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date: 18 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter comments on V. O. Key’s 1961 book, Public Opinion and American Democracy, an insightful look into the impact of public opinion on policy. Following an overview of the academic literature at the time the book was written, it discusses Key’s main arguments, including his claim that all the talk about democracy is nonsense unless mass views have some place in the shaping of policy, as well as his emphasis on “opinion dikes”—that is, the public’s impact on policy is constraining rather than directive. It also considers Key’s views about the origins and dynamics of public opinion. The chapter concludes by assessing how research on opinion and policy has evolved and is evolving, and its relationship to what Key offered in his book.

Keywords: V. O. Key, Public Opinion and American Democracy, public opinion, policy, democracy, opinion dikes

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