Analyzing the Evidence Exercises

This chapter’s Analyzing the Evidence segment describes variation in the public’s concern over taxes, tying changes in the salience of taxes to their effective cost, broader changes in public policies like welfare, increasing transparency in Congress, and the strategies of politicians running on the issue. Moreover, as the chapter in your textbook discusses, the opinions individuals express can be tied to factors such as political conditions and the social groups to which they belong. compiles current survey results from a number of the leading polling firms. Using the site’s Problems and Priorities page, answer the following two questions.
Report the polling organization, survey dates, sample size, and margin of error for the most recent poll.
According to the respondents of the poll you identified, what are the three most salient (or important) problems facing the country?
In what way(s) are these responses a result of current events and/or political conditions?
Let’s consider public opinion on a different issue — government spending. This figure from the Pew Research Center presents data on the public’s concern about the federal budget deficit.i As you probably know, the deficit has varied considerably (including four years in surplus) over the same period.ii
When you compare the percentage of the public identifying deficit reduction as a top priority to the size of the deficit, what, if any, relationship do you observe?
Drawing on what you know about the origins of public opinion — political socialization, group identity, ideology, and so forth — what factors beyond the deficit itself may have an impact on whether citizens express concern about it?
One way we might slice the data on public concern over the deficit is by partisanship. Over roughly the same period of time, the difference between the percentage of Republicans and percentage of Democrats identifying reducing the deficit as a top priority has varied considerably.
Now link the preceding party differences over deficit reduction to party control of the presidency. Describe the pattern, and what might account for this relationship.

i This and subsequent polling data from “Public Priorities: Deficit Rising, Terrorism Slipping: Tough Stance on Iran Endorsed.” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, January 23, 2012, (accessed 2/22/12). 

ii Office of Management and Budget, Historical Tables: Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2011,” Table 1.1, (accessed 2/22/12). 

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