Opinion polls and
Contemporary public opinion is synonymous with methods of opinion polling, yet public opinion is also a broader phenomenon that is manifested in forms other than polling. The various forms through which public opinion is expressed provide for a variety of political effects. Modern forms of opinion polling, which provide for individualised responses to set issues and options, have been characterised as a means of social control. Alternatively, public opinion can erupt in unpredictable and violent ways, as we have seen in the anti-global capitalism protests (detailed in chapter 6). Also, some theorists have questioned the validity of linking the findings of opinion polls to expressions of public opinion. In complex and large-scale modern democracies, however, there is a need for means of measuring and allowing expressions of public opinion. The media, in particular, given their functions in a democratic society, have the difficult task of ascertaining public opinion so they can address relevant issues. The relationship between public opinion and opinion polling, then, is complex and problematic, yet it is also a vital topic to investigate given its everyday importance to the media and politics.
The production and expression of public opinion is not limited to politics. A broad range of surveys and forms of market research inquire routinely into a multitude of matters, including our lifestyle choices, our values, and our consumption of goods and services. Extensive databases are compiled from such information and become valuable commodities for businesses, organisations and governments.