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Tides of Consent: How Public Opinion Shapes American Politics [Paperback]

by James A. Stimson
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 13, 2004 0521881099 978-0521601177
Tracking trends in American public opinion, this study examines moods of public policy over time. James Stimson looks at shorter term movements as the public approves or disapproves politicians, trusts or distrusts government. His book is distinctive in that it focuses on determining the unobserved true opinion that lies beneath superficial polls. It argues that public opinion is decisive in American politics and identifies the citizens who produce influential change as a relatively small subset of the American electorate.

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Editorial Reviews


"Stimson deftly interprets mathematical analysis of large quantities of public answers to survey questions. Highly recommended." CHOICE June 2005

"The book is well written and a rare example of successful integration of state-of-the-art research and passing on knowledge to a wider audience...the book could be used as a benchmark for comparative research exploring the evolution in public opinion and the effects of campaigns and debates in other institutional excellent book, which deserves to be widely read." Political Studies Review

"...scholars and their students will find much to appreciate as well in this clearly written and engaging book, filled with interesting time series data and colorful examples about politicians and campaigns we all remember...Stimson believes that the most important thing in American politics is public opinion but says we have only 'scratched the surface' in understanding opinion movement (p. xvi). His work has done much more than scratch the surface, and in Tides of Consent, he accomplishes his goal of making his research accessible to a broader audience than he has reached before." Political Science Quarterly, Fay Lomax Cook, Northwestern University

"This is excellent work by a scholar who is, by all measures, top in his field. Stimson writes about the single most important element in American politics: public opinion. He traces movement in public opinion over time and shows that it moves politics." Janet Box-Steffensmeier, Ohio State University

"Tides of Consent is an ambitious attempt to integrate the findings of a half-century of public opinion research in an effort to draw convincing conclusions about the political implications and electoral consequences of public opinion. Too often public opinion is presented as filler, a spot on the evening news when nothing else is available.Rarely do we look at public opinion in its contemporary context and almost never do we attempt to understand its significance over the long haul. In this book, Stimson offers us new insights into public preferences and understanding of the links between public preferences and public policy that are often lost in coverage of the daily news or the political campaign." John McIver, University of Colorado

"James Stimson has written a very important - and very readable - book. In a world of erratic sound bites, Stimson's analysis provides the underlying coherence of a symphony. Anyone who wishes to better understand the ebb and flow of American politics should read Tides of Consent"' Richard J. Tofel, Newspaper Executive

"Tides of Consent is an excellent work. This book could be used as a textbook in an undergraduate course on public opinion, and it also makes a very good starting point for a graduate seminar on the same topic. Finally, it is simply interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable reading material that I would recommend to any political scientist."
Perspectives on Politics

"James A. Stimson has written another important book on American public opinion, this time geared to show a general audience how one fundamental aspect of 'democracy' works: that public opinion, contrary to its critics, looks sensibe and 'citizens succeed in communicating their preferences to government'" - Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University

Book Description

This book tracks movement in American public opinion. It examines moods for public policy that cycle over decades. It looks at shorter term movements as the public approves or disapproves politicians, trusts or distrusts government. It is distinctive in that it focuses always on locating the unobserved true opinion that lies beneath, turning away from the superficial polls by which we come to know the real thing. It argues that public opinion is decisive in American politics and it locates the citizens who produce this influential change as a quite small subset of the American electorate.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (September 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521881099
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521601177
  • ASIN: 0521601177
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging Deep Analysis Going to the heart of Democracy November 5, 2008
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I read political/social theory as a hobby and try to be helpful by passing on useful kernels to a few close friends who are local elected officials. "Tides of Consent", "Doing Democracy" (by Bill Moyer, not the PBS fellow) and "The Logic of Collective Action - Public Goods and the Theory of Groups" (by Mancur Olson) are right at the top of my current list of recommended must read titles. The breadth of insight distilled by the long career of James Stimson is not to be missed. Many thanks to his pioneering work.
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3.0 out of 5 stars in-depth and redundant October 23, 2013
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Scholarly. Not for entertainment. A little redundant on some main points. Basically the book can be summed up by only reading first and last chapter.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Who Really Drives? October 24, 2012
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James Stimson is certain that the "drive wheel" of American politics is public opinion change. Politicians know they can ignore public opinion because the public rarely cares enough to act on its concerns. But the movement of public opinion is another matter, it changes only when people care. Politicians who do not pay attention to this will be swamped, for these movements of public opinion, in Stimson's metaphor, are like the tides, and cannot be halted. The public, therefore, really does govern.

Here is a remarkable phenomenon: it is well-demonstrated that when a Republican occupies the White House public opinion grows more liberal and when a Democrat is in charge public opinion grows more conservative. There are a number of possible ways to explain this phenomena.

Stimson's way is to argue that the bulk of the American public is moderate relative to the two political parties. He writes, "think about what the public wants and what it gets from government. It wants middle of the road but has to choose in elections between a party of the right and a party of the left. Thus it is not a coincidence that it is on average dissatisfied by what it gets."

The case Stimson makes depends partly on the fact that great movements to the left or right only take a change by a small number of people.
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5.0 out of 5 stars For a dull topic, its pretty well written June 25, 2012
By Andrew
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This book was actually assigned to me by the author, my professor of Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill, James Stimson. Its not the most interesting topic and is very dense, but its also very well written in as entertaining a manner as you can manage when talking about voter politics.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book February 8, 2007
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This is a well written book, accessible to the well read layperson. Stimson does a fine job of laying out the thesis that he has elaborated upon in more academic research. On page xvi, he lays out the central theme of this work: "Tracing movements and showing conseuences is the central theme of this book. It claims that change over time is what moves politics. Its design is to look at change over time in many different facets of public preferences, behavior, and response." One disclosure that I probably ought to make: Jim Stimson was one of my professors in graduate school at the State University of New York at Buffalo (as it was then called), and his work and passion for the study of politics is something that has stuck with me over time.

In some senses, the culminatuion of this volume begins in chapter 3. Here, Stimson notes the evolution of policy preferences over time. His data analysis clearly suggests oscillations in Americans' political preferences (liberal to conservative as one of the examples) over time (from 1960 to 2000). In Chapter 4, he examines a sampling of presidential elections and asks what they meant (if anything). He also inquires into the effects of presidential debates. Chapter 5 looks at public opinion regarding government between elections. Much data are presented in an accessible and illuminating manner.

In the end, he contends (page 171), ". . .citzens--in the aggregate and at the margin--do succeed in communicatinjg their preferences to government." This should be considered in terms of a conclusion that he and colleagues made in another work, "The Macro Polity," that government in the United States does respond to public opinion. All in all, a good work for well informed laypersons. . . .
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