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Public opinion belongs to a number of phenomena that are difficult to fully analyze and strictly define. We can find about two dozen definitions. If we try to summarize them, then we can say the following: public opinion of a social community is a specific way of manifesting the state of consciousness of this community, which indirectly and collectively reflects the relations of the majority of its members to facts, events, manifestations in the objective or subjective reality that cause their interest and discussions, and which is embodied in the value judgments or practical actions of members of this community.
The term "public opinion" is well-known. It is one of those social phenomena that do not lack attention today. It is studied and analyzed by specialists in almost all areas of social studies. Journalists write about it. Politicians and leaders of various ranks are jealous of its sympathies. People study, shape, predict, strive to take public opinion into account in practice of social management, in a word, making a lot of effort to win its favor.
Such a noticeable increase in the interest to it has its explanation:
- Firstly, as a peculiar phenomenon of spiritual life, public opinion is directly connected with the material medium which determines the real power of this opinion, its features and properties. At the same time, the broader layers are the medium of public opinion. The greater social authority and effectiveness it has, the more it forces people to reckon with itself;
- Secondly, in each concrete case, public opinion has its roots in various needs and interests of people, stating the importance of taking them into account and their satisfaction by the fact of its existence;
- Thirdly, public opinion as a socio-psychological phenomenon is an active stimulator of social actions of the masses, capable to give them a wide scope and stability for quite a long time;
- Fourthly, the ever-expanding practice of actual, informal elections of governing bodies, economic leaders of all ranks, willy-nilly makes it possible to keep a finger on the pulse of public opinion, even for those who do not fully understand the importance of studying public opinion in everyday practical work yet.
Public opinion is a specific manifestation of public consciousness, expressed in assessments (both verbal and written ones) and able to characterize the explicit (or hidden) attitude of large social groups (primarily the majority of people) to actual problems of reality that are of public interest. If this is your assignment, then it is best to begin with its origins.
Representatives of different classes often define this concept differently. This has happened because public opinion reflects the real state of public consciousness, interests, moods and feelings of classes and social groups. A particular state of social consciousness manifests itself in this historical period of time or another. Thus, it concentrates on certain aspects and processes of being.
The content of public opinion is an indicator of depth of reflection and cognition of these processes, expression of their evaluation from the point of view of interests of the social group, class, and people in general. Public opinion and public consciousness are in complex relationships.
Public consciousness, as many scientists believe, is a combination of theories, ideas, views reflecting the real social being and historical process. They are engendered by certain material conditions of lives of people.
The structure of the real content of public consciousness is extremely complex. There are several forms of it. Most often such forms are political ideas, legal conscience, morality, science, art, religion, philosophy, ecology and economics, etc. These forms differ from each other in the way they reflect reality, the peculiarities of their development, etc. But first of all, they reflect in the subject.
Each form of consciousness reflects a certain aspect of reality. Morality, for example, deals with the norms of human behavior in society and the principles governing it. Science studies the laws of nature and society, political ideology deals with political relations (state, class, national, etc.).
Public opinion cannot be identified with any form of social consciousness. The subject cannot be limited by the framework of any form since public opinion can be formulated on questions of politics or law, morality or art, religion or science, etc. Due to these circumstances, it can still be recognized as a form of social consciousness because in its subject it permeates all forms of consciousness. That is, it acts as a kind of social consciousness but is inferior to it in a broader meaning.
Proceeding from what has been said, one can try to define public opinion as the relation of social communities to the problems of social life, first manifested in judgments and then in actions. It is characterized by relative prevalence, intensity, reliability, and stability. These qualities of the phenomenon largely depend on the object and subject of public opinion.
The object of public opinion is specific topics which the point of view of an individual, a group or public concerns or may concern: the process of material production, events occurring in the sphere of the spiritual life of society, behavior of fans in the stadium, the audience in the theater, or political leaders.
Public opinion has 3 important points:
- It is formed when a discussion is held, when a problem that has important practical significance, that is, a problem (question) that affects social interests of people (their economic, social, political, and spiritual life) is posed. This is the first very important point.
- It most often refers to issues related to politics, law, morality, or art, where there are more controversial interests affecting us. The subject of public consideration is most often the forms of public consciousness – those questions that involve differences in assessments, characteristics, i.e. they contain features of the discussion. This is the second condition for the emergence of public opinion. This problem or issue should be of debating nature.
- In addition, we must not forget about the third condition for the formation of public opinion – the level of competence. If a person is unfamiliar with any question under discussion, then he or she responds to the request to express an opinion with the words: "I do not know." But it is possible to see another option when a person simply does not have enough knowledge to support a dispute over or discussion of the issue.
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