Public opinion

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With public opinion (also "opinion" or "judgment of the public " ; loan translation from French :, opinion publique ') are in a company called prevailing judgments on facts. In contrast to the individual opinion, it is intended to designate "in the consciousness of the general public [prevailing] views regarding certain [political] issues".


There is no clear definition in German, the “Political Dictionary” by Klaus Schubert and Martina Klein defines Volkswille as an unclear term that can be interpreted in two directions. It describes “a collective expression of opinion that is measurable insofar as it is based on a majority of individual opinions ( empirical popular will )” and the political conviction that “an objective overall interest can be stated ( hypothetical popular will )”. This interpretation is usually based on unrealistic "ideas of comprehensive homogeneity and social harmony".

According to Uwe Andersen / Wichard Woyke , the political term public opinion , which was introduced into the German language in the eighteenth century, was “initially used as a weapon in the struggle of the strengthening bourgeoisie to extend their rights, but finally also as a weapon to protect the privileges of the bourgeoisie against participation claims of the non-bourgeois classes ”. In the process, different lines of tradition have developed in the European democracies. In France the idea with the theory of “volonté générale”, in England the idea of ​​a “government by public opinion” in the fight against a rule of the “volonté générale”. In the French “opinion publique” the idea of ​​the establishment of governmental power by the public would resonate, while in the Anglo-Saxon “public opinion” it is enough to control it ( E. Fraenkel 1991). The continental European ideal of participation stands in opposition to “the long English tradition of limiting power to a parliamentarized monarchy. Skeptical assessments of public opinion, however, gained ground both in France and in England, as the bourgeois public lost its exclusivity and an increasing heterogeneity of interests developed, even within the bourgeoisie. "

In Germany, however, due to the belated development of democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries, there is a reserve and disgust for this term: “Public opinion not derived from observation and experience, but an idealized normative or technocratic understanding has long attracted state-theoretical interest. According to this, public opinion is made up of politically informed, independent and rationally judging citizens and sees itself as a 'correlate of rule' that has a critical effect on them ”( Noelle-Neumann 1989).


In the free ancient city-states of Asia Minor, Greece and Rome , the full citizens expressed their opinions publicly on the market square (Greek: agorá , Latin: forum ) in popular assemblies and people's courts ( Attic democracy ).

After the invention of printing with movable type, early mass media were already available at the time of the Reformation. B. in the form of leaflets . In the 18th and 19th centuries newspapers ( intelligence papers ) and the theater also appeared, in the 20th century film , radio , television and, with the electronic revolution, the Internet . The whole time the book market existed and worked .

In modern Europe, public opinion in today's sense condensed in the 18th century as an opinion market and then as a weapon of the rising bourgeoisie , thus as a new form of political authority that ultimately exercised the monopoly of opinion of the absolutist governments and the monopoly of religion in each state Clergy broke. The first evidence of the concept of public opinion in the German language can be found in 1712 in the translation of a Latin script from Christian Thomasius about the witch trials , in which the Latin term Persuasio publication of public opinion is translated.

In France, Jean-Jacques Rousseau first spoke of “opinion publique” in his Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts in 1750, but in a critical sense against the published opinion that destroys virtue. In contrast, according to Jürgen Habermas, the “opinion publique” in Rousseau's Volonté générale is “more of a consensus of hearts than arguments”. In English, the term “public opinion” comes from the mere “opinion” as in French. The transition to public opinion takes place there via the intermediate stages of “public spirit” and “general opinion”. "Public opinion" is documented for the first time in 1781. Michael Th. Greven also recalled Franz von Holtzendorff as an "early theorist of 'public opinion'" and wanted to indirectly draw attention to the fact that established classics such as Holtzendorff and later also future classics were on the subject (such as Ferdinand Tönnies , Walter Lippmann or Reinhart Koselleck ) played a marginal role at best in Habermas 'thematically relevant habilitation thesis Structural Change of the Public (1962), although both Holtzendorff and Habermas' “optimism about the beneficial power of public opinion” met in “expectation” , "That in view of the possibilities of political education all is not lost".

With the expanded public through the labor movement (“proletarian public”) and increasing democratization, public opinion gained further political weight. From the beginning, opinion leaders who were oppressed by the church or the state were able to create groundbreaking sub-publics (e.g. in the Reformation with leaflets, in the 19th century with brochures).

Scientific treatment

Sociological Aspects

The Sociology presented in Germany significant analysis of public opinion, 1922 groundbreaking Ferdinand Tonnies , 1962 (formal political science habilitation) of Jurgen Habermas and 1972 Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge . In addition, the sociology of communication , political sociology and other areas of sociological research deal with numerous individual questions on the topic. A classic on the subject such as Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion (also 1922) is only slowly being noticed again after a new edition in German.

