Public Opinion – The Constrain on Official’s Policy Choices
Shaping Opinion: Political Leaders, Private Groups, and the Media What are the primary
forces that seek to manipulate, influence, and otherwise shape public opinion? How do these
forces go about shaping opinion? What is the nature of their influence?
All governments attempt to manipulate their citizens' beliefs, though in America,
governmental messages compete with many other political actors. Although they differ in
terms of precisely how they approach changing public opinion, all recent presidents have
made use of election campaign-type polling to gauge and shape public opinion.
Political, business, and public interest groups are opinion leaders who look to shape
public opinion on individual issues and promote ideological causes.
Communications media are among the most powerful forces operating in the marketplace
of ideas. Mass media can be thought of as mediators between political elites, on the one
hand, and the people, on the other hand. Still, these are mediators with effect: mass media
set the public agenda; “prime” the criteria by which citizens evaluate politicians and
political events; and “frame” events and issues in ways that affect public interpretations
5. Measuring Public Opinion What are the effects of measuring public opinion through polls?
What are the techniques pollsters employ? How might those techniques sometimes lead to errors
in measurement or to outright changes in public opinion?
Whereas politicians used to measure public opinion by gauging applause, counting
crowds, or through individual contacts with citizens, contemporary politicians make
extensive use of public opinion polls to decide whether to run for office, what policies to
support, how to vote, and what appeals to make in campaigns.
Surveys are used to construct a picture of public opinion; if done correctly, they can be
o First, pollsters must choose a representative sample of the population they seek to
describe; seeking to avoid selection biases, pollst