“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 4: Conceptualizing Opinions
The 1930s represented a significant turning point in thinking about public opinion, marked by a general shift away from viewing it as a supraindividual, collective phenomenon (e.g., Cooley, 1909) toward a more individualistic perspective that treats it as an aggregation of opinions within some designated population (e.g., Childs, 1939). This shift in focus was brought about mainly by two important and interrelated methodological advancements—developments that profoundly shaped not only public opinion research but the whole of American social science. The first was the growth of psychological measurement, in particular the development of quantitative techniques for the scaling of attitudes (e.g., Thurstone, 1928; Thurstone & Chave, 1929; Likert, 1931). The availability of such techniques allowed researchers interested in opinions and attitudes (often treated ...