A Theory of Public Opinion

By Francis Graham Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
Theory for Tomorrow*

I

Public opinion has been studied in a variety of ways, and the method adopted in each case is dictated in large measure by the kind of results the student may seek. One may ask: what is public opinion at a given time, in a given area, on a particular issue of public policy? The characteristic method of such an inquiry is to make a survey, or take a poll, of a number of people, who by some definition may he regarded as a representative sampling of the public. Statistical analysis, mathematical calculations, and just plain judgment, all play their part in such an inquiry. Even the more complicated tabulating and projection machines may be used to reach final conclusions long before complete statistical data have been assembled. Public officials may dream of a time when a competent civil service can use such investigations to determine either what public policy must be, or to what extent it retains the confidence of the general and open public. All over the world such devices for studying popular reaction have come into use, and in spite of some failures they are sufficiently attractive to have a brilliant future.

But one may also ask: what does public opinion mean to any particular individual? In other words, if we start with the self-

____________________
*
Republished from The Journal of Politics, 16 ( November, 1954), 601 ff.

-271-

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