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Constructing Public Opinion: How Political Elites Do What by Justin Lewis

By Justin Lewis

Is polling a strategy that brings "science" into the learn of society? Or are polls crude tools that let us know little in regards to the approach humans really imagine? The position of public opinion polls in executive and mass media has won expanding significance with every one new election or ballot taken. right here Lewis provides a brand new examine an outdated culture, the 1st learn of opinion polls utilizing an interdisciplinary strategy combining cultural reports, sociology, political technology, and mass communique. instead of disregarding polls, he considers them to be an important kind of illustration in modern tradition; he explores how the media document on polls and, in flip, how publicized effects impact the best way humans reply to polls. Lewis argues that the media are likely to exclude the extra revolutionary aspect of renowned opinion from public debate. whereas the media's effect is restricted, it really works strategically to take care of the ability of pro-corporate political elites.

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If this period saw notions of public opinion that echoed some of the distinctions found in Plato and Aristotle, the concept of public opinion that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was also identifiably different. While classical publics were often unified by time and space—in other words, by assembly—the modern public “bases social solidarity on participa- who’s in and who’s out 25 tion in discourse rather than locality” (Peters 1995, 9). Although the development of urban public spaces is consistent with classical notions of public assembly, the growth of the popular press in the nineteenth century allowed for a more dispersed public: thus the press not only “made things public,” it made publics.

But like most fiction, it bears a relation to the world it tries to represent. In Murray Edelman’s book From Art to Politics, he describes the way in which texts traditionally classified as news rather than art actually function through intertextuality—a news video clip will work within an interpretative frame that draws upon a slew of cultural forms. He writes: If twelve members of a Simi Valley jury could see a videotape of the merciless beating of Rodney King in 1992 and conclude unanimously that King, not the police, was “in control of the situation from start to finish,” then the stories the defense lawyers told them must obviously have led them to see precisely the opposite of what most viewers of the videotape saw.

They are produced in the context of political, economic, and cultural power structures, and they tell us something about those structures. They may not reflect the world they signify, but they do relate to it, as well as to the shifting battleground of meaning in which the popular is configured. Indeed, it is partly because polls are taken seriously as a form of representation that we should not dismiss them. As a cultural form, opinion polls provide partial, shorthand clues to the world they signify, even as we lose whole dimensions and many details.

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