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noelle_neumann - THE NATURE OF PUBLIC OPINION Westbmok R...

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THE NATURE OF PUBLIC OPINION Westbmok. R. B. (1983). Politics as consumption: Managing the modem Amer- ican election. In R. W. Fox &T. J. J. Lears (Eds.), T h d t u r e of consumfition: I Cdical essays in A d a n hirtq, 1880-1980 (pp. 145-173). New York: I i Pantheon. Wortman, T. (1970). A lredise c0ncmingpoMicd enquiv, and the itmy of th pmr (L. W. Levy, Ed.). New York: Da Capo Press. (Original work published in Public Opinion and Rationality1 Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann This chapter is dedicated to clarifying the concept of public opinion.2 Even as this century draws to a close, the discussion is still where it was when it began: The term "public opinion" is current; it is widely used in both scientific and everyday speech. But it has yet to be clarified. At the start of this century, the German historian Hermann Oncken com- mented on "public opinion" as follows: Anyone who tries to grasp it [the term public opinion] and pin it down recognizes immediately that he is dealing with a Proteus, a creature that is both visible in a thousand ways and yet shadowy, that is powerless and at the same time surprisingly effective, that manifests itself in countless different ways, that always manages to escape our grasp just when we think we have a hold on it. . . . It is not possible to comprehend something that is in a state of fluctuation and flow by forcing it to fit into a set formula. . . . After all, anyone who is asked knows exactly what public opinion means. (1914, pp. 224ff., 236) Now, toward the end of the century, the following comments appeared in the American Political Science Revieru, in Bruce Altschuler's review of Arthur Asa Berger's book, Political Culture and Public Opinion (1989): "Instead ofpredisely defining. . . public opinion . . . , he tells the reader that the meaning . . . is 'rather obvious' . . ." (Altschuler, 1990, p. 1369).
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34 THE NATURE OF PUBLIC OPINION Consider the famed second chapter of Harwood Childs' book, Pub- lic OpinMc Nature, Formdon, and Role, with its 50 definitions of public opinion (Childs, 1965). Or the first sentence of W. Phillips Davison's article on public opinion in the I n t d m l E~~~tl~pedia of the Sock1 S&m,ces, by D.L. Sills: There is no generally accepted definition of "public opinion." Never- theless, the term has been employed with increasing frequenq. . . . Later efforts to define the term precise5 have led to such expressions of frustra- rion as: ''Public opinion is not the name of a something but a classification of a number of somethings." (1968, p. 188) This paper posits that the 50 definitions cited by Childs all stem fmm just two different concepts ofpublic opinion. In addition, there are a few definitions that are technical-instrumenral in nature, in that pub- lic opinion is equated with the results of public opinion polls, defined as "the anmegation of individual attitudes by pollsters" (Beniger, 1987, p. ~ 5 4 ; ci:.-~orlin, 1980, p.
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