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Ranch State and CitizenSpace: Digital Democracy and Web Strategies for the United States and the United Kingdom
Unformatted Document Text:  9 Scholarship in the realm of public opinion and foreign policy was rather minimal in the domain of opinion influence on foreign policy up until the 1990s. Many of the conceptions of this relationship since then, however, have been articulated as one of public impotence. Cohen described in 1973 that the State Department had only "modest interest in public opinion" (see earlier reference). If anything, the concern that the government had with public opinion was largely one of management. This scholarship viewed the relationship between public opinion and policy formation in rather stark terms – "if public opinion is not shown to have impact on foreign policy, it has no role" (Powlick and Katz, 1994). Clearly, this limits potential for digital democracy – if such a thing is possible or can at least be experienced at the national level. Can “strong democratic talk” exist at the national level in such a manner as to facilitate change in foreign policy given the historical tradition of not listening to the public? Elberse, et al, claim that one of the potential dangers that ICTs could foster for digital democracy is the use of polling by politicians to reinforce existing political power structures. Polling presents unique threats to public governance of foreign policy, considering the already tenuous status of legitimacy that the public has to foreign policy makers. The question of the usefulness of polling for understanding public opinion and foreign policy casts a shadow of uncertainty on previous research efforts that utilized polling. Sidney Verba states that polling provides "low-grade information" that does not "capture the richness of individual views". The restriction of questions to what is only being polled also raises some concern – especially when the poll is being conducted by the government. The "restriction of fundamental objections" may "tame public views" by merely asking only certain questions (Alterman, 1996, p. 165). In addition, polling of the public opinion implies that there are existing, prevalent attitudes that can be measured. "Public opinion implies the existence of developed public attitudes. Yet when attitudes are measured in an opinion poll, they may represent little more than the aggregation of hundreds of off-hand, unreflective responses to pollster's suggestions" (Alterman, 1994). When considering previous research claiming the unsophisticated nature of

Authors: Hayden, Craig.
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Scholarship in the realm of public opinion and foreign policy was rather minimal in the
domain of opinion influence on foreign policy up until the 1990s. Many of the conceptions of this
relationship since then, however, have been articulated as one of public impotence. Cohen
described in 1973 that the State Department had only "modest interest in public opinion" (see
earlier reference). If anything, the concern that the government had with public opinion was
largely one of management. This scholarship viewed the relationship between public opinion and
policy formation in rather stark terms – "if public opinion is not shown to have impact on foreign
policy, it has no role" (Powlick and Katz, 1994). Clearly, this limits potential for digital
democracy – if such a thing is possible or can at least be experienced at the national level. Can
“strong democratic talk” exist at the national level in such a manner as to facilitate change in
foreign policy given the historical tradition of not listening to the public?
Elberse, et al, claim that one of the potential dangers that ICTs could foster for digital
democracy is the use of polling by politicians to reinforce existing political power structures.
Polling presents unique threats to public governance of foreign policy, considering the already
tenuous status of legitimacy that the public has to foreign policy makers. The question of the
usefulness of polling for understanding public opinion and foreign policy casts a shadow of
uncertainty on previous research efforts that utilized polling. Sidney Verba states that polling
provides "low-grade information" that does not "capture the richness of individual views". The
restriction of questions to what is only being polled also raises some concern – especially when
the poll is being conducted by the government. The "restriction of fundamental objections" may
"tame public views" by merely asking only certain questions (Alterman, 1996, p. 165).
In addition, polling of the public opinion implies that there are existing, prevalent
attitudes that can be measured. "Public opinion implies the existence of developed public
attitudes. Yet when attitudes are measured in an opinion poll, they may represent little more than
the aggregation of hundreds of off-hand, unreflective responses to pollster's suggestions"
(Alterman, 1994). When considering previous research claiming the unsophisticated nature of


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