Public Opinion

By Carroll J. Glynn; Susan Herbst et al. | Go to book overview

precondition for informational influence is subjective uncertainty or lack of confidence in the validity of one's beliefs, or opinions." 89

In most circumstances, normative and informational influence "operate together to create conformity." However, there are those individuals who will fight or resist these influence attempts, especially if they are perceived to threaten individual freedoms.

Public opinion scholars have begun to use conformity research as a basis for some of their theoretical work on public opinion formation. For example, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann asserts that much of her research on the spiral of silence is based on conformity studies. Her "fear of isolation" concept is based in part on the experimental work of Asch90 and Milgram. 91 Noelle-Neumann states that people often fear isolation because of their need to be associated with others; they have a strong need to conform in order to be accepted (for a more complete discussion, see Chapter 6).


Conclusion

Public opinion scholars seldom attempt to understand the influence of social and institutional forces (such as laws, courts, and social value systems) on public opinion processes, and vice versa. Instead, much like research in collective behavior, 92 public opinion research is a field that presents a perfunctory image of the social process but relies heavily on individualistic explanations. Most public opinion scholars approach the study of public opinion as individual behavior while paying lip service to the collective or sociological aspects of public opinion.

Certainly, sociological factors are critical to the understanding of public opinion processes and functions, and it would be useful if more research were conducted that examined this phenomenon from a sociological perspective.

For example, one decidedly sociological public opinion phenomenon is what sociologists refer to as collective behavior. Collective behavior can include organized expressions of opinion such as strikes, sit-ins, or letter-

writing campaigns. It also includes disorganized expressions of opinion such as riots, fads, and episodes of "mass hysteria." Although these phenomena are clearly social in nature, much of the research on collective behavior has focused on psychological aspects of it.

Most notably, scholars have worked for years to understand what motivates people to act on their opinions. For example, many acts of collective behavior are undertaken by groups agitating for civil rights. Such rights would be bestowed on all members of a social group regardless of their participation in the collective behavior. When the right to vote was extended to women, it was extended to all women, not just to the suffragettes. So why would a woman risk jail, public disgrace, or worse to

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Public Opinion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xv
  • Part One - Introducing Public Opinion 1
  • Chapter One - The Meanings of Public Opinion 3
  • Notes 30
  • Chapter Two - The History of Public Opinion 62
  • Chapter Three - Methods for Studying Public Opinion 65
  • Conclusion 99
  • Notes 99
  • Part Two - Theories of Public Opinion 101
  • Chapter Four - Psychological Perspectives 103
  • Notes 139
  • Chapter Five - Sociological Perspectives 145
  • Conclusion 171
  • Notes 172
  • Chapter Six - Perception and Opinion Formation 207
  • Chapter Seven - Basic Beliefs, Democratic Theory, and Public Opinion 212
  • Conclusion 242
  • Notes 243
  • Part Three - Public Opinion in Context 247
  • Chapter Eight - Public Opinion and Democratic Competence 249
  • Conclusion 291
  • Notes 292
  • Chapter Nine - Public Opinion and Policymaking 299
  • Conclusion 335
  • Notes 336
  • Chapter Ten - The Content of Our Attitudes: Public Opinion in the Contemporary United States 341
  • Conclusion 376
  • Notes 377
  • Chapter Eleven - Communicating with the Public 412
  • Chapter Twelve - Campaigning and Opinion Change 445
  • Chapter Thirteen - Looking Ahead 451
  • Index 453
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