In politics, public opinion is a phrase that is used to convey the intent and desire of the general population on issues of political importance. It may be used to convey thoughts and feelings both on fiscal and social issues. One of the main ways it is determined is through polls, commissioned by various groups to determine what the ultimate will of the people is. The opinion of the public is often a hotly-debated topic among various political parties and politicians.
The importance of public opinion to politicians cannot be overstated. It helps them win elections, and then, once elected, to get their priorities through the political process. While it may be possible to pass legislation without the favor of the majority of the public’s assent, having that makes the job much easier. Further, passing legislation contrary to the will of the public could create problems when the representative comes up for re-election.
Polls are important when it comes to determining public opinion, but it is not the only way that it is derived. Constituents often contact their elected officials to let them know their thoughts and feelings. Groups may organize call-in campaigns to various politicians when legislation of concern is being debated. These personal contacts may or may not express the overall opinion of the majority of the public, and therefore are often taken into account along with other sources of information.
Politicians may go against public opinion for a number of reasons. One, they may have a hard time judging what the public’s opinion is. Two, they may feel that what they are doing is of such importance that they must go against public opinion for the good of the country or region. Three, they may feel they owe their political party something, and therefore do not want to go against the will of the party. Lastly, they may feel the polls are worded in such a way that is not reflective of the true opinion of the people.
Like many things in a democracy, public opinion is likely to change from time to time. For example, during times of high energy prices, the public may be interested in expanding the drilling for oil and other fossil fuels. If a disaster takes place or if energy prices decrease, the pressure may change and the public may focus more on environmental issues.
If public opinion changes too much, politicians that once found themselves enjoying the mandate of the public and widespread support could be caught off guard. Thus, many politicians tend to study public opinion, keeping a close eye on polls and other measures. At the same time, those politicians who are perceived as being too reliant on opinion polls may be labeled as weak or without core values.