1. According to Ginsberg, the word ‘public’ refers to an unorganised aggregation of persons “who are bound together by common opinions, desires, but are too numerous for each to maintain personal relations with others”. 2. “A public is a substantial number of people with a shared interest in some issue on which there are differing opinions “—Ian Robertson. People sometimes use the word ‘public’ to mean an entire population. Actually, there is no issue for which the entire population is a public either because people are not interested in it, or because, they are ignorant of it. The public for any single issue such as secularism, love marriage, reservation to Scheduled Castes and Tribes, India becoming a party to the GATT (“General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs”— an international trade agreement signed by more than 110 countries at Morocco, including India, on April 1994) etc.
, may either expand or contract depending upon the number of people who get involved in the topic. The members of a public are not gathered like the members of a crowd. It is a dispersed group. Here one can have communication with others not directly but indirectly through mass media. The activities of a public are more rational than those of the crowd. A public does not act together. But it does form opinions on the issue around which it is focused. Publics are created by cultural complexity.
In a simple culture there would be few, if any, publics. A complex culture produces many interest groups. There could be as many publics as there are special interests or issue. In a simple, stable culture, very few issues arise and most of these could be handled in a traditional way. But, in a complex, changing culture, issues are constantly arising. In many instances they cannot be handled by the traditional ways. Because the tradition gives no clear answer to them. In the modern culture, ‘publics’ are formed on each specific activity, interest, or issue.
As the members of the public consider the issue and form opinions regarding it, “public opinion” is developed. Public Opinion: i. Wallace and Wallace: “Public opinion consists of the views of the members of a public on a certain issue”. ii. Ian Robertson: ‘Public opinion is the sum of the decisions of the members of a public on a particular issue”. iii. Horton and Hunt: ‘Public Opinion has two definitions : (i) an opinion held by a substantial number of people, (ii) the dominant opinion among a population” (According to the first usage, there can be many public opinions; according to the second, public opinion refers to a public ‘consensus’ upon an issue, both usages are common in other literature). Since people do not hold the same opinion always, there cannot be a permanent public opinion as such.
People do change their opinions. Opinion on many issues is often in a state of flux. An assessment of public opinion is, therefore, valid for a particular time and place in which it was made.
In democratic societies like ours, public opinion plays a considerable role. Political parties, industrialists, businessmen and others always keep a watch on public opinions. As a result, a good deal of effort goes into finding out what the public thinks about particular issues.
Efforts are also being made constantly to find out the factors that influence it. Huge amount of money is spent every year to make market surveys, to conduct public opinion polls and to develop favourable opinion through mass media. In fact, public opinion is a creation of the complex society and the mass media. Attempts are made in a systematic manner to build up public opinion through what is known as “propaganda”. Manipulation of public opinion is done through propaganda. Measurement of public opinion becomes essential to attempt at systematic propaganda.
Public opinion generally becomes known through the reporting of the public opinion, polls such as the “Gallop Polls”. Public opinion polls are a recent invention for finding out what people are thinking. A poll is simple in concept but difficult to carry out because the formation, expression and change of public opinion constitute a very complicated phenomenon. “Because public opinion changes so rapidly, however, it has been suggested that public opinion polls may not actually report the trends in the society, as opinion pullers claim, but only how some people feel about one issue at one particular moment in time”.
(Burner’s views in the words of Wallace and Wallace). Another criticism is that, instead of simply reporting opinions, they may help to form opinion and the behaviour that accompany it.