What is public opinion?
Public opinion is the ideas and attitudes of many American
citizens about issues that are affecting their government.
What shapes public opinion?
Public opinion is influenced by numerous sources. These include,
but are not limited to home, family, school, the internet, your peers, and your social
When does public opinion shape government policy?
Public opinion has long shaped governmental policies. Though in
order to effectively influence policy makers, the opinion must be viewed by a significant
number of people who feel strongly about an issue. In addition, the issue must have
been a topic of discussion for a long time. Some examples include the censorship of movies and the prohibition on alcohol.
One example of how public opinion has shaped public policy is
the censorship of movies during the 1920s. Warren
G. Harding signed into law regulations for decency which all
movies must meet. These regulations were heralded as a triumph for morality, but did not
please everyone. The Catholic Church did not believe they were strict enough, and came up
with their own rating system instead.
Another prominent example was the prohibition on alcohol during
the 1920's. Public opinion toward drinking was severely against it and due to that reason,
the Eighteenth Amendment was created. However, in the early thirties, this amendment was repealed
by the Twenty-First Amendment which was in response to a change in public opinion.
How is public opinion measured and assessed?
Government officials have a variety of ways to find out how
citizens feel about certain issues. These are divided into two separate categories:
Traditional methods include political party organization,
interest groups, mass media, letters, telephone calls, elections and straw polls.
Scientific polling, which is how public opinion is most often
measured now, is the second category. It contains three basic elements. First, selecting a
presenting carefully worded non-biased
questions to the sampling group, and the results.