A Grammar of American Politics: The National Government

By Wilfred E. Binkley; Malcolm C. Moos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
PUBLIC OPINION, PRESSURE GROUPS, AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST

MEASURED in round figures there are approximately 100,000,000 eligible voters in the United States, each with the right to his own opinions. Out of this body of opinions must come the direction and guidance for government. Indeed it is from this body of opinions that "the life of a nation must draw its sustenance."1 But how are the desires of the entire electorate to be made articulate? It is utterly impracticable for a group of this size to meet in a body on the village green and attempt to make opinions known vocally as is still done in a few small cantons in Switzerland where the male voters assemble once a year (the Landsgemeinde) to decide public issues by a voice vote. Nor is it practicable for each member of the electorate in the United States to function as an independent political party and register his opinions accordingly. Actually, of course, "people are inclined to believe in company" as the Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, notes. We may hold to individual opinions but normally we assemble them into larger patterns and associations and we find them identifiable with the opinions and beliefs of others.

Thus we find ourselves in company with those holding common opinions in a variety of ways. It may be through a professional organization, a pressure group, or a political party, but whatever the nature of the organization it may serve as a vehicle for coalescing individual opinions. The importance to government of the process by which individual opinions are merged is great. When persons of similar opinions are brought together by an organization such as a political party or pressure group their opinions may be expressed both in an orderly fashion and far more effectively than if they were acting individually. It is with these processes--the processes by which opinions are formed and travel to influence government that we are here concerned and we may take as our starting point a brief examination of the nature of public opinion.

____________________
1
José Ortega y Gasset: Concord and Liberty ( New York, 1946), p. 16.

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