Public opinion and the "problem of information"

The term public opinion first gained popularity the 18th Century European enlightenment. Today, because of its centrality to the rationale of advanced liberal democracies, public opinion constitutes a nexus between the worlds of formal and everyday politics. This chapter outlines a tension between t...

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Bibliographic Details
Main Author: Susan Condor
Format: Default Book chapter
Published: 2016
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Online Access:https://hdl.handle.net/2134/17546
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Summary:The term public opinion first gained popularity the 18th Century European enlightenment. Today, because of its centrality to the rationale of advanced liberal democracies, public opinion constitutes a nexus between the worlds of formal and everyday politics. This chapter outlines a tension between two competing assumptions about the relationship between public opinion and rational democratic governance. On the one hand, public opinion is treated as the ultimate source of political authority. On the other hand, the everyday opinion of mass publics is understood to be too heavily motivated by personal self-interest, and too deficient in factual understanding to ever serve as a legitimate basis for the governance of complex modern societies. In the second part of the chapter I present a case study from my own research on vernacular political reasoning, focusing on the phenomenon of empty attitudes: sincere opinions on matters of public debate which can be satisfactorily justified without recourse to detailed factual information.