Four traditional models linking public opinion with government policies are found to form one combined, historical chain with opinion and policies intertwined over time. The traditional simple majority rule model takes a short-term approach to representation. A reverse linkage, with policies shaping opinion, extends the causal model backwards in time, as does an incrementalism and institutional lag model. The importance of this historical chain model is demonstrated in explaining cross-state differences in death penalty sentencing rates in the 1990s. Current public opinion does influence death penalty sentencing rates, but so does political culture. Past public opinion has an indirect influence on current punishment rates through the influence of past opinion on past policies. The presence of a prior capital punishment law provides a legitimization effect, resulting in greater support for the death penalty among a state's population. Without an extended causal chain approach, the interrelationships between public opinion and government policies cannot be fully appreciated.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science