Thank you for the chance to post here over the past week. Given how much work it is I don’t know how the regular conspirators have time to do anything else. I have now sifted through the 200 or so comments my posts have generated and thought it might be worth responding to them as best I can in this limited space. Responses to about half of the comments, particularly those related to public attitudes toward specific issues and concerns about question wording or levels of public knowledge and coherent thinking about these issues, can be found in Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy. But in this post I will deal with the meta question that several of you have raised: What’s the point of studying public opinion on these topics?
I get this a lot. The short answer is I find the study of public attitudes on constitutional questions to be interesting, regardless of its relevance or instrumental benefits. As one who spends most working hours with elites who spend an unnatural amount of time thinking about these questions and doing so in a particular way, I find public opinion surveys a useful way to get a more representative assessment about how different people think about topics that I find interesting. Beyond that, I also think this type of research joins three debates that constitutional scholars have been having for some time.
The first concerns the countermajoritarian difficulty and the justifications offered for judicial intervention to overturn policy supported by the political branches or the mass public. To understand the magnitude of that difficulty, if it is one, it is helpful to understand when the courts are out of step with the public. Analysis of public opinion surveys can constitute an important step in that direction.
This relates to […]