Public Opinion and American Democracy

Public Opinion and American Democracy

Public Opinion and American Democracy

Public Opinion and American Democracy

Excerpt

Governments must concern themselves with the opinions of their citizens, if only to provide a basis for repression of disaffection. The persistent curiosity, and anxiety, of rulers about what their subjects say of them and of their actions are chronicled in the histories of secret police. Measures to satisfy such curiosity by soundings of opinion are often only an aspect of political persecution; they may also guide policies of persuasion calculated to convert discontent into cheerful acquiescence. And even in the least democratic regime opinion may influence the direction or tempo of substantive policy. Although a government may be erected on tyranny, to endure it needs the ungrudging support of substantial numbers of its people. If that support does not arise spontaneously, measures will be taken to stimulate it by tactical concessions to public opinion, by the management of opinion, or by both.

1 · Power and Public Opinion

The incubation and gradual spread of the ideas of democracy radically altered expectations about the relations between the views of the citizenry and the acts of its rulers. In early times governments found le-

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