The American Public Mind: The Issues Structure of Mass Politics in the Postwar United States

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What is the real nature of substantive conflict in mass politics during the postwar years in the United States? How is it reflected in the American public mind? And how does this issue structure shape electoral conflict? William J. M. Claggett and Byron E. Shafer answer by developing measures of public preference in four great policy realms – social welfare, international relations, civil rights, and cultural values – for the entire period between 1952 and 2004. They use these to identify the issues that were moving the voting public at various points in time, while revealing the way in which public preferences shaped the structure of electoral politics. What results is the restoration of policy substance to the center of mass politics in the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A richly thorough examination of the American public’s policy preferences over the past half century and of how those preferences informed the vote. An important contribution.”
—George E. Marcus, Williams College

“Claggett and Shafer’s The American Public Mind is an outstanding contribution to understanding postwar American politics. Carefully, systematically, and comprehensively, they show that substantive policy conflicts lie at the core of contemporary American politics. In so doing they restore the role of policy to any convincing interpretation of American politics and simultaneously demonstrate that the policy preferences of ordinary citizens deserve a prominent place in any such interpretation.”
—Edward Carmines, Indiana University

“No summary comment can do justice to the depth of this analysis of American public opinion and politics. In scope, encompassing half a century of politics, and in scientific scrupulousness, spotlighting gaps and uncertainties in the results of its empirical analyses as faithfully as its striking results, it is unmatched. Above all, it gives a view of three dramatic clashes – over social welfare, the Cold War, and cultural values – that have defined the political fortunes of American parties and politicians.”
—Paul Sniderman, Stanford University

“This book is a sustained search for exactly what its title says, the American public mind. That public mind is found in coherent, strong, and stable sets of beliefs about political issues. Ignoring the chaff of year to year changes in salience and the constant coming and going of measures in the American National Election Studies, Claggett and Shafer search for — and find — what is permanent in how the public organizes its thoughts about politics. The result is a brief for issue voting, not as the occasional addition to forces generated by such factors candidate personality or party loyalties, but as the fundamental story of how American politics works. This is a picture, often a complicated picture, of Americans thinking about policy controversies and then acting on their thoughts.”
—James Stimson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“An important book. Claggett’s and Shafer’s careful research vindicates V.O. Key, Jr.’s epigram that voters are not fools. Americans have real, well-structured policy preferences that play a big part in elections.”
—Benjamin I. Page, Northwestern University

“This part of the book (Part I) will certainly become a classic citation for scholars interested in measuring mass preferences: no other book has ever tackled this difficult measurement question with so much care and attention.”
—Matthew S. Levendusky, Political Science Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521682329
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

William J. M. Claggett is Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida State University. He is the author of The Two Majorities: The Issue Context of Modern American Politics, with Byron Shafer. He has also published numerous articles on public opinion and electoral behavior in leading academic journals including the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics.

Byron E. Shafer is Glenn B. and Cleone Orr Hawkins Chair of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South, with Richard Johnston; The Two Majorities: The Issue Context of Modern American Politics, with William Claggett; Bifurcated Politics: Evolution and Reform in the National Party Convention; Quiet Revolution: The Struggle for the Democratic Party and the Shaping of Post-Reform Politics; and numerous scholarly articles, some of which are collected as The Two Majorities and the Puzzle of Modern American Politics. He has won the Schattschneider Prize, the Race and Ethnicity Prize, and the Party Politics Prize of the American Political Science Association, along with the V.O. Key Prize of the Southern Political Science Association.

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Table of Contents

Part I. The Structure of Public Preferences: 1. The established issues: social welfare; 2. The established issues: international relations; 3. The new issues: civil rights; 4. The new issues: cultural values; 5. Blended items: true, false, and obscure; Part II. Some Consequences of the Structure: 6. The established issues: voting behavior; 7. The new issues: voting behavior; 8. Voting behavior: the rest of the story; 9. The issue structure of mass politics.

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