Is the United States government responsive to public opinion? If so, in what way?
Step 1 : As a first step in answering this question, we need to have some measure of public opinion. Start by identifying a controversial issue. (For example, it could be free college tuition, marijuana legalization, the death penalty, immigration, or any topic of your choice.)
Do some research to find out what is public opinion on your issue. This would be a good time to go back and look over the Analyzing the Evidence discussion in Chapter 1 (pages 18-23 in your textbook). As you start doing research, keep in mind the questions:
Ø What is the source of the data? (For example, is it a government office? A reputable non-partisan polling organization? A news site? An interest group? An entertainment website? etc.)
Ø When and how were the data collected?
Ø What is being measured? (For example, is it a random sample of all Americans, or is it measuring the opinion of some smaller group? Are different surveys asking different questions? etc.)
Ø Why are the data presented a certain way? (Think about who is the intended audience for this information, whether it is presented to inform/entertain/sell/persuade, etc.)
Find several different sources for public opinion on your issue.
Be sure to include at least one from each of the following categories:
1. Non-partisan polling organization (Gallup Poll, Pew Research Center, Polling Report, etc)
2. A news report about public opinion on your issue
3. A peer reviewed scholarly article (Search the library database – librarians are happy to help if you don’t know how to do this!)
A reminder on scholarly sources: if you are unsure whether or not the journal article or chapter that you have found is considered “academic” or “scholarly” meaning it has gone through a peer-review process, check to see if the paper is citing / referencing outside articles as it goes along and has a bibliography or works cited page at the end. If yes to both of these things, then there is a good chance that you have an scholarly journal article.
4. An advocacy or interest group on one side of your issue (For example, NORML is a group favoring legalization of marijuana, while beer manufacturers, private prisons, and pharmaceutical companies oppose legalization of marijuana.)
If you wish, you may use other types of sources in addition to these.
Prepare an annotated bibliography with your sources. This consists of a full citation for each source, followed by a short paragraph to summarize the information. This summary should include what type of source it is, what information does it give about public opinion, and your evaluation of the relevance, accuracy, bias, and credibility of this source.
(NOTE: For news sources, you can note the overall bias. For example, Fox News has a conservative bias while the Washington Post has a liberal bias. Be sure, however, to evaluate the accuracy and credibility of the specific article on public opinion. Don’t just say “it’s not credible because it’s a Washington Post story,” but discuss whether the findings reported in the article are consistent with other sources.)
Finally, write one paragraph explaining public opinion on your issue. If all of your sources are reporting similar findings, this will be straightforward! However, if you have different sources giving different reports on public opinion, you will need to evaluate which one is the most accurate. This should be a complete paragraph with a topic sentence and supporting details. Synthesize the information you find from multiple sources, include specific details, and use in-text citations. For example: Overall, __% of U.S. adults support ____ (Author, Year).
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