Poster Paper: Your Opinion Matters: An Exploration of Using Public Opinion Research in Homeland Security

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Grant A. Allard, Clemson University

[488 words] Nearly 20 years after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, policymakers and scholars lament that Congress does not take more action on legislating new homeland security policies. Changes in public opinion are one reason why Congress may not be more active in this regard. A challenge to exploring this thesis is that the existing public opinion data sources are scattered across several different scholarly fields and data repositories. I review the existing scholarly literature and identify useful data sources including public opinion surveys, news article headlines, and social media for measuring public opinion toward homeland security policies. My approach to homeland security moves beyond analyzing the effects of politics but also to understand how the American public’s perspective on issues affects the process by which policies are made. My approach uses evidence to explore how public opinion has shaped policy change within several homeland security domains.

Homeland Security policy is a broad field that encompasses counter-terrorism, emergency management, immigration enforcement, customs and border security, and supporting the American way of life (DHS, 2014). The homeland security mission is very broad and relies heavily on bureaucratic agencies to lead policy formulation and implementation (Cohen et al., 2006; Vaughn and Villalobos, 2015). Bureaucratic agencies face the challenge of making policies that address security issues but that also win the support of elected officials such as the President and Members of Congress (MCs). Elected officials have the goal of winning election and re-election for themselves and their co-partisans, which means they are both attuned to the issues that win votes in the polling booth. Understanding the direction of public opinion may help policymakers craft policies more likely to be supported by elected officials.

Public opinion is important for policymakers and scholars to consider because it may shape—both constrain and empower—presidential or congressional policymaking. Canes-Wrone (2006) argues that presidents and MCs use public opinion to inform their policy positions. Within the homeland security domain, Hill and colleagues (2010) show that public opinion was an important tool for policymakers during the first decade of the 2000s because it allowed President Bush to build a coalition with Congress. In my literature review I find that there are several dominant issues for which scholars have used public opinion data. Scholars study the public’s perception of risk and threat, counter-terrorism, and privacy. Next, I catalogue the data sets that scholars use and their locations to facilitate easier use of public opinion measures for scholars and policymakers to conduct homeland security policy analyses.

Using this information, I conduct a pilot study that shows the role of public opinion in shaping policy change in border security and government surveillance. I add mediating variables such as election results. I present an online, web application that I developed, which makes it easier for finding useful data sets and exploring data. Lastly, I provide avenues for future research into the relationship between homeland security policy design and public opinion.