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PUBLIC OPINION

The Meaning of 'Public' A 'public' from the standpoint of public opinion, is a group of people with similar interests who have a common opinion on a controversial subject. A group of workers confronted with the controversial question of whether to strike or not to strike is a public with a similar interest in employment, involved in the process of forming public opinion. On the other hand, the same group of workers standing at a bus stop and unanimously agreeing on the perfect weather is not involved in public opinion formation, as no controversial question confronts the group. The meaning of 'Opinion' 'Opinion' according to Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, is 'a view, judgement or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter'. An opinion is stronger than an impression and weaker than positive knowledge. It implies a conclusion thought out yet open to dispute. A more or less settled opinion is a sentiment and, if held firmly, a 'conviction' A 'view' is an opinion more or less coloured by bias. The Meaning of 'Public Opinion' Public opinion is an expression of a belief held in common by members of a group or public on a controversial issue of general importance. The public opinion-forming process emanates from the expressed individual opinions of memebers of a group whose views are subjected to the influences exerted by the group. Public opinion is usually expressed after controversy, dispute and debate over some controversial question which concerns the welfare, doctrines, and value system of a group. For public opinion to be aroused, there must exist a contemporary issue or question of some concern about which members of the group are likely to have disagreemet. An issue is a situation or occurence which threatens to disagreement. An issue is a situation or occurence which threatens to disturb the prevailing moods of group, creating more or less off a crisis and arousing disscussion and the expression of public opinion. Civil rights in India, notably after the last 'national emegency' is one such issue which has begun to confront the Indian public. The testing of nuclear materials in the atmosphere is an international issue which causes people throughtout the world to take affirmative or negative positions on the question. The visits of Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan to India early in January 1978, have some relevance to this. Public opnion is not simply the opinion of the majority of a group. On each issue the interested public will divide itself into two or more differing points of view which will not necessarily be contradictory or mutually exclusive. The number of views that can be differentiated, however, will be a function of the attitudes and previous experiences of the individuals making the public as well as a function of the complexity of the issue. The opinion must be representative of the group as a whole.(Thus public opinion is the complex of beliefs expressed by a significant number of persons on an issue of general importance) Attitudes in Opinion Formation : The basic objective of public relations is to measure, analyze and influence public opinion, which develops from the attitudes of the individuals comprising the public. Therefore, it is important to understand the meaning of attitudes, why people hold the attitudes they do, and their role in the opinion-forming process. Attitudes are the feelings or moods of a person for or against some person, organization, issue or object. They represent the predisposition of an individual to evaluate controversial questions in a favorable or unfavorable manner. Simply stated, an attitude is a way of looking at situations. An expressed attitude is an opinion. Changes in Existing Attitudes Changes in attitudes occur when an existing attitude no longer provides a person with satisfaction, or when his aspirations are raised. Changes in attitude are accomplished by communications to create new beliefs, or by appealing to the emotions to arouse favorable or unfavorable attitudes. Changes in attitude are also brought about by problem, frustrations or dissatisfaction of an individual with his cherished beliefs, self-image, economic status, value system and other circumstances. A worker satisfied with his wages and working conditions may change his attitude towards his employer after listening to a labor leader describe the need for increased wages and better working conditions. Appeals to the physical, social, and economic needs of people are most effective in changing their attitude. Formation of Public Opinion 107

Attitudes and their expression in the form of opinions are psychological phenomena of the individual. A group is capable of not forming an opinion. Since a group cannot form an opinion, how is public opinion formulated ? Public opinion is formed by individuals comprising of a group which expresses their own opinion on a controversial issue. Public opinion is a composite opinion resulting from the interaction of the individual opinions of members of a group. The transformation of individual opinion into public opinion process. This metamorphosis is sometimes referred to as the 'group process. This metamorphosis is sometimes referred to as the 'group mind', in which is combined the opinions of individuals in the group into public opinion. The 'Dictionary of Mass Communications' defines public opinion as the expression of all members of a group who are giving attention in any way to a given issue. The process starts with an interaction of individual attitudes, mindsets and beliefs concerning an issue. It is essentially the product of a collective mental life, which in a democracy includes the expression of the majority, and if there be a minority, of the minority at any given time. Public opinion involves a transformation of individual opinion into group opinion, brought about by the influence exerted by members of group on the individual's opinion. The opinions of people in a group are influenced by what they hear form opinion leaders, other members of the group or persons outside the group what they read in newspapers, magazines, and books, what they see in life about them or on television. A part from group pressures, individuals' opinions are influenced by their needs, emotions, experience, heredity, culture, economic status, and education out of the interaction of individual attitudes, opinions, and the opinions of the groups emerges public opinion. Group influences of Individual Opinion An individual who is a member of a group manifests certain characteristics in his thinking and behavior which contribute to the formation of public opinion. The thinking of an individual in group is characterized by identification, confirmity, anonymity, sympathy, emotionalism, nobility, oppression, symbolism and rationalization. Rational Basis of Public Opinion While the opinions of elemental groups are influenced by appeals to their emotions, intelligence and comprehension play an important part in the formation of public opinion of advance groups. As a result of education and improved communication, today public opinion is based more on rational thinking. More persons are weighing judgements until they have the facts, and evaluating the information they receive from various sources. Individuals are asking themselves who says that? what are his basic interests? How is he trying to influence my thinking ? What exactly does he mean? The public is increasingly on guard against pernicious propaganda by questioning information issues communicated in the press, over the air, books and in conversation. Exercise Examples Let us assume that a campaign to secure vote approval of the '77' soft drinks in place of 'coke' of American origin, will be launched by us. How will we go about it ? We will form a group of say 27 prominent citizens organized as a committee which we may style themselves as 'Citizens for Progress'. These leaders will adopt a two-point policy position upon which the communication phases of the campaign will be based. The points could be : (i) Is it more consistent with principles of honesty, fair play, and freedom to permit all, irrespective of age group, to drink the newly connected beverage by the government. Has the 'drink' been subjected to all the necessary 'tests'? (ii) Will it be in the best interests of the youth from the point of view of health ? Principles : This policy can be expanded further by statement of principles to be followed in all phases of the campaign. These principles could be : Sponsorship by responsible citizens (if the '77' has been found to be a better substitute for 'Coke') Straight forward advocacy controlled and advocated by health authorities for '77" sales. Dignity and simplicity in all communication and Broad base of citizen participation. Objectives Within these policy platforms, the major public relations objectives of the campaign could be stated as follows : Identification of the sponsors as responsible citizens having a proved interest in the welfare and progress 108

