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Making Sense of Public Opinion
American Discourses about Immigration and Social Programs


  • Date Published: January 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107688698

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About the Authors
  • Questions about immigration and social welfare programs raise the central issues of who belongs to a society and what its members deserve. Yet the opinions of the American public about these important issues seem contradictory and confused. Claudia Strauss explains why: public opinion on these issues and many others is formed not from liberal or conservative ideologies but from diverse vernacular discourses that may not fit standard ideologies but are easy to remember and repeat. Drawing on interviews with people from various backgrounds, Strauss identifies and describes 59 conventional discourses about immigration and social welfare and demonstrates how we acquire conventional discourses from our opinion communities. Making Sense of Public Opinion: American Discourses about Immigration and Social Programs explains what conventional discourses are, how to study them, and why they are fundamental elements of public opinion and political culture.

    • Offers a new theory of opinion formation
    • Guide to 59 conventional American discourses about immigration and social welfare programs
    • Shows that word choice cues different conventional discourses and affects responses; this has cross-national implications for survey design and political messaging
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Claudia Strauss's new book resolves one of the central mysteries of public opinion: how can Americans hold contradictory views on salient issues like immigration? She uses the trope of conventional discourse to reveal the complexity of thinking that lies behind the simplistic renderings of public opinion that are too often extracted from surveys. The book is required reading for anyone who wants to think seriously about public opinion and the politics of policy options.' Richard Alba, City University of New York

    'Claudia Strauss provides a thorough discussion of the various immigration and social welfare discourses that shape public opinion. She shows convincingly that people draw on wide-ranging conventional discourses that they hear and read about in their daily lives, often resulting in seemingly contradictory positions held at the same time. A must-read for anyone interested in how public opinion is formed and how individuals chose among competing views on such important issues as immigration and social welfare.' Leo Chavez, University of California, Irvine

    'Scholars, pundits, and politicians have tried for decades to understand how people come to hold political opinions and preferences, why different people hold distinct views, and whether such views can be changed. I thought that I had read every conceivable explanation - ranging from deeply felt ideologies to apparently trivial variations in surveys' question wording, and everything in between. But here is an innovative and exciting explanation; Claudia Strauss's conception of conventional discourses cuts through an amazing amount of chatter and gives a new perspective on what citizens say, believe, and fear.' Jennifer Hochschild, Harvard University

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107688698
    • length: 454 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 153 x 24 mm
    • weight: 0.666kg
    • contains: 14 b/w illus. 11 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Overview:
    1. Conventional discourses, public opinion, and political culture
    2. Analysis of conventional discourses: backgrounds and methods
    3. Conventional discourses and personal lives
    Part II. Immigration:
    4. Public opinion about immigration
    5. 'Too many immigrants' and discourses about economic costs and benefits
    6. Discourses about legality, illegality, and national security
    7. Discourses about immigration and American culture
    8. Discourses about immigration causes and contexts
    Part III. Social Welfare Programs:
    9. Public opinion about social welfare programs
    10. Discourses about limitations of government programs
    11. Discourses about personal responsibility and benefits for the deserving
    12. Discourses about caring for self, family, community, and nation
    13. Discourses about social causes of economic insecurity
    Part IV. Conclusion:
    14. Questions and implications.

  • Author

    Claudia Strauss, Pitzer College, Claremont
    Claudia Strauss is Professor of Anthropology at Pitzer College. She is the author of A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 1997) with Naomi Quinn and co-editor of Human Motives and Cognitive Models (Cambridge University Press, 1992).

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