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From a social science perspective, public opinion is much more than an aggregation of polling statistics. While individual survey responses are an instrumental component of understanding public opinion as a social force, the context in which the individual operates (e.g. media environment, typical discussion patterns) is an equally important consideration in obtaining a better understanding of the evolution of public opinion. Recognizing the normative aspects of a public opinion climate allows researchers to understand better how individuals come to possess opinions and how those opinions are shared with others.

Past work on behavioral norms offers insight as to how contextual forces, or “climates of opinion,” can influence the actions and expressions of group members. Such social norms can be classified into two main categories, descriptive and ...

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