SAGE Journal Articles
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Abstract: Arguably the most influential power the U.S. Supreme Court has is the power to choose which cases to decide. This power allows the nation’s only unelected branch of government to choose either to weigh in on key political controversies or avoid them completely. Here, I take one of the first case-level looks at the role of public opinion in the Court’s agenda-setting process. I argue justices vote to hear cases when they are likely to agree with public opinion on the outcome and eschew cases when they are out of step with the American people. However, the effect of public opinion depends on the political environment, especially on the level of public support the Court enjoys, the salience of the issue, and the case’s legal importance.
Journal Article 10.2: Lewis, D. C., Wood, F. S., & Jacobsmeier, M. L. (2014). Public opinion and judicial behavior in direct democracy systems: Gay rights in the American states. State Politics and Police Quarterly, 14(4), 1–22.
Abstract: Although the U.S. judiciary is designed to be an independent and counter-majoritarian arbiter of the law, many states feature electoral institutions that may expose judges to public pressure. Scholars have demonstrated that judicial elections provide a clear link between public opinion and judicial decision making that may undermine the ability of courts to act in counter-majoritarian ways to protect minority rights. We extend this line of inquiry by examining whether direct democracy institutions have a similar effect of enhancing the impact of public opinion on judicial behavior and reducing the likelihood of judges voting in favor of minority rights. Empirical results from an analysis of gay rights cases in the American states from 1981 to 2004 provide evidence that direct democracy, in conjunction with electoral retention methods, significantly increases the effect of public opinion on judicial decisions.
Abstract: Psychologists have long observed that people conform to majority opinion, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the ‘bandwagon effect’. In the political domain people learn about prevailing public opinion via ubiquitous polls, which may produce a bandwagon effect. Newer types of information – published probabilities derived from prediction market contract prices and aggregated polling summaries – may have similar effects. Consequently, polls can become self-fulfilling prophecies whereby majorities, whether in support of candidates or policies, grow in a cascading manner. Despite increased attention to whether the measurement of public opinion can itself affect public opinion, the existing empirical literature is surprisingly limited on the bandwagon effects of polls. To address this gap, we conducted an experiment on a diverse national sample in which we randomly assigned people to receive information about different levels of support for three public policies. We find that public opinion as expressed through polls affects individual-level attitudes, although the size of the effect depends on issue characteristics.
Abstract: In intense forms of public consultations, select groups of citizens, called mini-publics, are given a large amount of information and then asked to deliberate on policy directions and make recommendations. Government officials may refuse to act upon these recommendations, unless they are convinced that the recommendations have wider support in the populace. This article presents the results of two survey-based experiments that assess the impact of mini-publics on the opinions expressed by random digit dialing samples of the general public. The survey-based experiments were conducted in 2013 (n = 400) and in 2014 (n = 400). Being informed about the mini-publics affected support for some policies, but not others. In both studies, respondents who were informed about the mini-publics reported higher levels of political efficacy compared to the condition where respondents were not informed about the mini-public. Hearing about these mini-publics helps to generate a sense of legitimacy in the political system.