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Despite its centrality and invocation in today's political and social world, the notion of public opinion has been plagued by inconsistent conceptualizations over the years. Disagreements over the public can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers: Plato expressed disdain for the public and believed in the rule of philosopher kings, whereas Aristotle was more optimistic, believing in the power of the community and the wisdom of collective deliberation. These differences in perspectives transcended time, manifesting themselves in European thinking in the 16th and 17th centuries. For instance, Machiavelli cautioned rulers to be wary of the ruled, but Rousseau noted the indestructibility of the general will, arguing that the state should rest on—and advocate for—the good of the community. Contemporary views of public opinion ...

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