“What is perhaps most amazing about this little book is its comprehensiveness. In little more than a 100 pages, Price manages to discuss the relevance of ‘public opinion’ to just about every major mass communication theory…. The reference list alone would be a valuable resource for anyone studying public opinion…. Price does a stellar job of explaining in easy-to-understand language what most of these references have to say about public opinion…. The two greatest contributions of the book are Price's organization of the vast literature on public opinion, coupled with his distillation of major works, including some truly hefty tomes, into a few simple words. Those who have grappled with the thoughts of Habermas and Blumer, for example, will greatly appreciate Price's succinct and insightful descriptions of the relevance of these difficult works to the study of public opinion. “Another strong point is the book's currency: while you will find references to works published in the 1920s, you also will find books, articles, and reports published in the 1990s…. If you are new to the study of public opinion and communication, this book is the most painless, yet valuable introduction I can recommend. If you think you already know a lot about public opinion, the book may be even more valuable: it may dispel you of the notion that anyone knows a lot about public opinion.” –Journalism Quarterly Public opinion–is it a simple aggregation of individual views, or instead some kind of collective-level, emergent product of debate and discussion? What is the role of public opinion in popular government? How do the mass media shape public opinion, or link it to governmental decision-making? Price's Public Opinion explores such questions by tracing the historical development and application of the concept of public opinion. It examines the concept's origins in Enlightenment thought and follows its evolution as a tool for social-scientific research. Intended as a map of the sprawling research terrain, Public Opinion introduces the conceptual mechanisms underlying public opinion research and shows how these concepts are used in an attempt to resolve enduring theoretical, normative, and practical questions. Because public opinion is one of the most vital and enduring concepts in the social sciences, this book will enjoy wide application in psychology, sociology, political science, journalism, and communication research in both academic and applied settings.
Chapter 3: Conceptualizing the Public
Conceptualizing the Public
Perhaps the most common conception of public opinion today equates it with a more or less straightforward aggregation of individual opinions, or “what opinion polls try to measure” (P. Converse, 1987, p. S13; Childs, 1939; Minar, 1960). When we compare this notion with those prevalent early in the 20th century, the contrast is striking. Earlier analysts were far more likely to frame public opinion as an inherently collective, supraindividual phenomenon or, as Cooley (1909) put it, “a cooperative product of communication and reciprocal influence” (p. 121). Although the rise of opinion polling would later tend to individualize the concept—bringing it closely in line with the majoritarian view discussed earlier—public [Page 23]opinion was commonly viewed in the early 1900s as a special ...