What is public opinion?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Public opinion is one of the most important things in a democratic system.  In order for our democracy to work properly, government has to hear and pay attention to the voice of the people.  In order for this to happen, the people, of course, must have a voice.  This is where public opinion comes in.

Public opinion can be described as political attitudes and core beliefs that people hold.  In particular, public opinion refers to such beliefs when they are measured in things like surveys of people’s opinions.  To understand this definition, we must understand two terms; political attitudes and core beliefs.  Core beliefs are the fundamental ideas that people have about what people are like and what government should be like.  For example, most Americans have a core belief in the ideas of limited government, personal rights, and free enterprise.  Political attitudes refer more to opinions about short-term issues that are important at the moment.  For example, this could include opinions about what government can do to reduce gun violence or what the US should do about the civil war in Syria.

Thus, we can define public opinion as people’s attitudes, particularly as expressed in surveys, about core values and specific political issues of the day.

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