The Rational Public Fifty Years of Trends in Americans' Policy Preferences
by Benjamin I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro
University of Chicago Press, 1992
Cloth: 978-0-226-64477-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-64478-3 | Electronic: 978-0-226-64480-6
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226644806.001.0001


This monumental study is a comprehensive critical survey of
the policy preferences of the American public, and will be
the definitive work on American public opinion for some time
to come. Drawing on an enormous body of public opinion data,
Benjamin I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro provide the richest
available portrait of the political views of Americans, from
the 1930's to 1990. They not only cover all types of
domestic and foreign policy issues, but also consider how
opinions vary by age, gender, race, region, and the like.

The authors unequivocally demonstrate that, notwithstanding fluctuations in the opinions of individuals,
collective public opinion is remarkably coherent: it
reflects a stable system of values shared by the majority of
Americans and it responds sensitively to new events,
arguments, and information reported in the mass media. While
documenting some alarming case of manipulation, Page and
Shapiro solidly establish the soundness and value of
collective political opinion. The Rational Public
provides a wealth of information about what we as a nation
have wanted from government, how we have changed our minds
over the years, and why.

For anyone interested in the short- and long-term trends
in Americans' policy preferences, or eager to learn what
Americans have thought about issues ranging from racial
equality to the MX missile, welfare to abortion, this book
offers by far the most sophisticated and detailed treatment


Benjamin I. Page, the Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making at Northwestern University, is the author of several books, including Who Gets What From Government. Robert Y. Shapiro is associate professor of political science at Columbia University.


Tables and Figures


1. Rational Public Opinion

2. The Myth of Capricious Change

3. Opinions about Social Issues

4. Economic Welfare

5. Foreign Policy: World War I1 and the Cold War

6. Vietnam, Detente, and the New Cold War

7. Parallel Publics

8. The Causes of Collective Opinion Change

9. Education and Manipulation of Public Opinion

10. Democracy, Information, and the Rational Public

Appendix to Figures