixon, Mobilization

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107684256
    • length: 248 pages
    • dimensions: 213 x 140 x 43 mm
    • weight: 0.29kg
    • contains: 1 b/w illus. 22 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Policy change
    3. Public opinion
    4. Advocacy: how Americans try to influence Congress
    5. The impact of advocacy on congressional action
    6. Advocacy, information, and policy innovation
    7. Conclusions.

  • Author

    Paul Burstein, University of Washington
    Paul Burstein is Professor of Sociology, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, and Samuel and Althea Stroum Chair in Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is the author of Discrimination, Jobs, and Politics: The Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity in the United States Since the New Deal, and has published on topics including policy change; public opinion; social movements; interest organizations; congressional action on work, family, and gender; and the mobilization of law; with articles appearing in the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, the American Political Science Review, Political Research Quarterly, the Sociological Forum, the Law and Society Review, and other journals. He has been elected to the Council and the Publications Committee of the American Sociological Association and to the position of Chair of the ASA's Political Sociology section. He has also served on the editorial boards of twelve journals in sociology, political science and other fields.

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