Reading Mixed Signals: Ambivalence in American Public Opinion about Government

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Overview

What should the place of government be in the life of the nation? If you turn to the public for an answer to this question, you confront a paradox. What people say about government as a general matter is often at odds with what they actually want it to do. This is seen most often when people say government is doing too many things and at the same time want its activities in a host of areas continued, if not expanded.

Based on a specially-designed national public opinion survey, this book explores the paradox and the difference it makes. Ambivalence about government affects which voices get heard in our politics—and which do not. It bears on the parties people support, whether they vote, and how they vote. Those who send mixed signals about government can tip the balance in elections and are key to coalitions of support on issues between elections.

The analyses presented here go beyond the give and take of the current scene to shed important light on the nature of public opinion itself. The authors show that ambivalence about government is an identifiable and enduring feature of American public opinion.

Woodrow Wilson Center Press

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Polls report that many Americans prefer a downsized government yet paradoxically, also want Washington to do more in regard to health, jobs, and the environment. Such ambivalence prompted a 1997 telephone survey of public opinion about government (N=2,002) conducted by the Cantrils (presumably, scholars at the Woodrow Wilson Center), from which they draw clues about what lies behind this ambivalence and its political consequences. Appends some 100 pages of supplementary tables and methodological notes. Distributed by Johns Hopkins U. Press. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
New York Times
When it comes to their preferred role for government, many Americans manage to be both conservative and liberal at the same time... Reading Mixed Signals offers an up-to-date and comprehensive analysis of this fascinating paradox which has proven to be an enduring feature of American public opinion.

— Michael Kagay

Washington Post Book World
This volume—rich in insights far beyond what can be summarized here—imparts one lesson no politician or political reporter should ever forget. People think in more than one dimension. It is far too easy to categorize voters in simplistic liberal or conservative camps or to create stereotypes like soccer moms or angry white males that conceal more than they reveal. The Cantrils' [conclusions] serve as a rebuke to all such thinking.

— David Broder

Public OpinionQuarterly
It is unusual for scholarship and newsworthiness to blend so fortuitously.

— Bernard RoshcoFormer, Editor

New York Times - Michael Kagay

When it comes to their preferred role for government, many Americans manage to be both conservative and liberal at the same time... Reading Mixed Signals offers an up-to-date and comprehensive analysis of this fascinating paradox which has proven to be an enduring feature of American public opinion.

Washington Post Book World - David Broder

This volume—rich in insights far beyond what can be summarized here—imparts one lesson no politician or political reporter should ever forget. People think in more than one dimension. It is far too easy to categorize voters in simplistic liberal or conservative camps or to create stereotypes like soccer moms or angry white males that conceal more than they reveal. The Cantrils' [conclusions] serve as a rebuke to all such thinking.

Public OpinionQuarterly - Bernard RoshcoFormer

It is unusual for scholarship and newsworthiness to blend so fortuitously.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780943875927
  • Publisher: Woodrow Wilson Center Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Series: Woodrow Wilson Center Press Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.35 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Albert H. Cantril and Susan Davis Cantril are independent analysts of public opinion based in Washington, D.C.

Woodrow Wilson Center Press

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