Public opinion theory and research are becoming increasingly significant in modern societies as people’s attitudes and behaviors become ever more volatile and opinion poll data becomes ever more readily available. This major new Handbook is the first to bring together into one volume the whole field of public opinion theory, research methodology, and the political and social embeddedness of polls in modern societies. It comprehensively maps out the state-of-the-art in contemporary scholarship on these topics.
Public Opinion—A Nebulous Concept
In 1968, W. Phillips Davison wrote the entry for ‘public opinion’ for the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, concluding that ‘there is no generally accepted definition of the term’ (p. 188). Three years earlier Harwood Childs (1965) had described no less than 48 different definitions of public opinion in the relevant research literature.
Since then, the definitional situation has certainly not become any clearer; and after almost half a century of empirical research, not much has changed. But at the same time, public opinion is, as Vincent Price (1992, p. 1) wrote, ‘one of the most vital and enduring concepts in the social sciences.’ Public opinion continues to be one of the fuzziest terms in the social sciences—and nevertheless, it has ...