Public opinion is the aggregate of individuals’ expressed beliefs and preferences about public issues. These views play a critical role in democratic governance and cover a range of topics, such as political candidates and figures, political events, public policies, partisanship, and ideology. This entry offers a brief introduction to research on public opinion, focusing on how it forms and changes, issues with its measurement, and its importance in democratic policy making.

Opinion Formation

Several factors influence individuals’ opinions about public affairs, including self-interest, deeply seated values, feelings toward social groups, the social context, and even individual differences in cognitive style, personality, and genetics. These factors affect people’s underlying beliefs and how they direct their attention. People begin to develop political attitudes in childhood, adopting the beliefs and ...

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