Public Opinion in Politics | Social Studies
Are you opinionated? Do you openly share your opinions with those around you? Do voice your opinion on important issues to your political leaders? Your personal thoughts on specific topics make a difference when combined with similar opinions.
The general stance of society about a certain issue is called public opinion. Opinions are powerful in the organization of politics. Politicians have been running their campaigns on the shared viewpoint of the public since the 17th century when John Locke introduced the term in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
For the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ Social Studies subtest, let’s look at how public opinion plays a role in today’s politics.
Forming Public Opinion
Public opinion forms when individuals join their views in a shared cause. When individuals keep their opinions private, momentum for change suffers. For example, say the town you live in has a blind intersection that’s responsible for multiple car accidents per year. The majority of residents believe a stop light should be installed, but no one has voiced an opinion to support this cause. As residents attend city hall meetings, talk with elected officials, and campaign for change, the public’s opinion achieves the desired outcome naturally.
It’s common for public opinion to form freely, but there are circumstances that sway public opinion. For example, say your town’s mayor wants to remodel your town’s public library. The construction would require an increase in taxes for all residents. Because of this, most residents voice a public opinion against the remodel.
To persuade public opinion in favor of improving the library, the mayor uses mass media to frame multiple stories that highlight the benefit of improving public libraries. These stories are made to appeal to all ages, including children, teens, adults, and the elderly, and the people begin to shift their views on the issue.
Measuring Public Opinion
When public opinions are managed – as the mayor in the example above tries to do – measuring how well tactics are performing is important to obtain a successful outcome. To do this, politicians resort to social media to assess their audience’s growth and observe how people are discussing issues.
The most common method used to measure public opinion is called the opinion poll, which is a survey of public opinion. Opinion polls survey a small portion of the population, called a sample, to understand the attitude of the population at large. With this information, politicians alter their message to align with the public opinion and appeal to more of the population.