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Public Opinion

Carroll J. Glynn and Michael E. Huge

Subject Politics
Communication Reception and Effects » Public Opinion

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Bearing the dubious distinction of being one of the oldest, yet least understood, concepts in social science, public opinion continues to inspire and perplex scholars from communication and other fields. The term can be adequately defined as a general measure of the directionality and strength of issue-specific views and sentiments held by a relevant group. Public opinion bears a sort of syntactical internal contradiction: While “public” denotes the group and the universal, “opinion” on its own is typically associated with the individual and considered a somewhat internal, subjective formulation. The rise of survey research during the early twentieth century further complicated matters with a trend toward quantifying public opinion as a simple aggregation of individual survey responses (→  Survey ; Public Opinion Polling ). The rejection of such mathematical reductions – along with the suggestion that public opinion was in fact a group-level social force iteratively constructed through interpersonal interaction and media use (→  Interpersonal Communication ; Political Media Use ; Media Use by Social Variable ) – set the stage for a social science debate that has continued for well over 50 years. The French term “l'opinion publique,” originally attributed to sixteenth-century French Renaissance writer Montaigne, was adopted in European thinking as political power and decision-making ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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