Relevant research results can also be found in the context of political science and sales research ( advertising research ) in business administration , as well as in literature and media studies . The folklore works to public opinion, as they are with the related topic of people's mouth and the popular fiction is concerned.

At present, three main concepts of “public opinion” can be summarized in the sciences:

  1. Sociological-analytical concept of public opinion. This approach originates from Ferdinand Tönnies ( Critique of Public Opinion , 1922) and takes “public opinion” as the mental dimension (alongside the political and economic dimension) of the cohesion of modern “ societies ”. The “public opinion” ranges from the firmly established judgments (e.g. science) to slowly changing judgment structures (e.g. the prevailing opinions in the media) to the easily changeable judgments (as they are e.g. B. in circulating rumors). They are all typical of epochs in which the social actors view all social institutions as institutions of purpose that are used as long as it is of use to the individual. (The opposite of this conception of institutions would be general social cohesion in that the actors subordinate themselves to the institutions, i.e. understand them not as means but as higher ends. For Tönnies these are the “ communities ” in which the mental dimension is involved the place of "public opinion" takes the form of faith, that is, "religion".)
  2. Political and social-philosophical concept of public opinion. This view has normative traits and often stems from legal and political science and social philosophy and is also represented by political scientists. In doing so, certain requirements are placed on the bearers of public opinion (for example their level of information or education ), their objects (usually related to the common good ), or how they come about (e.g. rational discourse ). Normative ( deontological ) this view, therefore because it deals inter alia with the question of how public opinion be designed should what are referred to the concept of public opinion should . A well-known representative of this view is Jürgen Habermas .
  3. Public opinion as the subject and result of opinion polls. This view describes as public opinion the opinions, attitudes and behavior of the people in a society. Occasionally, a majority or a certain degree of agreement of opinions is emphasized.

From the opinion polls coming forth, has notably Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann own social-psychological approach to the theory of public opinion presented. She defines “public opinion” as follows: “ Public opinion is understood to mean valued, especially morally charged opinions and behaviors, which - where it is a matter of firmly established agreement, for example custom, dogma - one must show publicly if one does not want to isolate oneself ; or in the changing 'liquid' [...] state can show publicly without isolating oneself. “Part of the theory of public opinion is the concept of the spiral of silence , which explains collective changes of opinion in emotionally charged conflicts. Noelle's theory of public opinion is also known as the concept of integration because the function of public opinion in this approach is to integrate society. It is an empirical-analytical theory of human coexistence that can be checked by empirical social research (even if this is very difficult in practice).

Political science aspects

David Hume attributed a very broad political relevance to public opinion:

"Nothing seems more astonishing than the ease with which the many are ruled by the few ... When we examine what makes this miracle happen, we find that ... the rulers can rely on nothing but opinion."

- David Hume Essays Moral, Political and Literary , 1741/42 (ed. 1903), p. 29

In any case, public opinion is an important factor in political events due to its motivation, legitimation and control functions. Hence, rule over public opinion is largely related to the nature of the political system. In authoritarian systems, attempts are typically made to steer public opinion centrally: for example, for purely political reasons or because the rulers believe they are in possession of religious or secular truths. Freedom of opinion is legally guaranteed in liberal states. But

"The formation of public opinion takes place in a diversely structured process in which the weight of the opinions and thus also the power over public opinion is distributed very differently."

- Reinhold Zippelius , Allgemeine Staatslehre, 17th edition, § 28 II 2

In this process of forming public opinion, the editorial offices of the mass media, but also churches, secular associations, prominent politicians and other "producers of meaning and world views" have a prominent role as key word givers and vocal boosters. But because of their mutual competition, they play a moderate and controlled role in the political process.

The public opinion co-determined by these forces exerts a “ pressure to conform ”: Important reasons for not only following the prevailing morality, but also public opinion in general, “are the elementary need for certainty of orientation and ... the drive, psychologically stressful dissonances between one's own To dismantle beliefs and the ideas found in the environment, so not to constantly live in contradiction to the views that surround you. ”In this way, public opinion determines in particular what is compatible with“ political correctness ”. Whoever breaks their barriers has

“Not to fear a court of heretics, but he is exposed to all kinds of annoyances and daily persecutions. The political career is closed to him "

- Alexis de Tocqueville , On Democracy in America, Part 1 (1835) Chapter II. 7, German 1976


"Those who do not know how to despise public opinion will never achieve great things."

“There is no generally accepted definition of public opinion. Nevertheless, the use of this term is increasing […]. Attempts to define the term precisely have led to such frustrating findings as: Public opinion is not a label for anything, but a classification for several something. "

- Walter Phillips Davison : Public Opinion . In: International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences . 1968.

