Among Sociologists, there are two different ways of viewing mass departures from social expectations and normative behaviour. The first, especially common among functionalists, interprets collective behaviour as a symptom that something has “gone haywire” in the social system (i.e. usual methods of social control are not working, and people are behaving irrationally). The second, called collective-action theory sees collective behaviour as the result of rational decision on the part of collectivities.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- define public opinion
- identify factors involved in the formation of public opinion
- state the importance of public opinion
- measure of public opinion.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 Definition of Public Opinion and Propaganda
Public opinion can be defined as the aggregate views of the people on a particular public issue or government policy at a given period. You should note here that whenever a public is identified, there tends to be opinion formation.
3.2 Formation on Public Opinion
Public opinion can be formed in various ways. These include:
- Through the Mass Media: This is to say that people can expresstheir views through the radio, newspaper and the television.
- Symposia and Lecturers: This indicates that public opinion can be formed at meeting in which ideas on matters of public importance are expressed and discussed.
- Pressure Groups and Political Parties: This indicates that pressure groups and political parties help in the formation of public opinion. Through this means, people’s views and opinions are easily shaped.
- Bureau of Information: A bureau of information is a government’s agency which is meant to inform the public on the activities of government. This now shows that government can assist in the formation of public opinion through the establishment of a bureau of information. This would make the government to easily know people’s opinions on government policies.
- Elections:Elections are another strategy of forming public opinion. This is made possible through the education of members of the public by political parties on important public issues. This usually occurs during campaigns or through advertisements.
SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 1
How do public opinion form?
3.3 Importance of Public Opinion
Below are the importances of public opinion:
- Measuring the Popularity of the Government: This shows that through public opinion, the government will be able to measure the popularities of its policies.
- Formulation of government policies is made easy: Throughpublic opinion, government is able to formulate policies. This means that the government is able to know that the views of the people are on any public issue and it is able to take that into consideration while formulating its policies.
- A means of decision-making: This shows that people are made to participate in the decision making process through their opinion on certain issues.
- A means of checking the excesses of government: Public opinion can be helpful in ensuring for accountability. For example, through public opinion, the government can be made accountable for its actions.
SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 2
Describe why you think public opinion is important and necessary. .
3.4 Measurement of Public Opinion
Public opinion can be measured with the following:
- Through referendum: A referendum is a direct vote through which all the people in a society declare their position on any particular issue. It is a technique of measuring the acceptability or non-acceptability of any government proposal.
- Through elections: It is a fact to note that government can easily know a lot through the conduct of an election. As a matter of fact, the result of an election could help us to know how popular or unpopular a government and its policies are.
- Through opinion polls: Opinion polls are another way of measuring public opinion. Opinion polls are methods by which a cross-section of the public are interviewed on a given issue, with a view of identifying and measuring their position on it.
- Through meeting the people: People can be met directly in order to know their opinion on any particular issue. People can be located in their various communities or neighbourhoods.
The above-listed techniques of measuring public opinion have been used by the government (Federal, State and Local governments), private bodies and other bodies as ways of knowing what is on people’s mind.
SELF-ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 3
Describe the techniques of measuring public opinion.
Public opinion has been identified as the collection of ideas and attitudes usually shared by the members of a particular public. It should be of interest to note here that public opinion helps in maintaining social control particularly over the leaders and the population in general. Not only this, public opinion can possibly serve as a unifying element in society. For example, Nigerian society which is purely heterogeneous (i.e. being made up of different kinds of people such as Hausa, Ibo, Tiv, Yoruba, etc.) is to some extent unified on certain issues, particularly in times of great crisis, which, however, demands a collective effort.
In this unit, we have been able to give a definition of public opinion; how public opinion is formed; importance of public opinion, and measurement of public opinion. Public opinion has been expressed as the aggregate views of the people on a particular public issue or government policy at a given period. Public opinion is said to come up through mass media, symposia and lectures, pressure groups and political parties, bureau of information, and through elections. Public opinion has been described as being important in that it helps in formulation of government policies, it helps to measure the popularity of the government, participation in decision-making and lastly, it is a strategy of checking the excesses of government.
Effort has also been made to describe how public opinion is measured. Measurement of public opinion can come through opinion polls, elections, referendum and meeting the people directly.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- Define public opinion.
- How do public opinion form?
- Explain the importance of public opinion
- Describe how public opinion can be measured.