Public opinion

See also: Communication | Opinion

Public opinion is the mainstream opinion that is popularly recognised.

We can define public opinion, discover its types and, through this understanding, examine how the mass media shape politics, government and society. Public opinion could be given as the “comprehensive preferences of the majority of individuals on an issue” but defining collective opinions is bound to be a contentious issue, especially as it is constantly shifting with changing times and perceptions.

Interpersonal relationships between peers and personal experience dominate public opinion and the spread of memes. Modern mass communications and information technology allows for a much larger public sphere where personal message exchange may occur.

It is still questionable as to whether there can ever be one global will or if the internet can create a thriving global village with a universal user base. Public opinion is shaped by what is difficult to know and how articles are framed via the press. The assessment of public opinions is problematic because they way it is ascertained is very subjective, but at the same time it must have some value to the political and public sphere.

Related Essay Summary

Summarised from ‘Reframing Public Opinion as We Have Known It’ by Robert M. Entman and Susan Herbst from the book ‘Mediated Politics: Communication in the Future of Democracy

Public opinion can be imagined by describing the various forms it takes.

  • Mass opinion is the tradition collection of personal preferences summarised in polls, elections and so forth.
  • Activated public opinion is the type to be found amongst those with power and resources, community leaders, spirited political activists and the like.
  • Latent public opinion is the feelings people feel deep down over the long term, after a debate has subsided. The important point here is that successful politicians may tap into this type to ensure their long-term success.
  • Perceived majorities is the difference between what is presented as public opinion and what it is in reality a correct assessment.

In this paper the authors seek to define public opinion, its types and through this understanding examine how the mass media shape politics. The author’s main investigation were whether or not mass media raise or elevate certain issues, in response to government policy and discusses the various merits of measuring public opinion in regards to defence policy. One conclusion was that all forms of public opinion should be assessed in determining a cohesive form of political will. This paper highlights the ambivalent results that studies, polls and surveys may produce.

While it is commonly understood that any assessment of public opinion is not always accurate, a discourse without reference to this understanding is used by the media to frame stories. The resulting influence on politics is that the perceived majority presented by the media will inevitably “shape the behaviour of government and the public”.

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