Questions about immigration and social welfare programs raise the central issues of who belongs to a society and what its members deserve. Yet the opinions of the American public about these important issues seem contradictory and confused. Claudia Strauss explains why: public opinion on these issues and many others is formed not from liberal or conservative ideologies but from diverse vernacular discourses that may not fit standard ideologies but are easy to remember and repeat. Drawing on interviews with people from various backgrounds, Strauss identifies and describes 59 conventional discourses about immigration and social welfare and demonstrates how we acquire conventional discourses from our opinion communities. Making Sense of Public Opinion: American Discourses about Immigration and Social Programs explains what conventional discourses are, how to study them, and why they are fundamental elements of public opinion and political culture.
Claudia Strauss is Professor of Anthropology at Pitzer College. She is the author of A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 1997) with Naomi Quinn and co-editor of Human Motives and Cognitive Models (Cambridge University Press, 1992).
Part I. Overview: 1. Conventional discourses, public opinion, and political culture; 2. Analysis of conventional discourses: backgrounds and methods; 3. Conventional discourses and personal lives; Part II. Immigration: 4. Public opinion about immigration; 5. 'Too many immigrants' and discourses about economic costs and benefits; 6. Discourses about legality, illegality, and national security; 7. Discourses about immigration and American culture; 8. Discourses about immigration causes and contexts; Part III. Social Welfare Programs: 9. Public opinion about social welfare programs; 10. Discourses about limitations of government programs; 11. Discourses about personal responsibility and benefits for the deserving; 12. Discourses about caring for self, family, community, and nation; 13. Discourses about social causes of economic insecurity; Part IV. Conclusion: 14. Questions and implications.