Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy

Nathaniel Persily, Jack Citrin, Patrick J. Egan

Research output: Book/ReportBook


American politics is most notably characterized by the heated debates on constitutional interpretation at the core of its ever-raging culture wars, and the coverage of these lingering disputes is often inundated with public-opinion polls. Yet for all their prominence in contemporary society, there has never been an all-inclusive, systematic study of public opinion and how it impacts the courts and electoral politics. This book provides a comprehensive analysis of American public opinion on the key constitutional controversies of the 20th century, including desegregation, school prayer, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, gay rights, assisted suicide, and national security, to name just a few. With chapters focusing on each issue in-depth, the book utilizes public-opinion data to illustrate these contemporary debates, methodically examining each one and how public attitudes have shifted over time, especially in the wake of prominent Supreme Court decisions. The chapters join the "popular constitutionalism" debate between those who advocate a dominant role for courts in constitutional adjudication and those who prefer a more pluralized constitutional discourse. Each chapter also details the gap between the public and the Supreme Court on these hotly contested issues and analyzes how and why this divergence of opinion has grown or shrunk over the last fifty years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages376
ISBN (Electronic)9780199851720
ISBN (Print)9780195329414
StatePublished - Oct 3 2008


  • Abortion
  • Affirmative action
  • American politics
  • Assisted suicide
  • Constitutional interpretation
  • Death penalty
  • Desegregation
  • Gay rights
  • Public-opinion polls
  • School prayer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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