Government » American Politics of Public Opinion » The Nature of Public Opinion

Summary and Main Ideas


Public opinion is more than a collection of answers to a question on a poll; it represents a snapshot of how people’s experiences and beliefs have led them to feel about a candidate, a law, or a social issue. Our attitudes are formed in childhood as part of our upbringing. They blend with our closely held beliefs about life and politics to form the basis for our opinions. Beginning early in life, we learn about politics from agents of socialization, which include family, schools, friends, religious organizations, and the media. Socialization gives us the information necessary to understand our political system and make decisions. We use this information to choose our ideology and decide what the proper role of government should be in our society.

Practice Questions

  1. Where do your beliefs originate?
  2. Which agents of socialization will have the strongest impact on an individual?

Sample Answer:

Family and/or school are the agents of socialization that have the strongest impact on an individual.


agent of political socialization: a person or entity that teaches and influences others about politics through use of information

classical liberalism: a political ideology based on belief in individual liberties and rights and the idea of free will, with little role for government

communism: a political and economic system in which, in theory, government promotes common ownership of all property, means of production, and materials to prevent the exploitation of workers while creating an equal society; in practice, most communist governments have used force to maintain control

covert content: ideologically slanted information presented as unbiased information in order to influence public opinion

diffuse support: the widespread belief that a country and its legal system are legitimate

fascism: a political system of total control by the ruling party or political leader over the economy, the military, society, and culture and often the private lives of citizens

modern conservatism: a political ideology that prioritizes individual liberties, preferring a smaller government that stays out of the economy

modern liberalism: a political ideology focused on equality and supporting government intervention in society and the economy if it promotes equality

overt content: political information whose author makes clear that only one side is presented

political socialization: the process of learning the norms and practices of a political system through others and societal institutions

public opinion: a collection of opinions of an individual or a group of individuals on a topic, person, or event

socialism: a political and economic system in which government uses its authority to promote social and economic equality, providing everyone with basic services and equal opportunities and requiring citizens with more wealth to contribute more

traditional conservatism: a political ideology supporting the authority of the monarchy and the church in the belief that government provides the rule of law

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