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What is Public Opinion? Importance, Formation & Measurement of Public Opinion

What is Public Opinion?

Public opinion may be defined as a belief values and attitudes which are commonly held and expressed by the majority of the people on a given public issue. In addition it is also about what people think concerning a particular national issue or question as proposed by the government.

Similarly, a consensus opinion may be formed when majority of the people in a given country has similar or same opinion on sensitive issue of national importance. For example during Babangida’s administration, the issue of IMF came up whether Nigeria should go for the IMF loan or not. At the end, there was a consensus of opinion, majority of the citizens objected to the idea and the government had to shelve the plan.

What is Public Opinion? Importance, Formation & Measurement of Public Opinion 1

Characteristics of Public Opinion

1) It is the opinion sheared: Public open Yahoo deals with an issue affecting most citizens of a particular country and every citizen has to participate in expressing their opinions.

2) Another characteristics of public opinion which you must know is that it involves public issue.

3) The third characteristics of public opinion is that it is usually expressed by private person. That is private individuals Express public opinion, it is not the government nor any public institution.

4) The role of communication and information can not be overemphasized in the formation of public opinion. These two go hand in hand in playing a role disseminating individuals or group of persons opinion about an issue.

5) Specific Issue: Public opinion borders on the opinions expressed by the public on specific issues other than on a general public issue.


This area would reveal how public opinions are formed on certain issues. It involves what stimulates public opinion or on what bases are public opinions formed.

Through elections: political parties educate the people on important public issues during campaigns rallies and to all and by so doing opinions are formed by the public.

Mass Media: public opinion can be formed through mass media today’s radio news papers televisions social medias and through the internet.

Pressure groups and political parties: these two groups help in the formation of public opinion. they are capable of shaping the views of the people on matters of public importance. This can be done through their manifestos conferences debates social media groups and on the internet.

4) Bureau of Information: this bureau is established by the government to inform the public on the activities of government. It helps the public to form opinions on policies made and implemented by the government.

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5) Symposium and lectures: it can be formed through holding of lectures and symposium where ideas on matters of public importance are discussed and everyone is free to express their opinion on a certain issue(s).

Individuals influence: members of the community friends and relatives can also influence one’s opinion about public issues. There have been cases whereby an individual is highly respected in his society and her or she shares an opinion on a lingering issue, now because of the status and charisma of such individual, he or she has the power to influence the decisions of others on the matters arising. That is the power of individual influence on public opinion.

There are other ways public opinion can be formed but the above are the known method of formation of public opinion in Nigeria or anywhere in the world.

What is Public Opinion? Importance, Formation & Measurement of Public Opinion 2

How Public Opinion Is Determined and Measured

1) Channels of Communication: government can’t determine people’s opinion by exploring all the channels of communication. Nowadays the social media works tremendously in measuring of public opinion on an issue. We also have the print medias like the newspapers, audio and audiovisual means of determining and measuring of public opinion.

2) Opinions Expressed by Leaders of Thought: public opinion can also be determined or measured true opinions expressed by local leaders of tops or leaders in the representative assemblies. As mentioned earlier, some opinions are made based on an individual’s status or position in the society. Such person can speak on behalf of a group based on certain matters. It is another way public opinion can be measured.

3) Letters to Government: citizens may write letters to government agencies expressing their opinions on a particular issue of national importance. By so doing the government calculate such letters using the numbers and opinions in the letters to determine the general opinion of the people.

4) Response to Government Policies: women can also take notice of public response to his policies. It could also the true mass protests or demonstrations for or against its programmes.

5) Through Referendum or Plebiscite: government may conduct a referendum or Plebiscite to determine what do people want on any particular issue. It also determines the acceptability or non-acceptability of proposals put forward by the government.

6) Telephone calls: most of the radio stations in Nigeria today has adopted this method by presenting phone-in programmes-is sort of random sampling of the opinion of the public. The government can arrange such programs on radio and TV to determine the general public opinion uncertain policies or programs yet to be initiated.

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7) Opinion polls: open employees may be used to determine a general views of the people on a given issue by interviewing a cross section of a public. Those interviewed will then represent the opinions of the citizens.

8) Through Election: public opinion can be measured through the outcomes of elections. The result of an election could help to determine how popular or unpopular in government and it’s policies are.

9) The use of social media: social media has come to stay, in fact it is the easiest way opinions of the public have been expressed without fear or intimidation. The most recent example of how Nigerians expressed their opinion only government policy and how the government measured the opinions of the public was through the Rugs settlements for herdsmen across all states in Nigeria. Nigerians expressed their opinions about the policy by condemning the act of the government through your social Media accounts like the Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and online blogs. The government was able to determine the opinions of the people through this means and therefore shelved the programme.


1) Policies and activities of the government: Public opinion helps the government to know the feeling of the people concerning it’s policies and activities, by so doing, help come up with polices that are people friendly.

Needs of the people: The people’s problems needs and desires on known to the government public opinions. If they do not agitate for better policies, they would be at the receiving end, hence the need for constant expression of individual opinions.

3) Good Policies: Without doubt, public opinion helps the government to formulate adequate policies that will meet the demands and alleviate the suffering of the citizens. Without public opinion, how does the government lead the people? It is a verifiable tool to help the government listen to the cry of the people they are leading.

Curbing Government’s Excesses: through this method, government is made to account for its actions. When the government is aware that the public is watching, your conscious of every move and making them accountable.

Cabinet reshuffle: public opinion can bring about the removal of a Minister or a movement to another departments if they are not performing. The people can air their views by using any of the determinants of public opinion listed above and this can bring about reshuffling or removal of underperforming ministers.

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Another importance of public opinion is that it is used to determine the extent of support the people have for leaders of certain positions.

Lastly, Public opinion helps the government to be watchful over its actions or activities as it relates to the people.


1) Difficult to measure: as much as you can measure public opinion using any of the determinant listed above, it can never be a hundred percent accurate. It is difficult to measure the opinion of the people on a particular issue.

Public opinion can be manipulated buy a few influential individuals in society for their own selfish interests. Earlier, we talked about how an individual’s social status or position can influence the public opinion of certain people or community. Such persons can manipulate the public and come up with opinions do that are for their personal gains.

Inaccuracy of Some Determinants: Please note that public opinion may not always be the views the general public. Sometimes, it is the views of very few powerful and influential individuals in the society. The use of other measuring tools like survey, opinion polls, use of questionnaires and research institutes do not always determine the opinion of the general public.

Another demerit of public opinion is that sometimes it may give wrong picture and your opinion of a policy or issue on ground since it is not often reliable and therefore not advisable for government to solely rely on it.

Since public opinion is expressed by cross section love the society, it cannot be termed adequate. They a few and as such cannot adequately represent the opinions of the citizens that are in the majority. Search does not make for a consensus of opinion as long as the majority and not involved.

What is your take on power of public opinion in Nigeria? how has it affected the people positively? has it helped in ameliorating the sufferings of Nigerians by bringing government to her knees towards making decisions that are people friendly based on the measurement of the general public opinion? we would like to hear from you via the comment section below so others can learn and benefit from it.

Thank you.

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