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Public Opinion: How Elites Affect The Society and Vice Versa

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Social scientists, particularly the ones in political science, economics, sociology, social psychology and other relevant spheres introduce vast number of plausible theories to delineate how ‘public opinion’ frames ‘elite opinion’ or contrariwise using numerous empirical and theoretical research methods. However, majority of theoretical and empirical investigations carried out in this regard have found it complicated to draw an explicit conclusion whether mass public opinion influence elite opinion or vice versa, as it is ‘very complex and contested issue’. 

The proponents of ‘counterfeit consensus’ school contend that ‘mass public opinion’ is not autonomous by nature, and in this regard it is mostly a ‘creation’ of the dominant ‘elites’. Consequently, the opinion-policy consensus is likely to be ‘counterfeit’ as it does not come from original ‘independent mass opinion’, but is the outcome of a ‘manipulative’ process. Contrasting this statement, Hobolt inquires that even if the public opinion is ‘autonomous’ and able to influence ‘political process’, it is still complicated to create ‘empirically’ whether correlation between ‘public opinion’ and ‘policy’ is the result of public opinion cueing policy or mutatis mutandis, or a variety of ‘mutual’ processes; or affecting both, some external factor has established a factitious ‘relationship’. This query, once again, indicates that no any ‘analytical technique’ has completely achieved to tackle these issues of ‘causal inference’ up to nowadays. Nevertheless, in their empirical studies some scholars asserted that public opinion impacts policy behaviour in today’s democratic ‘polities’ and that this tendency is enlarging as a result of the ‘evolution of polling technology’. Similar to this, Stimson, MacKuen and Erikson in their analysis of ‘dynamic representation’ have studied the linkage of the ‘public mood’ to a number of summary indicators of ‘policy decisions’ and as a result claimed that ‘politicians’ persistently follow ‘public opinion’. However, other scholars assert that the interrelation process cannot be as one direction, but it is of a mutual and interactive connection between ‘opinion and policy’.

Scholars and researchers observe that, at first glance, the ‘causal relationships’ is likely to be ‘dual process’ from public opinion to public policy and conversely. However, it is public opinion that mostly cues public ‘preferences’ and possible ballot ‘behaviours’ to executives and policy-making personnel. This impact is enlarged within the framework of ‘democratic institutions’ which are more stable. That is, the influence of public opinion should be greatest in the field of social policy as the people are highly encouraged by ‘goods and services’ they receive form the state. Under other conditions, social policy affect public opinion as well. The preferences which the public obtains through social policy create regulatory presumptions that form the public opinion in turn, but not to the. Cooperatively, these theories advocate that ‘causal effects’ are part of the reverse feedback between ‘opinion and policy’ which is initiated by public opinion. Taking this into account, scholars are using various methods to understand and determine the ‘feedback of opinion and policy’ and use its outcome to define the ways which institutions mostly depend on.

Moreover, public opinion has a remarkable influence and tight relationship with foreign policy as well. Nowadays, there is still discourse among scholars to clearly explain this connection. Almond and Lippmann have made one of the earliest attempt to study and clarify the relationship between public opinion and foreign policy and published their work prior to the Vietnam War. Introducing a new theory titled the Almond-Lippmann Consensus Almond and Lippmann have indicated that, public opinion regarding foreign policy was disorganized, disjointed and very buoyant. Therefore, public opinion should not ‘influence foreign policy’. However, as the analysis on relationship between these two theories has evolved over the period of time, current researches have criticized the Almond-Lippman Consensus claiming that how nowadays people’s opinions are steady, and that even though public do not take part in every political and social issues, they still take actions ‘skilfully and intelligently’.

Overall, taking into account the ‘opinion-policy’ interdependence and their reciprocal links, in this essay I decided to support one side by evaluating the extent and degree of their influence to one another. Thus, due to the fact that ‘governments’ (elites) are more in need of citizens’ (public) support in most cases, such as public votes for re-election, appointment in certain positions, adoption of policies and other circumstances, I think that public opinion has greater influence on the elite’s policy intentions than the other way around. In other words, ‘driving’ degree of public opinion exceeds the level of elites’ one. 

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