At first glance, the question of what is public opinion seems quite simple. It is what members of society believe or think about a topic or an issue. In the lecture videos, we find public opinion is defined in 4 ways. With the most popular understanding is that it is the held opinion (or beliefs) of a group of people about any specific issue. OK, that matches my first thought about it, but then Davison says that the opinion or beliefs must be held by a significant number of individuals. So a question arises in how do we define significant? Are we considering it to be mathematic significance of a simple majority of one? A statistical significance of .01 percent? Is a two-thirds majority significant? How do we decide the question of what is significant and what is not, and who makes the ultimate decision. So that leads to the second part of the question, how do we know that something is really the opinion of the public and not a sub-set?
Pew Research and Gallup both use research methods where the results of their polls can theoretically be extrapolated to truly reflect what the population, in general, believes. However; those polls very rarely, if ever, offer any conclusive proof, because they are based on “opinion” and the answers can be swayed by the way the questions are asked and the verbiage that us used. For example, the words “global warming” and “climate change” are often used almost interchangeably, even though they have very different meanings. In a 2014 article from the Gallup Organization, the authors reported that Republicans for example were more inclined to accept the term “Climate Change” rather than “Global Warming” as being a real issue. Regardless, the percentage of either Republican or Democrats who were polled, who considered the issues to be of great interest was 35% or less. (Gallup, 2014) So the question becomes, is that a significant number of people who are very concerned? Which leads to the next question, how can or does the public actually express its opinion?
Now days, it seems that many people express their opinion in one form or another via social media. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit are just a few of the social conversation outlets, Change.org offers the individual an opportunity to create a petition. In previous generations, people would write a letter to the editor or actually take to the streets with picket signs. However, today most discourse seems to be directed by various media companies, after all, editors pick which stories are run, how much time is allocated to a story, and what slant the story should take. Without access to those channels, the “public” is often relegated to the sideline or simply answering a pollsters questions. Often the issue we face are very complex and cannot be solved with a simple solution.
The issue that intrigues me the most is one that sounds simple, water. Specifically is water viewed differently by rural and urban residents? If so, what are those differences and can any gap be bridged. I live and work in a rural environment that is unique in many ways. There are 5 lakes and 4 rivers that serve the area. However, when I travel to other rural areas I am cognizant of issues that for the most part do not affect me on a daily basis. Issues such as conservation, agricultural usage, draining of aquifers by urban areas, and overall pollution of both surface and underground water sources from fracking operations, illegal dumping, overuse, and pesticide runoff are all contentious issue to many people. In most cases my personal opinion have not been influenced by public opinion because they are based on scientific research; with one major exception. That exception is the taking of water from rural communities by major urban areas. In the past water rights disagreements have been and most likely will be a contentious issue for years to come, and to study the issue using the idea of creating persuasive arguments to make people aware of how significant the resource is and that we must protect it has been and is one of my goals.
Gallup, Inc. (2021, January 14). Global Warming or Climate Change: Is There a Difference? Gallup.Com. https://news.gallup.com/poll/168617/global-warming-climate-change-difference.aspx