Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

The Foundation of Public Opinion


Former 1997/1998 Social Sciences - Law

End Report

The work of the group has covered three main areas of public opinion research. First, we have studied how opinion is distributed and can be explained at the mass level. The dependent variables are selected from a large number of varieties of public opinion and political behavior: Policy preferences, party identification, trust in government, confidence in institutions, and aspects of voting in referendums and parliamentary- and presidential elections. Explanatory models are developed from variables that include social structure, culture, economic performance, and an extensive menu of political factors. Most of the studies are comparative and cover change over time. Western Europe and the United States are included in most of the work, but some analyzes go well beyond this area. The data are from major comparative survey programmes: The International Social Survey Program, The World Values Survey, the Eurobarometers, the Nordic Referendum Surveys, and various national election surveys.

The accumulation of survey data across countries and over time has opened up for the study of macro opinion based on aggregation of individual responses. Macro opinion demonstrates characteristic variations across nations and is relatively stable over time. The comparative variations in opinion patterns are measured against conventional views and stereotypes about national characters and cultures in the comparative politics literature. The change over time is assessed against structural change in societies to see if opinion adjusts to change or reacts against such change. Equality beliefs and distributive justice norms constitute important areas of research to study the relationship of mass opinion and economic structure.

Mass-elite linkages constitute the second area of research. How mass public opinion is represented in various political elites is decisive for the democratic nature of the political representation process. Most of the empirical work of the chain of political representation is based on agency theory and institutional analysis. Data from mass surveys are complemented with elite survey data. Parts of the analysis are based on a new data collection of coalition agreements and government structures in 13 European countries. This allows for a systematic investigation of the impact of institutional variation on the process of political representation.

The study of the mass-elite linkage is particularly exciting in cases where mass and elite diverge in opinion. The 1994 EU-referendum campaigns constitute an intriguing case for the study of how political elites try to lead. With panel data from the referendum surveys we can test a set of models of how the conflicts between party and followers are solved in the period leading up to the vote. The results from these tests yield important information about how much power party leadership has over their voters.

Mass opinion should be tracked over its full course. In democracy that means that one needs to show how movements of public opinion impact on actual public policy. The main research in this third area of study is done by the cooperating scholars (Carlsen and Hibbs). The empirical work is focused on empirical tests for 57 elections in six OECD countries of hypotheses derived from the rational partisan theory of business cycles. A parallel work, using a different methodological approach, is investigating the link between political representation and policy outcomes in Norwegian communes.

Most of the research conducted has benefited from a number of long-term research projects between members of the group, the cooperating scholars as well as other colleagues. These cooperative efforts are continuing in the future. In addition, some new projects are launched. Kathleen Bratton and Leonard Ray have initiated a study of Descriptive Representation and Policy Outcomes which analyzes data from the Commune Data Base of the Norwegian Social Science Data Services. Bratton and Ray will continue to keep in contact with Jørn Rattsø and his research group in public economics at NTNU for cooperation and exchange of research ideas. Hanne Marthe Narud and Leonard Ray have conducted an Expert Survey of Party Positions on Policy. Bernt Aardal, Hanne Marthe Narud, and Ola Listhaug are members of the research group of a large-scale comparative study of Representation in Europe which will run from 1998-2002. The project is directed by Hermann Schmidt, University of Mannheim and is funded by the European Commission. Toril Aalberg and Ola Listhaug are cooperating with Richard Matland and John Scott of the University of Houston and other colleagues on an experimental study of Distributive Justice Norms Concerning Income: A Cross-National Study. This study is funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, USA


  • Aalberg, Toril
    Research Fellow Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) 1997/1998
  • Bratton, Kathleen
    Associate Professor Lousiana State University 1997/1998
  • Huseby, Beate Margrethe
    Senior Researcher The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) 1997/1998
  • Jenssen, Anders Todal
    Professor Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) 1997/1998
  • Miller, Arthur Herbert
    Professor University of Iowa 1997/1998
  • Narud, Hanne Marthe
    Professor University of Oslo (UiO) 1997/1998
  • Ray, Leonard Paul
    Dr. Lousiana State University 1997/1998
  • Strøm, Kaare
    Professor University of California, San Diego 1997/1998
  • Valen, Henry
    Professor Em. University of Oslo (UiO) 1997/1998

Group leader

  • Ola Listhaug

    Title Professor Institution Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Year at CAS 1997/1998