Fay Lomax Cook

Northwestern University
The Institute for Policy Research

2040 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL

Search Google Scholar
Search for Google Scholar Profile

Fay Lomax Cook is a faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University and professor of human development and social policy in the School of Education and Social Policy with a courtesy appointment in the department of political science. Her research focuses on the interrelationships between public opinion and social policy, the politics of public policy, public deliberation, and the dynamics of public support for programs for older Americans, particularly Social Security. She is working on several projects related to these general themes. In one, she and colleagues are studying how views of Social Security have changed over the last 30 years, focusing in particular on four major periods when debate about the future of the program was especially heated: the 1981-83 period which resulted in the 1983 Social Security Amendments; the 1995-98 period when President Clinton issued a call to "Save Social Security first" and launched national series of town hall meetings to forestall the Republicans' attempt to cut taxes in light of the then emerging budget surplus; the 2005-06 period when President Bush attempted to partially privatize Social Security; and the current period when substantial reforms to Social Security have been proposed and the program has been labeled as a "Ponzi scheme." In a second project, she and colleagues are using original data they collected to compare and contrast the views of citizens, scientists, and policy makers about energy policy, i.e., similarities and differences in knowledge, attitudes, problem definition, and policy solutions. In addition, they examine how beliefs concerning the salience and extent of energy problems, including attributions of responsibility for addressing the problem, affect attitudes toward energy policy.

Cook, F.L., L.R Jacobs, and Dukhong Kim. 2010. “Trusting What You Know: Information, Knowledge, and Confidence in Social Security.” Journal of Politics 72:397-412.
Abstract: Can public trust in government be increased by expanding knowledge of the activities government already performs? This study takes advantage of a naturally occurring experiment the distribution of personal statements by the Social Security Administration to examine the impact of increased domain-specific information on the public's knowledge and confidence. Analysis of a large Gallup survey of attitudes toward Social Security finds that recipients of personal Social Security Statements gained more knowledge of, and confidence in, Social Security than nonrecipients after controlling for individual differences. These results suggest that citizens' evaluations of government institutions echo, in part, the quality and quantity of information distributed to them. The implication for future research on political trust and confidence is to confirm the importance of expanding analysis from global to specific objects of evaluation.
Bolsen, T. and Cook, F.L. 2008. “Public Opinion on Energy Policy 1974-2006.” Public Opinion Quarterly 72:364-388.
Abstract: In recent years, energy policy has become an increasingly salient political issue in the United States. Rising gas prices, coupled with regional energy shortages and a growing recognition of the connection between U.S. energy supplies and national security, have led to calls for legislative action. Part of developing a national energy policy lies in understanding public opinion about existing energy sources, public support for various energy strategies, and what the public might be willing to do in order to conserve energy and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. In this review, we report trends in public opinion from 1974 through 2006 on traditional energy sources, alternative energy sources, and citizens priorities on energy alternatives. The polls show that concern about the U.S. energy situation is as high now as it was during the nation's energy crises of the 1970s. While attitudes about traditional sources of energy are strongly influenced by current economic conditions, citizens are increasingly receptive to alternative sources of energy (e.g., nuclear energy). Citizens also support policy changes that involve the government encouraging conservation through energy efficient appliances, vehicles, and homes and offices. The public voices a growing frustration with President Bush's and the Congress's handling of the nation's energy problems, and they express a desire for leadership in finding long-term solutions to the nation's energy dilemmas.rnrnAs gas prices across the United States soar to record levels, instability rocks the Middle East, and fears about global warming reach beyond the scientific community, citizens express increasing concern about U.S. energy alternatives. A recent poll showed Americans citing gas prices and energy costs as the most important economic issue facing the country. Despite an abundance of rhetoric on energy policy from both political parties, as well as the passage of two important energy bills in 2005 and 2007, critics maintain that the U.S. still lacks a truly comprehensive approach (Friedman, 2008). Part of developing and implementing a national energy strategy lies in understanding public opinion about existing energy sources, public support for various energy strategies, and what the public might be willing to do in order to conserve energy and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. In this review, we report trends in public opinion from 1974 through 2006 on traditional energy sources, alternative energy sources, and citizens' priorities on energy alternatives. Figure 1 shows the number of survey questions in Roper's IPoll database including the word energy for each year between 1970 and 2006. The wide variation in questions over time appears to stem from pollsters asking more questions when the energy situation is salient in the media e.g., when energy supplies are tight and prices relatively high. Prior to the first energy crisis in 1973, public opinion questions about energy were virtually nonexistent; however, as oil prices rose, and citizens became increasingly worried about U.S. energy supplies, so too did the number of poll questions about energy. Survey questions about energy peaked in 1979 following the second energy crisis and the partial-meltdown of the Three-Mile Island nuclear plant outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Through the early years of the Reagan presidency, as energy costs declined, fewer poll questions were asked about energy. Notwithstanding the temporary rise in questions about energy following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the ensuing Persian Gulf War in 1991, the downward trend in the number of survey questions about energy continued unabated throughout the remainder of the decade. Some gaps in the trend data we report stem from this paucity of questions as well as from a lack of identically worded questions about energy. By 2001, concerns about U.S. energy prices and supplies led to a renewed interest in measuring public opinion about energy, an interest that has continued to the present.
Jacobs, L., F.L. Cook, and M. X. Delli Carpini. 2009. Talking Together: Public Deliberation and Political Participation in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Abstract: The author's original and extensive research explains how and why citizens talk to each other, who is doing the talking, and what difference it makes. They find that-in settings ranging from one-on-one conversations to e-mail exchanges to larger and more formal gatherings - a surprising eight out of ten Americans regularly participate in public discussions about such pressing issues as the Iraq War, economic development,and race relations. Pin pointing the real benefits of public discourse while considering arguments that question its importance, Talking Together presents an authoritative and clear-eyed assessment of deliberation's function in American governance. In the process, it offers concrete recommendations for increasing the power of talk to foster political action.

Substantive Focus:
Social Policy PRIMARY

Theoretical Focus:
Public Opinion PRIMARY