Attitudes and Opinions

By Stuart Oskamp; P. Wesley Schultz | Go to book overview

9
Communication of
Attitudes and Opinions

Every new opinion, at its starting, isprecisely in a minority of one.—Thomas Carlyle.

In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.—Alexis de Tocqueville.

All effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands -what you want him to understand.—Adolf Hitler.

The amount of money devoted to communication and advertising in the United States, and worldwide, is staggering. In the United States, advertising campaigns through the mass media cost over $200 billion per year (U. S. Census Bureau, 2002). That's over $700 for every person in the country, spent to persuade them to change their attitudes and actions—far more than the total per capita income of many developing countries! The four primary media for advertising in the United States are television ($57 billion), newspapers ($49 billion), direct mail ($44 billion), and magazines ($42 billion). In 2001, General Motors and Proctor & Gamble, the two companies with the largest advertising budgets, spent more than $3 billion dollars each to advertise their products (Adage.com, 2003).

What do the advertisers get for all their expenditures? Do mass media campaigns successfully sell products or attract voters? Do people rely on the media for information and advice, or do they turn to their families, friends, and neighbors? What are the communication processes by which mass information, propaganda, and advertising efforts are spread and transformed into individual beliefs, attitudes, and actions? This chapter considers these questions regarding the communication of attitudes, beginning with a very brief sketch of the history of communication research.


EARLY STUDIES OF COMMUNICATION AND PROPAGANDA

Much of the early research on communication was motivated by deep concern over the effects on society of political propaganda. By the 1930s numerous demagogues had attained political power, in part through the clever use of propaganda techniques: Hitler and Goebbels in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Huey Long as Louisiana governor and senator in the United States. Radio broadcasting had begun in 1920, and by the 1930s the widespread ownership of radios made possible a mass audience of millions for propagandists like the American priest, Father Coughlin. There was deep fear that democracy could not withstand this onslaught, for the propaganda analysts of that era assumed that the millions listening

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