Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.
Page and Shapiro. 1983. Effects of public opinion on policy. American Political Science Review 77: 175-190.
Take-home point: Aggregate shifts in public opinion lead to congruent shifts in public policy (at least on visible issues).
Argument: At the aggregate level, public opinion does appear to influence public policy. More often than not, a shift in public opinion is followed by a shift in public policy. These correlations are higher when the public opinion shift is larger, more stable, or more salient. ("Salience" refers to the number of people that answer "I don't know"; fewer "don't knows" means higher salience.) These correlations hold across issue areas.
In 1987, the same duo wrote "What Moves Public Opinion," in which they argued that presidents (among others) can change public opinion. Thus, before a policy is implemented, a politician might move public opinion in order to get it passed. In this case, it seems that policy (or at least pre-policy activity) is preceding opinion, which then leads to actualy policy. Elite opinion creates policy, then, not mass opinion; mass opinion would be only an intermediate stage. In the present paper, the authors do not address this possibility. They do consider whether (actual) policy precedes shifts in opinion, but they don't adequately address whether pre-policy activity precedes shifts in opinion.
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