In this book John Zaller develops a comprehensive theory to explain how people acquire political information from the mass media and convert it into political preferences. Using numerous specific examples, Zaller applies this theory in order to explain the dynamics of public opinion on a broad range of subjects, including both domestic and foreign policy, trust in government, racial equality, and presidential approval, as well as voting behavior in U.S. House, Senate and Presidential elections. Particularly perplexing characteristics of public opinion are also examined, such as the high degree of random fluctuations in political attitudes observed in opinion surveys and the changes in attitudes due to minor changes in the wording of survey questions.
List of tables and figures; Preface; 1. Introduction: the fragmented state of opinion research; 2. Information, predispositions, and opinion; 3. How citizens acquire information and convert it into public opinion; 4. Coming to terms with response instability; 5. Making it up as you go along; 6. The mainstream and polarization effects; 7. Basic processes of 'attitude change'; 8. Tests of the one-message model; 9. Two-sided information flows; 10. Information flow and electoral choice; 11. Evaluating the model and looking toward future research; 12. Epilogue: the question of elite domination of public opinion; Measures appendix; References; Index.
2004 Best Book Award, American Association for Public Opinion Research
Phillip E. Converse Book Award--APSA 2000
"...this is an impressive and important book with broad implications." Communication Theory
"John Zaller's volume makes sense of a diverse interdisciplinary body of work...He manages to deal in depth with most of the relevant work currently going on in political science, psychology, and sociology, and courageously wrestles with hard questions and faces up to conflicting findings." William J McGuire, Yale University
"Zaller's volume is a giant step forward in the development of a systematic understanding of the dynamics of public opinion. This is a splendid contribution." Philip E. Converse, Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences
"John Zaller has produced a truly wonderful book. It is, first, a model of what social science can be at its finest. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion reshapes the field in ways that will reverberate throughout the study of public opinion, elections, and the relationship between elites and the mass public for decades." John Aldrich, Duke University
"Zaller's book is the most significant contribution to the scientific study of public opinion in almost three decades. It reflects vast knowledge, deep insight, and exemplary craftsmanship, weaving together theory and data, mass and elite, and psychology and politics with remarkable elegance and authority." Larry M. Bartels, Princeton University
"John Zaller has written the single most important book on public opinion since V. O. Key's 1961 classic, Public Opinion and American Democracy....Zaller offers a well-developed theory, supported by considerable data and methodological sensitivity. Overall, the book is well written and clearly organized, and it provides social scientists with the clearest model to date that explains both the nature and origins of mass opinion." Henry C. Kenski, Contemporary Sociology
"...a simple but elegant deductive model of the process by which individuals answer questions about public opinion... Zaller has written a classic." Journal of Politics
"...the style and focus of this research program is strikingly different from the norm of public opinion studies...This is perhaps the best book ever written about public opinion. It starts with elegant encompassing theory and goes on to make sense of everything we know, including numbers of stray -thought-to-be-unrelated -findings that all blend together into a coherent whole." James Stimson, American Political Science Review