Pub. date: 2011 | Online Pub. Date: October 04, 2011 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412994163 | Print ISBN: 9781412959636 | Online ISBN: 9781412994163| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Public opinion is a notion that is frequently invoked, not only in everyday parlance but also in political and scholarly discussions. Yet it is a concept that is extremely ambiguous and difficult to define—indeed, it seems that a common definition does not exist. When the scholar Harwood Childs attempted to reconstruct the principal meanings of public opinion in the 1960s, he identified more than 50 different definitions. Since then, the frequency of use of the concept has grown substantially, together, probably, with the number of meanings attributed to it. This diversity of meanings—or polysemy—is implicit in the denomination of the concept, which associates two distinct, and somewhat conflicting, ideas. “Opinion” refers to the individual sphere, to reputation, evaluation, and judgments of value; hence, it is open to question, or debatable. “Public” refers to the collective dimension, to subjects and places accessible to all, of common interest, adopted by recognized and, ...