Signaling in Context: Elite Influence and the Dynamics of Public Support for Clinton's Health Security Act
66 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2001
Date Written: May 2001
A growing body of research shows the influence of political elites on the public's policy preferences. Yet we know little about the dynamics of elite influence or the cognitive mechanisms through which elite signals are interpreted in "real time" - that is, as public deliberation over a policy initiative actually evolves. In this paper, we present preliminary results from a longer-term project that explores elite influences on the dynamics of public support on policy proposals. Conceptually, we hypothesize how elite influences on mass opinion may change during the course of a policy debate. We pay special attention to partisanship as a central contextual mediator of elite signals. Empirically, we exploit the unusual circumstances involving the health care reform debate in 1993-94, where debate was salient, elite signals were clear, and opinion polling was abundant. Methodologically, we propose a novel means of examining elite influences in real time. Using pooled data from 53 opinion polls fielded betwe en August 1993 and August 1994, we find substantial evidence that elite signaling shaped public views on President Clinton's Health Security Act. This elite influence is often distinctly partisan in effect. But its influence varies in form, being sometimes informative, sometimes symbolic. And the duration of signaling effects too appears to vary depending on the nature of the signal and the predisposing characteristics of the respondent. We conclude with some thoughts on future directions for research in this area.
Keywords: Political Science, Press and Public Policy, Welfare/Health Care/Social Policy
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