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Public Opinion

Connie de Boer

Subject Sociology » Sociology of Culture and Media, Sociology of Knowledge

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The concept of public opinion is widely used in the social sciences: psychology, sociology, political, and communication science. Three distinct perspectives emerge from the many different definitions of the concept: individual, collective, and process. The most general and inclusive approach is that which conceives of public opinion at the individual level as an aggregation of the preferences of a group of individuals. Scholars with a more holistic view describe public opinion at the collective level as an emergent product of debate and discussion that cannot be reduced to individuals. Within this perspective, the public is not just a group of individuals but a dynamic collectivity. Public opinion refers to a group of people who are confronted by an issue, are divided in their ideas as to how to meet the issue, and engage in discussion over the issue ( Blumer 1946 ). Public opinion is also defined as a communication process that allows people to organize into publics within which opinions are formed and which enable them to exercise their influence. In this perspective, the individual and collective aspects of public opinion are more integrated ( Price 1992 ). There is a tendency for social scientists to emphasize in their definitions those dimensions of the concept that are related to their own academic discipline. Thus, psychologists are mainly interested in the process of opinion ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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