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Public Opinion

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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 status.

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 However, in the early thirties, this amendment was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment which was in response to a change in public opinion.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:

  1. Traditional methods

  2. Scientific methods

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 sampling group, presenting carefully worded non-biased questions to the sampling group, and the results.

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