Public Opinion

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

can only tell the researcher about surface-level meanings of media text-- what can be readily counted, not the deep, often unconscious effects that a newspaper article or television program could have on a reader or viewer. In politics, it is reasonable to measure manifest content, since that is the content most often prompting policy debate, lobbying, and citizen participation. However, there is a feeling among many communication researchers that visual content of media may have subtle effects on the audience and that these effects are not readily noticed in the evaluation of manifest content of media. Research on how visual imagery represents and affects the public mood is only in its infancy, however, so media scholars have not as yet developed methods for coding latent meanings of visual content.


Conclusion

This chapter has explored four of the most common means for assessing public opinion, but there are others as well--analysis of election results or movement of the stock market, for example. The student of public opinion must decide upon the most effective means for understanding popular moods, and the tools chosen must fit the research question at hand. Do keep in mind that all the methods discussed here assume certain conceptions or dimensions of public opinion. In conducting a poll, a researcher is arguing that public opinion can reasonably be defined as the aggregation of individual opinions, anonymously and scientifically collected. Yet if focus groups are used, the researcher wants to witness the processual nature of public opinion: how people develop opinions and change them, especially when they articulate their opinions in the presence of others. The survey researcher understands that a respondent's opinions have been influenced by others as well (in conversations before the survey), but the focus group researcher wants to watch how those opinions are formed. All of the approaches to understanding public opinion discussed in this chapter are valid, if used with care and rigor. And it is important to note that they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the best research project would evaluate public opinion using multiple methods. But this is often unnecessary and also quite expensive, so researchers must make the best choices they can, based upon their theoretical concerns, the possibilities for collecting data, and budgetary constraints.


Notes
1.
Much of this section is based upon Michael X. Delli Carpini and Bruce A. Williams , "The Method Is the Message: Focus Groups as a Method of Social, Psychological, and Political Inquiry," in Michael X. Delli Carpini, Leonie Huddie, and Robert Shapiro, eds., Research in Micropolitics ( J.A.I. Press, 1994), pp. 57-85.

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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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