Here is an essay on ‘Public Opinion in India’ for class 9, 10, 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Public Opinion in India’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay on Public Opinion in India
- Essay on the Meaning of Public Opinion
- Essay on the Formation of Public Opinion
- Essay on the Dimensions of Public Opinion
- Essay on the Information Content of Public Opinion
- Essay on the Nature of Public Opinion
- Essay on Polling: The Measurement of Public Opinion
Essay # 1. Meaning of Public Opinion:
Long ago Floyd Allport (1937) elaborated this concept as follows:
“The term public opinion is given its meaning with reference to a multi-individual situation in which individuals are expressing themselves, or can be called upon to express themselves, as favouring or supporting (or else disfavouring or opposing) some definite condition, person, or proposal of widespread importance, in such a proportion of number, intensity and constancy as to give rise to the probability of affecting action, directly or indirectly, toward the object concerned.” This statement describes the nature and function of public opinion though it fails to define it in a clear manner.
One point is clear; there must be some issue in the group with respect to which the people hold opinions in favour of or against some solution or action. For example, we say that the public opinion in India was strongly in favour of prohibition during the thirties. As a result the State Legislatures in Madras and Bombay introduced complete prohibition in 1937, when for the first time there were fully elected houses of legislature and the ministries were responsible to the legislature.
But during the latter sixties the public opinion had changed so that these very states, along with other states, practically removed prohibition.
Powerful group conflicts arise as a result of the attitudes and opinions which pervade in different groups. These conflicts may vary all the way from faction fights in the village to civil war within the nation and world wars between groups of nations. These conflicts arise as a result of attitudes and opinions.
It is generally assumed that public opinion became powerful in the West in the last decades of eighteenth century with the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the French Revolution (1789).
It is also assumed that public opinion became quite significant in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the emergence of organized groups holding definite opinions on the one hand, and with the revolution in the means of transportation and communication as a result of industrial revolution and the use of machines and inanimate sources of energy, on the other.
But such views tend to ignore that public opinion is quite powerful even in the villages from times immemorial Social events arise in villages and differences of opinion also emerge. The technique evolved by the ancient Indian rural communities in order to settle these disputes was the “panchayat” system.
There were, in the ancient times in India, republics which gave scope to the expression of public opinion. However it is true that with the rise of modern democracies in Western Europe and North America public opinion became even more powerful in determining not only the fate of social issues but also the fates of the Governments.
It is clear that public opinion arises with respect to some issue. It is also clear that there are differences of opinion regarding the issue. If the whole group has one opinion about the problem there in no question of public opinion. Public opinion implies that there is difference of opinion, that there is a controversy, some holding one view and some others holding another view.
It also implies that these two or more groups try to mobilize the whole group or, at any rate, the majority of the members of the group so that some definite action may be taken with respect to the problem.
For example, the whole society agrees that murder is a crime and that the murderer must be punished. But there has been a controversy whether the punishment should be capital punishment or life imprisonment. It is obvious that when there is a controversy there is discussion of the issue.
Essay # 2. Formation of Public Opinion:
An issue begins to take root only when many individuals have the same or similar opinions and when another group has a different opinion. The next step for each group is to increase its strength so that its view can prevail.
Each group will write articles in the newspapers, hold public meetings, enlist signatures and so on to convert as large a proportion of the group as possible to its view. This is where the groups employ the techniques of propaganda which will be described in another section.
Essay # 3. Dimensions of Public Opinion:
Generally two dimensions of public opinion are described, namely direction and intensity.
The direction includes some affective or emotional quality of approving or disapproving something. Some persons may fully endorse one side or the opposite side. They can answer “yes” or “no.” But some would like to qualify their stand.
Generally the more educated people give more “qualified” answers. Thus, the individual personality patterns and culture may give rise to general dispositions to give positive or negative answers to questions regarding the issue.
The other dimension is intensity. Some people may feel very strongly about some of their opinions and not so strongly about some other opinions. The response to the question may be ascertained by giving a five-point scale using terms like “agree strongly, agree, not sure, disagree, disagree strongly.” Here the first and the last alternatives indicate the most intense responses.
Essay # 4. Information Content of Public Opinion:
The opinion may be a well-informed opinion or it may be uninformed. One of the dangers in social situation is that intense opinions may be held by persons or groups who have hardly any information about the problem. The intensity of opinion may emerge out of the symbols like the flag etc., or some reference group like the “Northerner” etc., rather than from any reasoned view of the consequences of the course of action. Similarly, words like “communalism,” “communism”, “dictatorship” rouse strong opinions in favour of or against.
When such words evoke strong opinions and feelings, it is obvious that there will be hardly any differentiation of the concepts based on information. In other words, such intense reactions are more effective than cognitive. It is this lack of information content that leads to “mob” behaviour. Another deficiency which arises out of want of information is a lack of awareness of the implications and consequences of the opinion.
Intensity of opinion without an awareness of the consequences of action based on such opinion leads to destruction of public property, or genocide, etc. One more feature of deficiency in information content is lack of organization, integration and consistency. This again arises out of increase in emotionality and decrease in cognitive aspects.
The group may be moved through propaganda to take inconsistent actions. This is what happened, for instance, in Pakistani politics in 1971. The powerful cliques in West Pakistan ignored the intensity of feelings in East Pakistan which ultimately led to the breakdown of Pakistan as a nation. The West Pakistanis forgot that they were dealing with co-religionists, the very basis for the formation of Pakistan.
