10 -- Part 1: THE AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEM AND THE COURTS
You will be able to explain the role of public opinion in a democracy after you've read this chapter.
Explain different techniques used to gauge public opinion.
There are ways in which public opinion affects the relationship between citizens and government.
What's at stake.
It was late May of last year.
Irish expatriates from all over the world were going to vote on the repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment banning abortions.
Ireland's abortion laws were so restrictive that in 2012 a young woman died after a hospital refused her a medically necessary abortion.
People were coming home to register their opinions after polls showed the vote would be close.
Ireland's voting laws require you to vote in person with your fellow country people.
It was the highest turnout for a social issue in Ireland.
The close vote was not close after all.
Less restrictive laws were able to be passed after the Eighth Amendment was overturned.
A popular referendum had upended the social order in Ireland before.
In 2015, 61 percent of the country's voters voted to allow marriage equality.
In a country with a Constitution that reflected the conservative principles of the Catholic Church, public opinion has been shifting faster than the wheels of government could turn.
The people came out in droves to amend the Constitution to allow politicians to pass laws reflecting the shifts.
Irish law requires citizens living around the world to vote in person in order to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
The distance they were willing to travel and the Irish women who had traveled to the United Kingdom in the past to get legal abortions were highlighted by many of the travelers.
Direct votes on policy are not unusual, but the results can be shocking.
On the morning of June 24, 2016 British citizens woke up to the news that they were leaving the European Union, an economic and political union of twenty-eight European countries that dated in some form back to the days after World War II.
The United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Gibraltar.
Although Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar voted to remain, they were stuck with the result.
Referenda can have unexpected consequences.
The idea of letting the people decide is attractive in a country like the United States.
Californians have become used to being asked for their votes on new state laws through referenda and voter initiatives.
It's hard to get politicians to take action on popular issues in other states.
In May of last year, Ohio passed an initiative rejecting partisan gerrymandering.
The question of whether U.S. citizens should be able to vote in a national referendum is one that drives the debate.
As we saw with Ireland and the United Kingdom, many other countries do the same thing with some degree of direct democracy.
In the past few years, voters in several countries have been asked to decide on a number of issues, including the establishment of a tribunal to resolve a border dispute with Croatia, limits to individual landholdings, and the choice of a president.
Gravel proposed in 1995 that the United States join many of the world's nations in adopting a popular vote on policy.
He argued that Americans should support a national initiative he called "Philadelphia II", which would set up procedures for direct popular participation in take place through the ballot box.
The technology exists for at- home participation in government.
Sixty-five percent of the American people think that the polls are not always right.
Politicians can be leery of polls.
When Bill Clinton's team of pollsters openly tested the public on various issues, including his approval ratings, the George W. Bush administration was cagey about the fact that they watched polls at all.
Bush said things like "I really don't worry about polls or focus groups; I do what I think is right."
Matthew Dowd, the Bush administration's chief of polling at the Republican National Committee, said that they don't poll policy positions.
There are reactions to public opinion.
The collection of individual attitudes and beliefs on one or more issues is called aggregation.
We have every reason to believe that the sample will provide a reliable estimate of the whole if it is large enough.
With today's technology, we can keep a constant eye on the pulse of America and know what its citizens are thinking at almost any given time.
Some Americans seem torn about the role of public opinion in government.
We want to believe that what we think matters, but we also want to believe that our elected officials are guided by principles.
Our elected officials are sensitive to the fact that their votes may come back to haunt them when it's time for reelection, even though they are disconnected from popular opinion.
Members of Congress pay attention to public opinion polls and try to give face time in their districts as well.
In this chapter, we argue that the expression of what citizens think and what they want is a precondition for their ability to use the system and its rules to get what they want from it.
The degree to which the public's opinion on politics is influenced by our demographic, our circumstances, and the channels through which we get information may surprise us.