of the area. Defining issues in the referendum and the consequences of a favorable or unfavorable vote. Identification of proponents' positions as consistent with better health authorities' approval. Relating the "77" drink question to the country's modern image, economic activity, and growth potential. Avoiding any suggestion of approval of advocacy of drinking but emphasizing the benefits, if any, in the '77'drink and Execution of the campaign in a dignified manner, not suspectable to attack on the grounds of obvious, unlimited exploitation as commercial business generally does. Some Laws of Public Opinion Hadley Cantril some years ago worked out some laws of Public Opinion on the basis of intensive study of the trends over a decade. Cantril held that trends, as recorded by the polls, support these generalizations PR and Employee Relationship (Condensed from 'Gauging Public Opinion' Princeton University). Opinion is highly sensitive to important events. Events of unusual magnitude are likely to swing public opinion temporarily from one extreme to another. Opinion is generally determined more by events that by words unless those words are themselves interpreted as 'events'. Verbal statements and outlines of course of action have maximum importance when opinion is unrestricted, when people are open to suggestion and seek some interpretation from a reliable source. By and large public opinion does not anticipate emergencies ; it only reacts to them. Psychologically, opinion is basically determined by self-interest. Even if words or any other stimuli effect opinion only in so far as their relative meanings are concerned, the reaction will be apparent. Opinion does not remain aroused for any long period of time unless people feel their self-interest is actually involved , or unless opinion aroused by words-is sustained by events. Once self-interest is involved, opinions are not easily changed. When self-interest is involved, public opinion in a democracy is likely to be ahead of a official policy. When an opinion is held by a slight majority or when an opinion is not solidly structured, an accomplished fact tends to shift opinion in the direction of acceptance. At critical times, people become more sensitive to the adequacy of their leadership if they have confidence in it they are willing to assign more than usual responsibility to it if they lack confidence in it, they are less tolerant than usual. People are less reluctant to have critical divisions made by their leaders if they feel somehow that they, the people, are taking some part in the decision. People have more opinions, and are able to form opinions more easily with respect to goals, than with respect to methods necessary to reach these goals. Public opinion, like individual opinion, is colored by desires. And when opinion is based chiefly on desire rather than on information, it is likely to show sharp shifts with events. By and large people in a democracy are provided educational opportunities and ready access to information. Public opinion reveals a hard-headed common sense. The more enlightened people are to the implications of events and proposals for their own self-interest, the more likely they are to agree with the more objective opinions of realistic experts. Public Opinion Research Public opinion research includes image surveys, motivation research effectiveness surveys and individual public studies, two or more of which may be used concurrently in determining the character of opinion. Opinion research seeks answers to what people think about a business or non-profit organization and why they think as they do, as well as their attitudes towards company policies, practices, and products. In addition to determining the views of the public as a whole, studies are made of opinions of selected members of the public, such as employees, stockholders, suppliers, dealers, neighbors and educators. The effectiveness of Public Relation activities in creating a favorable opinion of a company or industry is also studied to determine 109