They looked upon East Pakistanis, not as Pakistanis but as Bengalis. Lack of consistency also leads to holding one set of opinions at the abstract level and another set at the concrete level. The behaviour of the Indian towards ex-untouchables arises out of this.
At the abstract level the traditional values as well as the modem values accept a humanistic outlook recognizing the sanctity of all human beings irrespective of caste considerations. But the opinions on which concrete judgments and actions are based lead to utter blindness to the consideration of human dignity.
Essay # 5. Nature of Public Opinion:
Public opinion should be viewed as a collective product. It is not a unanimous opinion with which everyone in the public agrees. Public opinion is not necessarily the opinion of the majority. Unanimous opinion or majority opinion can emerge only in an organized society. Public opinion may be thought of as a composite opinion formed out of several opinions that are held in the public. It is shaped by the relative strength and play of the opposing forces.
It is possible, that in this process, the opinion, of some minority group may exert much greater influence in the shaping of public opinion than does the view of the majority group. This is how, for instance, the Indian nation came to accept truth and non-violence (satya and ahimsa) as the two basic principles from 1920 to about 1950, though they formed the opinion of one man, Gandhi, to start with.
The public is ordinarily made up of “interest groups.” The issue which creates the public is usually set by contesting interest groups. These interest groups have an immediate concern and therefore try to win support to their position of the rest of the people who are not interested in the issue or the problem to begin with.
For instance, the people who are interested in the problem of land reforms are the tenants and the landless labourers on the one side, and the large landowners on the other. The rest of public is not interested in the problem. These interest groups try to mobilize public opinion through propaganda.
The first step in this process is to have public discussion within these groups so that they have a clear view of the problem and the consequences with flow if certain decisions are taken. Generally, the efforts made by the interest groups to shape public opinion may be primarily attempts to arouse emotional attitudes.
This, for instance, is true of the propaganda techniques carried on by the linguistic groups or the regional groups. But it must be recognized that this very process of controversial discussion leads to the emergence of rational consideration also.
The fact that the positions of the various groups have to be defended and justified and opposing contentions criticised lead to rational judgments. Thus, it is clear that the quality of public opinion depends on the effectiveness of the public discussion. This, in turn, depends on the availability of mass media like newspapers and the radio and facilities for public meetings.
Essay # 6. Polling: The Measurement of Public Opinion:
When “Survey Research” started in the thirties, the aim was to ascertain the division of opinion in some populations over some controversial public issues. Polling techniques received a great boost in 1936 when Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion predicted that Roosevelt would have a great victory in American Presidential Elections and this happened.
But the year 1948 was a disastrous year when the predictions were falsified by events. By 1960, the prospects of polling greatly improved when Gallup was able to predict the success of Kennedy in the presidential election.
It must, however, be recognized that the prediction of elections is not the important task of polling. The aim of polling is to ascertain the opinion of the public regarding significant political, social, economic and educational issues. The aim of public opinion polls is to give reports of public thinking on the various problems confronting the society.
It has also shown that common people have their opinion and make good decisions. By knowing public opinion trends, the administrators in the government departments can make decisions on the basis of facts. They also serve as a check on the growing power of “pressure groups” which claim to represent public opinion.
A brief description of how public opinion surveys are made may now be given:
i. Defining the Objectives of the Survey:
The first step in any survey is to define and specify the problem under study so that the results of the survey can provide clear-cut answers. The design of the survey depends on the objectives. It may be desirable to survey two contrasting groups and to compare the results. If the aim is to study the trend, a group must be selected which can be interviewed several times at specified intervals. If the aim is to study cause-and-effect relationships, experimental techniques may have to be used.
ii. Selecting the Sample:
The group to be surveyed must be exactly defined. The characteristics of the group must be clearly sated, whether the universe under study is the national group or the state group or the medical group or the student group etc. Whatever the group, a survey must be based on a sample of the universe. Some individuals must be selected from the universe in such a way that they will represent all the people in the universe.
The most reliable way to choose the individuals to be included in a sample survey is to use the random method of selection, so that each individual has an equal chance of being in the sample. For example, one may take every tenth person in a group or every tenth house in the locality so that there is a ten per cent sample. Otherwise, the sample may be biased; it will not be representative of the universe.
But a random sample may not be possible for large populations where there is no list of names to choose from. Therefore quota sampling is used. In quota sampling it is first decided that the sample shall be composed of certain proportions of men and women, middle class and lower class, religious groups, etc.
Such decisions are based on the known characteristics of the total population of which the sample is to be representative. Then each interviewer is assigned a contain area and is instructed to interview a certain number of individuals in specified ratios.
iii. Preparation of Questions:
The first objective is to see that the question is clear and unambiguous and the words used are simple so that it can be understood even by the illiterate person. Each question should have a single focus. The alternative answers to the questions are generally specified like ”yes,” “no,” “don’t know.” When alternatives are given it is called a “poll” or closed type of question. Otherwise it is called an “open” type of question.
If it is open type question, the responses will have to be coded so that there is uniformity in the assessment of the responses. One important task is to pretest the questions on a representative group of people; often questions which appear satisfactory when framed turn out to be ambiguous when actually tested.
iv. Problems of Interviewing:
It is important to give training to the interviewer. He must know the problem and the instrument thoroughly. He must be familiar with the persons to be interviewed and the dialect which they use. The main thing is that he must be able to establish relations of such a kind that the respondents will express their opinions freely. When minority groups are to be tested, it is best that the interviewer belongs to those groups.
Thus survey research needs elaborate preparation and training at every stage. A slip at any stage may produce distorted results.