Chapter 9: Public Opinion and Persuasion

19 04 2009

(Notes from Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics 9th Edition by Dennis L. Wilcox and Glen T. Cameron)

“The following statements appear in public opinion research:”

  1. Public opinion is the collective expression of opinion of many individuals bound into a group by common aims, aspirations, needs, and ideals.
  2. People who are interested or who have a vested or self-interest in an issue-or who can be affected by the outcome of the issue-form public opinion on that particular item
  3. Psychologically, opinion basically is determined by self-interest.  Events, words, or other stimuli affect opinion only insofar as their relationship to self-interest or a general concern is apparent.
  4. Opinion does not remain aroused for a long period of time unless people feel their self-interest is acutely involved or unless opinion-aroused by words-is sustained by events
  5. Once self-interest is involved, opinion is not easily changed.
  6. Research studies also emphasize the importance of events in the formation of public opinion.  Social scientists, for example, have made the following generalizations.
  7. Opinion is highly sensitive to events that have an impact on the public at large or a particular segment of the public.
  8. By and large, public opinion does not anticipate events.  It only reacts to them
  9. Events trigger formation of public opinion.  unless people are aware of an issue, they are not likely to be concerned or have an opinion.  Awareness and discussion lead to crystallizing of opinions and often a consensus among the public.
  10. Events of unusual magnitude are likely to swing public opinion temporarily from one extreme to another.

•  Opinion leaders:  people who are knowledgeable and articulate about specific issues.  Sociologists describe them as:

  1. highly interest in a subject or issue
  2. better informed on an issue than the average person
  3. avid consumers of mass media
  4. early adopters of new ideas
  5. good organizers who can get other people to take action

•  There are two types of leaders:  formal opinion leaders and informal opinion leaders.

•  Formal opinion leaders:  “So called because of their positions as elected officials, presidents of companies, or heads of membership groups.”  These leaders are often asked for information from reporters.  They are also called power leaders.

•  Informal opinion leaders:  People who have influence on their peers.

 “People seldom make a decision on their own but are influenced by their friends, parents, educators, supervisors, church leaders, physicians, public officials, movie stars or singers, and the media in general.”

•  “Influentials, those whom other people seek out for advice, fit the profile of:”

  1. being active in the community
  2. having a college degree
  3. earning relatively high incomes
  4. regularly reading newspapers and magazines
  5. actively participating in recreational activities
  6. showing environmental concern by recycling

Agenda-setting theory– created by Max McCombs and Don Shaw.  “media sets the agenda for public discussion”

Media-Dependency Theory– “media can have a “moderate” or even “powerful” effect on the formation of opinions and attitudes.

Framing Theory– “it is important to understand the ways in which journalistic framing of issues occurs because such framing impacts public understanding and, consequently, policy formation.”

Conflict Theory– Morton Deutsch and Peter Colman  say that conflict in the public arena can be a constructive process that builds toward consensus.


•  Richard Perloff, author of The Dynamics of Persuasion, says that “persuasion is an activity or process in which a communicator attempts to induce a change in the belief, attitude, or behavior of another person or group of persons through the transmission of a message in a context in which the persuadee has some degree of free choice.”

Persuasion is used to change or neutralize hostile opinions, crystallize latent opinions and positive attitudes, and conserve favorable opinions.

Factors in Persuasive Communication

•  Audience Analysis:  “Knowledge of audience characteristics such as beliefs, attitudes, concerneds, and lifestyles is an essential part of persuasion.”

•  Source Credibility:  “A message is more believable to the intended audience if the source has credibility.”

                Source credibility has 3 factors:

  1. Expertise- “Does the audience perceive the person as an expert on the subject?”
  2. Sincerity- “Does the person come across as believing what he or she is saying?”
  3. Charisma- “Is the individual attractive, self-assured, and articulate, projecting an image of competence and leadership?”

                Problems with celebrities:

        There are downsides to using celebrities such as there can be so many endorsements that the public forgets the company that the celebrity is working for.  A second problem is the overexposure and the third is “when an endorser’s actions undercut the product or service.”

•  Appeal to Self-Interest

“Sociologist Harold Lasswell says that people are motivated by 8 basic appeals”:

  1. power
  2. respect
  3. well-being
  4. affection
  5. wealth
  6. skill
  7. enlightenment
  8. physical and mental vitality

•  Clarity of Message:  You should ask 2 questions- “What do I want the audience to do with the message?” and “Will the audience understand the message?”

•  Timing and Context: “A message is more persuasive if environmental factors support the message or if the message is received wtihin the context of other messages and situations with which the individual is familiar.”

•  Audience Participation:  Is influenced by attitude and reinforcement of beliefs.

•  Suggestions of Actions:  “A principle of persuasion is that people endorse ideas only if they are accompanied by a proposed action from the sponsor.”

•  Content and Structure of Message:  Good communicators use drama, statistics, surveys and polls, examples, testimonials, mass media endorsements, and emotional appeas.

•  Persuasive Speaking:  “psychologists have found that successful speaks use several persuasion techniques.”…

          They start with points the audience agrees with, they give choices that force the audience to choose between A and B, they get a commitment for some action on the part of the receiver, and they ask for more and settle for less.

propagandaApproaches used for propaganda:

  • Plain folks- This is where you humble yourself to an average citizen.
  • Testimonial- You give a testimony about the product or service.
  • Bandwagon- Gives the idea that the product has overwhelming support and that everyone wants it.
  • Card stacking- collection of facts and data that build an overwhelming case on one side of the issue.
  • Transfer- associating a person, product or organization that has high status to one side of an issue.
  • Glittering generalities- Associating the issue with ideals such as freedom, justice, democracy, and America.



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