Characteristics of Public Opinion

Characteristics of Public Opinion

It is quite difficult to define Public Opinion because different scholars define it differently. Some define it as the opinion of all the people some others say it is an opinion of leaders, while still others describe it as a majority opinion. But these views do not represent truth.

  1. Aggregate of views which men hold regarding matters that affect the community.” However, such as aggregate must have for its basis the welfare of the community and only then can it be recognised and respected as public opinion.
  2. In the words of Dr. Beni Prasad, “Opinion may be regarded as truly public opinion when it is motivated by regard for the welfare of the whole of society.”
  3. According to Carol, “In its common use Public Opinion refers to the composite reaction of the general public.”
  4. Lowell defines Public Opinion,: “In order that opinion may be public, majority is not enough and unanimity is not required, but the opinion must be such that while the minorities may not share it but they feel bound by conviction and not by fear to accept it.”

In simple words we can say that public opinion is neither the opinion of all nor it is the majority opinion. It is an opinion which is generally held by all and its purpose is to highlight the welfare of all. It is a consensus opinion which enjoys the support of a very large majority of people. It is even not opposed by the minorities as it reflects a concern for the welfare of all.

Public Opinion is always characterised by the following features:

1. General Agreement:

It is an opinion behind which there is a general agreement or a consensus.

2. Rational/Logical:

Ideally, public opinion should be rational and logical. Its validity should be demonstrable by logic or reason.

3. General Welfare:

Public opinion is governed by the idea of promotion of general public welfare.

4. Related to all Aspects of Life:

Public opinion can concern any and every matter—political, social, economic, or cultural.

5. Upholds Morality:

Public opinion always upholds the moral values of society. It shouldn’t go against morality.

6. Not an Imposed Opinion:

Public opinion is not an imposed opinion. It should represent the generally held consensus opinion.

7. Neither Destructive nor Negative:

Public opinion is neither destructive nor negative. Ideally, it is positive in content as it represents public welfare.

8. Based on Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression:

The right to freedom of speech and expression is the most essential condition for the birth of public opinion.

9. Basis of Democracy:

Public Opinion plays a deterministic role in a democracy. All policies of a democratic government rest upon public opinion. The government can remain in power and work successfully only when it is backed by public opinion.

10. Real Sanction Behind Laws of the State:

Public opinion is the real sanction behind all laws and policies of a democratic state. Supremacy of public opinion reflects the sovereignty of people, which is the very basis of a democracy.

Necessary Conditions for the Formulation of Healthy Public Opinion

The necessary conditions for the formulation of healthy public opinion are as follows:

1. Educated and Enlightened Citizens:

Educated and enlightened citizens alone can understand all issues and problems properly. They cannot be taken in by the oily tongue of some people. They can evaluate every issue properly and formulate right opinions with regard to the problems and issues faced by the society.

2. Free and Honest Press:

Free and honest press is also essential for the formulation of healthy public opinion. Only a press without any fear can publish every issue in the newspaper. When the press is under the control of the government, it is not in a position to publish anything freely. Besides, press must be fair and honest. An honest press does not present anything in an exaggerated or distorted manner. It always helps the formation of clear and healthy public opinion.

3. Sound Party System:

Political parties play a significant role in the formulation of public opinion. However, these can do so only when these are organised on democratic lines. When the political parties are not properly organised, these fail to present a correct perspective of the political events and national needs.

Consequently, proper public opinion cannot get formulated. As such political parties must rise above casteism, provincialism, linguism, communalism and regionalism. These should pursue the goals of national interest. They should communicate right information’s to the people.

4. Alert and Active Citizenship:

The citizens, apart from being educated, should be also active in their approach. Only such citizens take due interest in every happening, and have an action-oriented outlook towards politics. They do not yield to pressures. They try to understand every problem and form an impartial view. They can distinguish good from evil. Only active and alert citizens can ensure the birth of healthy public opinion.

5. Sound Education System:

Since education system also plays a significant role in the formation of public opinion, it is always essential that it should be a sound system of providing education and training to the young persons. It should cultivate rational, scientific, humanistic and national outlook. It should be helpful in making the young people free from sectarian or parochial considerations of casteism, linguism, religionism, communalism, regionalism and the like.

6. Removal of Poverty:

Poverty is a curse. A poverty stricken person can neither think freely not can form his free opinion. He always remains drawn to the basic needs of life. Poverty always deprives the people of their free will and they tend to become friends of the corrupt. As a result, right public opinion fails to get formulated. Removal of poverty must be vigorously pursued and only then the required environment conducive for the emergence of healthy public opinion can be created.

7. High Moral Character:

The moral character of the people also contributes to the formulation of healthy public opinion. The people of high moral character shun falsehood and bad tactics, and give balanced and useful views.

8. Freedom of Speech and Expression:

Freedom of speech and expression is also necessary for the formulation of free and honest public opinion. Any restriction on the expression of views always hinders the birth of healthy public opinion. As such opportunity for a free use of right to freedom of expression must be made available to the people.

9. Freedom from Casteism, Communalism and Localism:

The considerations of casteism and communalism make the thinking of the people parochial, and they get tied down to narrow loyalties. Due to it, they fail in the task of formulation of right public opinion. Every effort should, therefore, be made for, eliminating these evils.

10. Spirit of Toleration and Co-operation:

Healthy public opinion can only be possible if the people are tolerant to each other and have in them the spirit of co-operation. If these feelings are lacking in man, he fails to tolerate opposition. A healthy public opinion can emerge only through a healthy debate among the opponents. Opposition or dissent must be tolerated as natural and useful.

11. Democratic Government:

Only in democratic government, the people have freedom of speech and expression and they enjoy adequate rights and freedoms. Such a situation helps the formation of healthy public opinion. By securing all these conditions, each society can create an environment conducive for the formulation of healthy public opinion.

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