Training/Marcom Academy

Understanding Public Opinion: A PR Perspective

[ad id=”187″]People have different views and opinions on issues or happenings. The sum total of views and opinions expressed by people on issues constitute public opinion. People, most especially those in positions of authority, may want to know what people think and feel about them. In doing this, they may contact a Public Relations firm to do the job. To get the right information, the PR firm may get in contact with agents responsible for public opinion.
Agents for the formation of public opinion
Since public opinion is the sum total of the views or feelings expressed by various individuals, it is important we identify some of the agents for the formation of public opinion. These are:
The family: Right from childhood, some children may acquire views and feelings about certain things from their parents. The parental views and feelings formed about certain issues constitute some lasting aspects of the attitudes of their children.
Peer group: Peer group is one agent that also influences people’s opinions on certain issues. As people continue to interact with a number of playmates, who are of the same age group, they bring the divergent views and feelings of their families into action with their playmates which shape their opinion.
The school: A child spends a greater amount of his or her time in the school environment, let’s say from primary school to the university. During these periods spent in different educational institutions, the child’s opinion is affected by the views of his teachers, school authourities, as well as the various reading materials and books he or she is exposed to.
[ad id=”147″]Pressure and reference group:
Since man is both a social/political animal, he tends to become a member of various formal groups. The activities within these groups go a long way to shape individuals opinion; and the sum total of such opinion, often times, goes a long way in exerting pressure on the individual in decision-making. Decisions could serve as the basis for the formation of public opinion by most lawyers on a public issue.
Mass media: The mass media – print, electronic and online media provide people with a lot of comments and views on happenings in the society and around the world. Mass media, as an agent of public opinion, helps in shaping peoples opinion and comments on certain societal issues. Through careful propaganda, press censorship, and political communication, attempts are made by government-owned media in particular, to present government views in good light to the citizenry so as to win support for the government in power.
Opinion leaders: In every society there are people in positions of authority. They are sometimes regarded as opinion leaders. Their views tend to influence and shape the opinions held on certain issues in the country like economy, education and religion, etc.
Measurement of public opinion
Although it is not an easy thing to measure public opinion. A PR firm can attempt to measure it through a number of methods such as:
• Peoples’ contributions in the press
• Public demonstrations
• Elections
• The electronic media
• Letters and calls
• In-depth interview
public-relations (1)Peoples’ contributions in the press:
This can be discerned from individual contributions in the press through feature articles, letters to the editor or by reporting public speeches and interviews. Editorial opinions of the various media organisations are also important in measuring public opinion.
Public demonstrations: Public demonstrations on specific issues could be used to measure public opinion on such issues. This is important in societies where people are permitted to freely declare and discuss their positions on issues. The goal of protest is to get the media, and by extension, the public and government officials, to notice a problem they have been ignoring.
Elections: Elections could become a yardstick for measuring public opinion. The popularity of a well known candidate in a political contest is determined during elections. In most cases, it is the candidate with a favourable public opinion that wins in an election. The June 29th election in Ekiti State, South-West Nigeria, was a case in point. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Ayo Fayose, defeated Dr. Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC) because his native intelligence in being in touch with the masses, who constituted a large percentage of voters, made him sit well in the court of public opinion.
The Electronic Media: Electronic media platforms, such as radio and TV, are important in measuring public opinions based on the news they carry on certain issues and citizens’ expression of their opinions on those issues as well. Favourable comments from people on such issues show that they have positive opinion about them and negative comments show that there are negative public comments associated with such issues.
Letters and Calls: People use letters and telephone calls to express their opinions on how they feel about certain issues, such as government policies and programmes. The letters and calls are indications as to whether peoples’ opinions to such policies are favourable or not.
In-depth interview: This involves a one-on-one discussion between the interviewer and the respondent in which the respondent is allowed to freely express his or her opinion, feelings and ideas on the subject of discussions. At the end of such discussions, it will be possible to know whether there are favourable public opinions about them or not.
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People have different views and opinions on various issues or happenings. The sum total of views and opinions expressed by people on certain issues constitutes public opinion. People, most especially those in positions of authority, may want to know what people think and feel about them. In doing this, they may contact a PR firm that may identify agents of public opinion to collect information. Such agents of public opinion may include – but not be limited to– family, peer group, school, pressure and reference groups, mass media, opinion leaders etc. Similarly, public opinion by a PR firm could be determined/ measured through peoples’ contributions in the press, public demonstrations, elections, the electronic media letters and calls, in-depth interview, among others.
In 800 words, discuss the factors that you think can affect reliable public opinion in Nigeria. First prize – N10,000 value of recharge cards. The second and third best answers will get N3,000 value of recharge cards each. Send written answers to:

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