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Discussion of public communication in politics presupposes discourse in democratic or republican systems of government. Though publics play a role in all modern nations, they perform a necessary function in democratic forms of government. According to democratic theory, public approval legitimizes government actions. Jean Cohen explains the role of the public in what she terms “deliberative democracy,” that democratic associations value choice derived through public reasoning. As such, community decisions are deemed legitimate inasmuch as they are the product of open deliberation. Understanding just what the public is, however, is essential to any further explanation.

There are three ways to understand the concept of “the public.” Often, public is used to denote a space to which people are given free access. As such, “the public” constitutes ...

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