Meaning And Definition Of Public Opinion: Characteristics, Advantages And Disadvantages

Table Of Content

  • What Is Pubilc Opinion?
  • Characteristics Of Public Opinion
  • Factors That Influence Public Opinion Formation Or Agencies Of Public Opinion
  • Functions And Advantages Of Public Opinion
  • Disadvantages And Weakness Of Public Opinion
  • Why Public Opinion Is Not Popular In West Africa

Meaning Of Public Opinion

Public may be defined as the collective beliefs, judgement or views held by majority of citizens of a country about public polity or action of the government. It therefore, refers to what members of the public think or feel about government proposed policy or action already taken by the government. The level of literacy rate in a country determines mainly how many people will be interested with in public issues. In West African countries where majority of the citizens are illiliterates only very few citizens express their views on public issues.

Among the illiterates, there is generally outcry against government policies or actions when there are shortages of essential commodities and social amenities. Majority of the people will hold the opinion that the government of the day is doing well when it (government) provides the basic social and economics needs of the people and therefore, there is no need of opposing any action or policy of the government no matter how.

Therefore, public opinion may not always be the opinion of majority of the citizens in the country. We talk of consensus of opinion when a large majority of the citizens hold the same view of any issue. It is easy to establish or determine public opinion when there is consensus then when there are different and conflicting opinions. Examples of public issues Nigerians expressed their opinion were on the issues of whether abortion should be legalised or not in the Second Republic, whether or not Nigeria should obtain I.M.F. loan, etc. Many Nigerians were very vocal in rejection of the two public issues that they were abandoned because, government listened to public opinion in the two issues.

Characteristics Of Public Opinion

1. Issues of public importance are involved in public opinion.

2. The opinion is held or shared by the majority of people of a particular country.

3. The opinion is expressed by private individuals and not by the government or any of its agencies.

4. In the formation of public opinion, communication and information play a significant role.

5. Public opinion is dynamic, it changes from time to time.

6. Specific issues are focused in expressing public opinions rather than a general public issues.

Formation Of Public Opinion Or How Public Opinion Is Developed Or Factors That Influence Public Opinion Formation Or Agencies Of Public Opinion

1. The Mass Media:

Mass media like newspapers, radio, magazines, television, journals, films, handbills, leaflets, etc, act as the cradle for the formation of public opinion. For instance, a tendentious newspaper editorial may go a long way in influencing the opinion of member of the public on an issues.

2. Rumours And Gossips:

Many citizens not well informed may form their opinions from common rumours and gossips.

3. Pressure Groups:

These organize social interest groups discussed in chapter 13 of this book employ different methods in trying to influence public opinion and government policies.

4. Political Parties:

Political parties with the help of their manifestoes, rallies, etc, act as the basic of public opinion formation in a country.

5. Politicians:

Politicians through their sentimental speeches and press conferences persuade people to form opinion on certain government policies or action in their line.

6. Social Background:

The social background one find himself influences him in forming an opinion. Age, corruption, education, peer groups, family background, etc, are encompassed in the social background and they determine the type of opinion citizens can form in a country.

7. Government Role:

The type of explanation and education the government gives to members of the public about its policies and actions go a long way in influencing public opinion.

8. Influential Citizens:

Citizens such as traditional rulers,intellectuals, tycoons, artistes and other influential citizens not at the corridors of power act as public
opinion ,moulders in a country.

9. Lectures and Symposia:

Ideas on matters of public importance are expressed through holding of lectures and symposia.

Public Opinion

Functions And Advantages Of Public Opinion

1. One of the functions and advantages of public opinion is that it directs government in knowing what the public thinks about its policies and actions.

2. It helps in making government in moderating her actions or if possible in rescinding some actions that may help to pull down the government.

3. Public opinion helps government in knowing the needs and aspirations of its citizens.

4. It wakes up government and its agencies from slumber.

5. It brings about the formulation of policies and taking actions that are to the best interest of majority of the citizens.

6. In elections period, it helps government to ascertain its popularity and whether it can win or lose the election.

7. It serves as an avenue through which public views are channelled to the government.

8. Public opinion especially opinion polls provide valuable information about those contesting elections.

9. Public opinion especially opinion polls help voters to cast their votes for popular candidates.

Disadvantages And Weakness Of Public Opinion

1. One of the disadvantages of public opinion is that it can be easily manipulated by those who have access to mass media to their favour.

2. What we call public opinion are the views of infinitesimal number of members of the public which means it does not represent opinion of majority members of the public.

3. Public opinion may misdirect government in formulating policies and taking actions that may favour few citizens.

4. It may obstruct smooth running of government if members of the public are to be consulted in all issues.

5. It may cause political instability as a result of protest and demonstration against an action of government termed to be against public opinion.

6. In a country with large geographical area and man ethnic groups like Nigeria, it will be difficult to ascertain what public opinion is at any particular time.

7. It wastes time and money in trying to ascertain public opinion.

Why Public Opinion Is Not Popular In West Africa

When compared with advance countries of the world, public opinion is not popular in West Africa as a result of the following reasons:

1. High rate of illiteracy and ignorance are some of the factors that militate against the use of public opinion and which bring about its unpopularity in West Africa.

2. Many West African countries presently are not ruled under democratic government under which public opinion thrives but under military rule.

3. Public opinion is not popular in West Africa because of ethnic and heterogeneous nature of their society.

4. Elections in West Africa are not determined by public opinion polls as is done in advance countries because, they are mainly manipulated.

5. Citizens of West African countries judge their government based on the amount of social amenities and essential commodities provided to them.

6. Many countries in West Africa adopt the one party system which means there is no opposition coming from anywhere and therefore, public opinion is irrelevant.