possible improvements in the communication programme or indicated changes in the company policy. Image Surveys Image surveys determine the institutional profile or corporate image in the public mind by ascertaining the attitude of the public towards an organization, how well they understand it and what they like and dislikeabout it. Image surveys seek to understand how well a company is known, its reputation and what the public thinks about its products, services, prices, advertising, personnel and practices. Motivation Research Motivation research ascertains why the public looks with favor, disfavor or disapproval upon a company or industry. It seeks to discover through depth interviews with a representative sample of the population, which motivates the public attitude towards an organization. To understand the motives which influence an individual's opinion. It is necessary to explore the psychological factors which shape his attitudes towards a company. A company's public image may be affected not only by its own policies and actions, but also by the attitude of the public towards the industry of which the company is a part. Motivation studies are made to discover the underlying emotional factors which influence the public opinion of a company or industry. Effectiveness Surveys Effectiveness surveys are used to measure the impact on opinion made by the company's Public Relations activities. One of the most precise measurements of the change resulting from the impact of communications on public opinion is a before-and-after study of the attitudes of the public. Prior to the start of the campaign, a representative sample of the public is interviewed to determine public attitudes and the extent of the public knowledge of the company or industry. After the campaign, the same people are interviewed to see if there has been any change in their opinions as a result of the Public Relation messages. The reliability of this type of survey is questioned by some public relations researchers, because the 'before' interviews focus the attention of respondents on the company and issues being discussed in communications. As a consequence, respondents are more conscious of the messages, and their expressions of the campaign are not typical of the public as a whole. Effectiveness surveys are used to measure the response of company communications by its public, also to measure public opinion of special events such as open houses, anniversary celebrations, plant closure strikes and other activities. Individual Public Studies In addition to researchers' views of the general public, studies are also conducted of the attitudes of the individual members of the public. Numerous corporations abroad, and few in India, also under take periodic studies of policies, practices, and working conditions, also or management and supervision. The attitudes of the families of employees are also surveyed. The most effective technique for conducting employee opinion surveys is to question all employees in groups of 10 to 30, asking them to complete questionnaire on questions related to the company and of their work. The employees are assured that their responses will be kept anonymous. QUESTIONS ASKED Typical questions asked in employee surveys are : (i) How do you think the rules are enforced in this company ? (Too tough, tough, easy, too easy) (ii) If employees increased production by working hard, who do you think would benefit ? (customers, stockholders, employees, management, all of them, no answer) (iii) Do you think a company should close down a plant which is not making a profit ? ( No, yes no answer) (iv) When two people have identical positions, should the one who does the best job get more pay? (Yes, no, no answer) and (v) If you were president or plant manager, what should you do to improve this company or plant ? (This open-end question provides management with information about what employee think of their work, the company and its problems). Face-to-Face Interviews : Opinion surveys are also made of the people in plant communities, including employees. Examples of face-to-face interviews to obtain answers are give below : (i) How do you feel about this town as a place in which to live ? Would you say it is a good place in which to live, average, or poor ? (ii) In your opinion does waste material in the river create much 110

of a problem ? (iii) Are you bothered by smoke, unpleasant odors or dirt in the air ? (iv) Aside from providing jobs, can you name other things that this company does for this town ? If so, what ? (v) What have you heard or read about this company most recently ? Questions for Company Employees Some question in the survey are designed for company employees such as : (i) On the whole, how you rate this company as a place in which to work. Would you say it is a good, average, or poor place in which to work ? (ii) Most companies have both and bad points. What are some of the things about this company as a place in which to work that are not so good ? Principles of Persuasion : Research in the social sciences has brought out in recent years, some tentative principles of persuasion based on experimental research: i. To accomplish attitude changes, a suggestion for change must first be received and accepted. 'Acceptance of the message' is a critical factor in persuasive communication. ii. The suggestion is more likely to be accepted if it meets existing personality needs and drives. iii. The suggestion is more likely to be accepted if it is in harmony with group norms and loyalties. iv. The suggestion is more likely to be accepted if the source is perceived as trustworthy or expert. v. A suggestion in the mass- media, coupled with face-to-face reinforcement, is more likely to be accepted than a suggestion made either alone or with another, other things being equal, vi. Change in attitude is more likely to occur, if the suggestion is accompanied by other factors underlying belief and attitude. This refers to a changed environment which makes acceptance easier, vii. There will probably be more change of opinion in the desired direction if the conclusions are explicitly stated than if the audience is left to draw its own conclusions, viii. When the audience is friendly, or when only one position is presented, or when immediate but temporary change of opinion is wanted, it is more effective to give only one side of the argument, ix. When the audience disagrees, or when it is probable that it will hear the other side from another source, it is more effective to present both sides of the argument, x. When equally attractive opposing views are presented one after another the one presented last will be more effective, xi. Sometimes emotional appeals are more influential, sometimes factual ones are. It depends on the xii. kind of message and the kind of audience, xiii. A strong threat is generally less effective than a mild threat in inducing a desired opinion change, xiv. The desired opinion change may be more measurable sometime after exposure to the communication than right after exposure. xv. The people you want most in your audience are least likely to be there. This goes back to the censorship of attention that the individual invokes and xvi. There is a 'Sleeper effect' in communication received from sources which the listener regards as having low credibility. In some tests time has tended to wash out the distrusted source and leave information behind. These maxims are condensed from a number of sources like Principles of Persuasion by Wilbur Schram and Donald Roberts and Process and Effects of Communication by Katz Lazarfeld

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