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Abstract

Public opinion is often described as a powerful force in penal policymaking in the USA. Unfortunately, research on public opinion in penal policymaking has been limited by inattention to a number of important variables: definitions of public opinion, individual and interpersonal constructions of public opinion by political leaders themselves, state differences in historical contexts and political cultures regarding public engagement and political influence, and diversity in the roles of public opinion at different levels of government. This paper considers current dilemmas in this area of inquiry and reviews recent research in order to highlight potentially fruitful new directions for research.