Constructing Public Opinion: How Political Elites Do What by Justin Lewis

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By Justin Lewis

Is polling a technique that brings "science" into the learn of society? Or are polls crude tools that let us know little concerning the approach humans really imagine? The function of public opinion polls in executive and mass media has won expanding value with each one new election or ballot taken. right here Lewis offers a brand new examine an outdated culture, the 1st examine of opinion polls utilizing an interdisciplinary procedure combining cultural experiences, sociology, political technological know-how, and mass verbal exchange. instead of pushing aside polls, he considers them to be an important type of illustration in modern tradition; he explores how the media file on polls and, in flip, how publicized effects impression the best way humans reply to polls. Lewis argues that the media are likely to exclude the extra innovative aspect of well known opinion from public debate. whereas the media's impact is proscribed, it really works strategically to take care of the facility of pro-corporate political elites.

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Citizens who signed a petition would often form an unruly mob, marching toward Parliament with their grievances in hand. (Herbst 1993a, 52) While these forms of collective expression were often suppressed, they were also, at times, indulged—in some instances, as a matter of political necessity (Thompson 1968). Although sometimes tolerated, these instances of public opinion were not, at this juncture, generally endowed with political legitimacy. To do so would be to threaten a power structure still based largely on the hegemony of a landowning aristocracy.

As Williams demonstrated in his own work, this understanding does not prevent us from using fragments of discourse to chart the “structures of feeling” that allow us to describe a culture. What matters, in this regard, is that we acknowledge the conditions of production. Thus we read a novel, a speech, a newspaper, a film, an advertisement, or an opinion poll as representations or accounts constrained by ideology and style. We may read Charles Dickens as social commentary, but we do so in the context of the moral and aesthetic structures of Bleak House or Hard Times, a context enriched by all the other available accounts of Victorian England.

The public, like the subject of a ghost-written autobiography, is granted a form of secondhand authorship. Pollsters merely use their expertise to express the public mind. But if pollsters are ghostwriting, then their shadowy hands are opaque rather than transparent, so much so that we can observe a number of discernable features. As Siune and Kline (1975) point out, the manufacturers of polls are likely to be close, in a general ideological sense, to media professionals and political leaders. More recently, Salmon and Glasser (1995) have developed Habermas’s approach to public opinion by characterizing polls as a form of consent (or lack thereof) in response to questions framed by elites rather than the representation of more substantive or discursive processes.

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