At present all politicians and officials like referring to public opinion. Newspapers and the Internet contain numerous articles about public opinion. Nevertheless, there is still no clear understanding of what public opinion really is and how it is possible to research, define and interpret it. Floyd H. Allport pointed out that the science of public opinion can answer these questions.
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However, there is still no separate science of public opinion, mainly due to the lack of agreement among scholars about the definition and main features of public opinion, though it is possible to outline the major principles of the new science basing on Allport’s findings.
It is necessary to point out that Allport’s (1937) work “Toward a Science of Public Opinion” could be a dawn of the new science which could help find effective methods of interpreting public opinion precisely. However, in the beginning of the twenty-first century there is no science of public opinion. Public opinion is regarded as a tool of defining the latest trends in society.
The most scientific approach towards public opinion presupposes that it is one of the parts of political and social sciences (Lippmann 2007). The major difficulty of public opinion interpretation is often considered to be issues belonging “to the science of statistics” (Lippmann 2007, 141). However, the problem is much more complicated and is largely based on the absence of definite interpretation of the term “public opinion” itself.
In 1937 Allport claimed that the interpretation of the term, or rather the lack of such, caused ambiguousness not only in the works of journalists but “in textbooks of political and social science” (1937, 7). Thus, Allport argued that it was necessary to define the term properly using scientific approach. In fact, he did define the term and outlined the major features of public opinion.
It is important to note the basic points of Allport’s definition: the term “public opinion” refers to “a multiindividual situation in which individuals are expressing themselves… as to give rise to the probability of affecting action, directly or indirectly toward the object concerned” (1937, 23).
Basically, Allport does not merely define the term but considers the principles of future science. His interpretation excludes any bias or incompleteness.
It is important to mention that there are many attempts to analyze public opinion using scientific approach. For instance, Zetterberg (2003) provides a thorough analysis of public opinions in different settings since the author understands the importance of the correct understanding of public opinion. This approach can be valuable for the development of the science of public opinion.
However, it is essential to focus on Allport’s work which should become the basis for the new science. Allport considers the term “public opinion” in details outlining the major difficulties in interpretation. Thus, these principles and Allport’s approach will be an appropriate skeleton for the science of public opinion.
On balance, it is possible to point out that though the science of public opinion has not found its place among other sciences it is being developed by many scholars who understand that it is impossible to interpret public opinion without precise definition of the term and the list of characteristic features of the phenomenon.
The work of Floyd H. Allport can become a basis for the new science since it contains detailed analysis of the features of public opinion and precise definition of the term. More so, the work can become a guideline for those developing the science of public opinion.
Allport, Floyd H. “Toward a Science of Public Opinion.” Public Opinion Quarterly 1, no.1 (1937): 7-23.
Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion. Minneapolis, MN: Filiquarian Publishing, 2007.
Zetterberg, Hans L. “Social Science Theories and the Study of Public Opinion.” WAPOR annual meeting September (2003): 1-35. http://www.zetterberg.org/Lectures/SocialScienceTheoriesPublicOpinion.pdf