“Ferdinand Tönnies discovered that public opinion in structural social relationships corresponds to the regulating force that perceives religion in communal life contexts. [...] Public opinion is the religion of modern times. "

- Alexander Deichsel : Foreword . In: TG 14, 2002.

"Public opinion is a view that lacks insight."

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. opinion in, accessed on 15 November 2013
  2. ^ Klaus Schubert, Martina Klein: Das Politiklexikon. 5th, updated Ed. Bonn: Dietz 2011. online on the website of the Federal Agency for Political Education , accessed on November 15, 2013
  3. Public opinion , Ernst Friedländer in Die Zeit , July 28, 1949 No. 30
  4. a b Andersen, Uwe / Wichard Woyke (ed.): Concise dictionary of the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. 5th, updated Edition Opladen: Leske + Budrich 2003. Licensed edition Bonn: Federal Agency for Civic Education 2003. online on the website of the Federal Agency for Political Education, accessed on November 15, 2013
  5. ^ Jürgen Habermas: Structural change of the public . Investigations into a category of civil society . 5th edition, Neuwied / Berlin 1971, p. 116.
  6. ^ Jürgen Habermas: Structural change of the public. Investigations into a category of civil society . 5th edition, Neuwied / Berlin 1971, p. 121.
  7. ^ Jürgen Habermas: Structural change of the public. Investigations into a category of civil society . 5th ed., Neuwied / Berlin 1971, pp. 115-118.
  8. Michael Th. Greven: Franz von Holtzendorff as an early theorist of "public opinion" in the light of today's theory of "deliberative publics" . In: Harald Bluhm, Karsten Fischer, Marcus Llanque (eds.): Ideas policy. Historical constellations and current conflicts (Festschrift for Herfried Münkler) . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-05-005099-7 , pp. 213-229, here: 229 .
  9. ^ A b Oskar Negt / Alexander Kluge: Public and Experience. For organizational analysis of the bourgeois and proletarian public . Frankfurt am Main 1972.
  10. ^ Ferdinand Tönnies: Critique of Public Opinion . [1922]. Edited by Alexander Deichsel, Rolf Fechner, Rainer Waßner. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2002, ISBN 3-11-015349-1 ( Ferdinand Tönnie's complete edition , vol. 14). Tönnies analyzes the difference between public opinion and public opinion .
  11. ^ Jürgen Habermas: Structural change of the public . Investigations into a category of civil society . 5th edition, Neuwied / Berlin 1971.
  12. ^ Walter Lippmann: The public opinion. How it is created and manipulated . Ed .: Walter Otto Ötsch and Silja Graupe. Westend-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2018, ISBN 978-3-86489-716-0 .
  13. Rudolf Schenda : People without a book. Studies on the social history of popular reading materials 1770–1910 . Frankfurt am Main 1970, ISBN 3-465-01836-2 (Studies on Philosophy and Literature of the 19th Century, Vol. 5)
  14. See Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft , [1887], Darmstadt 2005.
  15. See e.g. B. Wilhelm Hennis (1957): Opinion research and representative democracy. To criticize political polls. Mohr (Siebeck), Tübingen. P. 27.
  16. ^ Jürgen Habermas (1991): Structural change of the public. Investigations into a category of civil society. Frankfurt am Main.
  17. See Childs, Harwood (1965): Public Opinion: Nature, Formation, and Role . Princeton, New Jersey et al. a. P. 16 ff.
  18. ^ Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth (1996): Public opinion. The discovery of the spiral of silence . Frankfurt am Main, p. 343 f .; to criticism Richard Albrecht : Die Schweigespirale. In: Journalism. 29, 1984, No. 3-4, pp. 617-621; Demoscopy as demagogy. SDR 2 radio, January 7, 1987; printed in: Medien Journal. 12, 1988, No. 1, pp. 41-48; Demoscopy as Demagogy: Critical Issues from the Eighties. Shaker, Aachen 2007, ISBN 978-3-8322-6324-9 (brochure with CD-Rom).
  19. Thomas Roessing: Public opinion - the exploration of the spiral of silence . Nomos, Baden-Baden 2009, ISBN 978-3-8329-4054-6
  20. Reinhold Zippelius, Allgemeine Staatslehre, 17th edition, § 28 I
  21. Reinhold Zippelius, Allgemeine Staatslehre, 17th edition, § 28 IV 1, 2
  22. Reinhold Zippelius, Philosophy of Law, 6th edition, § 21 III
  23. Aphorisms
  24. The Roman Popes . Vol. 1. Berlin (1834), p. 157.