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Essays

The Role Of Public Opinion In A Democracy

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  1. Definition
  2. Opinion and community
  3. Formulators of public opinion in a society
  4. Nature of public opinion
  5. Importance of public opinion in a democratic government
  6. Prerequisites of public opinion
  7. Contributors in the formation of enlightened public opinion
  8. Role of public opinion in a representative democracy
  9. Propaganda and public opinion

Public opinion is the attitudes, perspective, and preferences of a population towards events, circumstances, and issue of mutual interest. It is characteristically measured by the sample survey or public opinion poll. Public opinion is shaped both by relatively permanent circumstances and by temporary influences. Among the former are the ideas that characterize the popular culture of a given place at a given time.

Who constitutes a people? According to Sait, not everyone within a community can be regarded as contributing to the formation of the public opinion. But yet the whole adult population, irrespective of voting right and irrespective of citizenship, generally share in the formation of the public opinion.

The opinion of a community is seldom unanimous, George Cornwell Lewis points out how there appears to be no alternative to counting the numbers and abiding by the opinion of the majority. According to A.B. Lowell, the success of this somewhat mechanical methods depends upon the minority accepting the validity of decision, after a full and free discussion. Unless there is an ungrudging acceptance of the consequences of electoral decision, consensus would disappear and the democratic system undermined or upset.

On major issues of common interest there is often a variety of views, some of which may be confused or incoherent. Discussions and clarifications can diminish such confusion and diversify so that inter-connected views gradually take definite shape. Of these, the view which is held by an apparent majority of citizens is called the public opinion. All opinions, points out Lowell, involve a choice between different views which may be rational, or based on conviction, or these may proceed from feeling and emotion. Of the various agencies that help in the formulation of public opinion, the people must be considered first. Among the human beings, some play more prominent part then others. They may be referred to as the formulators of public opinion. These are the persons who seriously occupy themselves with public affairs whether in the capacity of legislators, or journalists, or administrators, or professional politicians. To this list may be added the scholars and researches who specialise in various aspects of public life. Taken together, these persons form a small minority of the community, yet it is these persons who make and mould public by giving their reactions to policies and events as they occur. Next, there are people whose interest or sense of civic duty makes them give steady attention to public affairs. They can differentiate one opinion from another as their interest requires. They may also help in spreading such opinion as they like and favour.

A large majority are indifferent to public affairs, knowing little and thinking even less. The demands of earning a living in a competitive society are said to leave him with little time for considerations of public interest. They usually accept readymade opinions from others- from leader, or a neighbour, or someone else for whom they have regard.

It is important to study public opinion in order to understand the working of the democratic government. The origin of the theory of public opinion goes back to the time of Greeks, Romans and the French Revolution. In fact that actual phrase “public opinion” was first used by Rousseau on the eve of the French revolution. Public opinion now-a-days work as the watchdog of democracy. However, it is very often misunderstood. Many people consider public opinion as the opinion if the public i.e. people in majority. But public opinion is not that.

Discussed in simple terms “public opinion may be called as the opinion of the people in general on the questions of administration, or general welfare. According to Lord Bryce, public opinion stands for views men hold regarding matters that affect the interest of the society or nations-state. Prof. Sait defines public opinion in his book “Public opinion and Government”. In order that public opinion may not just be majority opinion it is necessary that while the majority may not share it, they feel bound to it by conviction and if democracy is complete the submission of minority must follow ungrudgingly.

An opinion to be regarded as public must be the opinion of the people. It may also be the majority opinion, but is should be meant for the good of all of the public. Public opinion is always impelled by the idea of common good or

Therefore some specialist rightly observe that an opinion may be regarded as public when it is motivated by a regard for the welfare of the whole society. Public opinion is rarely marked by unanimity. This is because some sections of society may be selfish and may not approve of anything that is contrary to their interest. For example a good number of people who are drunkards may not like to approve the policy of prohibition, though it is meant for the common good. Hence their opinion may not be regarded as public opinion may not be regarded as public opinion, because they are motivated by self-interest. On the whole an opinion even if the opinion of a small group of people which contributes to common good is treated as public opinion.

The importance of public opinion cannot be under-estimated in a democratic state. A government in which public interests are neglected cannot be called a democratic government. In a democracy it is desirable that there should be provision for representative of the people in law-making and law-enforcing bodies. It is these representatives who should establish contact with the people and their aspirations. An alter and intelligent public opinion

is absolutely for the successful working of a democratic society.

The following considerations need be kept in mind: (i)IIIiteracy is a curse for a good society. Therefore people should be educated, so that they can develop an interest in the community by exchanging ideas. (ii)Minimum Economic Standard must be achieved so that people can better perform their responsibilities, and formulate better opinions.

(iii)Homogeneity of Interest among the people should be propagated, as equality of aspirations and interests can pave the way for a healthy public opinion. (iv)Unhealthy public opinion minority community to have the opportunity to express its thoughts freely.

(v)The newspaper and the communication media like Radio and TV should keep like their thoughts well balanced for the betterment of the people. The success of a democratic government largely depends upon the formulation of an effective and healthy public opinion. Healthy public opinion alone can make possible a proper relation between the voters and enable the representative to ensure the control of the people on the government and vice-versa. Therefore every democratic country must provide due opportunity of freedom of thought and expression of opinion.

The following agencies particularly contribute to the formulation of enlightened public opinion (a) Newspaper: Unbiased newspapers are the since qua non of an enlightened public opinion. The editorials of the newspapers offer guidelines to the country. The intellectuals express their opinions to the people through the newspapers. They also subject the action of the government to criticism if these are against the wishes of the people and express opinion against such activities. The government must heed public opinion and make changes in its policies where necessary.

Newspapers generally give an over-all impression of the socio-economic, cultural and political activities of the state and the society. Very often people formulate their opinion on the basis of the comments of the newspapers. But sometimes newspaper disturb the formulation of a socio-public opinion by distorting the actual facts and by confusing the issues.

(b) Radio, Cinema and Television: The influence of newspaper is confined to the educated masses. Large number of people who are illiterate do not read newspapers. However they are influenced to great deal by the various programs of radio and television. Now-a-days, television has surpassed the role of cinema and radio. The people can hear the speeches of leaders on various subjects on the television on burning issues. Their views on the problems of the country reach every nook and corner and people are kept informed about the recent changes in the country. The various plans and programs of the government at the centre and in the States can be made known to the people through radio and television. People can thus formulate their opinion on the basis of the information and programs they see on television or hear on the radio.

Cinema also plays and important role in formulating the public opinion. Maximum care is also taken by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in producing documentaries, which carry good socio-economic and cultural information.

(c) Educational Institutions: Schools, colleges, universities, study circle, symposia etc. are also important for the formulation of public opinion. Education policies, programmes, lecture, debates, discussions, literary societies, etc. which are highlighted, by various educational institutions tremendously influence the formulation of the public opinion. In turn, the ideas acquired in educational institutions greatly influence the character of the students. It is here he takes to lofty ideals of citizenship.

  Maliha Akhtar       Monday, 18 Nov 2019       178 Views

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