Media And Public Opinion: Who Uses Whom?

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On the website of the popular British The Guardian the phrase “public opinion” meets one million 230 thousand times, the online edition of the American The New York Times contains 430 thousand articles with “poll” mentioned, Forbes.com mentioned “public opinion” at least in seven thousand articles. And The Huffington Post even founded a special department that only polls the readers.

When reading an article you come across an expression such as “people say that…”, “it is considered that… ”, “according to the majority…”, the public believes…” and see no numbers or reference to research be sure: the personal opinion of a journalist, editorial or the founder of the edition stands behind these words. But why do such phrases have a magical impact on readers, hypnotizing an audience by only mentioning the majority?

Let’s leave aside scientific proofs of man’s dependence on the environment and society, which has formed during the period of the primitive communal system. Let’s start with the idea that people over the millennia have become smarter, more reasonable, more self-independent and thus more independent of the judgment of others. Sounds nice and we want to believe in it, but the reality is: there is no behavioral difference between us and our ancestors, and we have a number of “mammoths” inside – the behavior patterns from the past. Such prehistoric animal-patterns are food for politicians and people who work in advertising or media sphere.

On the front page you see the headline:”The majority of residents have spoken out against the concessions to the immigrants.” A part of readers won’t dive deep into the content believing in magic “majority”. Their subconscious has already noted that “fact” and programmed their mind. Others will still read the text and learn that the “majority” – is 28%, as 27% of respondents did not answer the question, 25% wasn’t sure, and 20% partially agreed to simplify legislation.

In spring, 2014 the Media Insight Project survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and The American Press Institute (API) showed that only 4 out of 10 readers of the latest news on the Internet go beyond the heading and try to learn more.

By the way, marketing specialists all over the world have taught beginners for a long time that 8 out of 10 people read only the headlines. That means the more provocative the headline the more attention the product gets. Scandal and sensationalism multiplied by numbers and percentage bring to publishing houses constant popularity and income.

The Colliers brothers, authors of the popular Votescam: The Stealing of America (1992) describe the case, when in 1970, Channel 7 in Miami projected with 100% accuracy (a virtual impossibility) the final vote totals on Election Day. When the Colliers asked the TV management where they got their exit poll data, journalists claimed that the League of Women Voters has conducted it. But, the League strongly denied it. The broadcasters then told the Colliers that they received the data from an employee of election commission. Then asserted that they got it from a University of Miami professor. In the end, the news broadcasters appeared to have pulled the polling numbers out of thin air.

You should not to forget that polls are very expensive to conduct and only large manufacturers, government agencies or private sponsors can afford it.

“Which side does have a force, when corporations finance polls of consumers or when TV only carries out the study of the part of the audience? Obviously, it is not on the consumer’s or viewer’s side. Eventually, the situation will be used by the company in order to make an additional profit, and therefore the response of the consumers and viewers is only against them though the situation will be presented in a distorted manner: “the customer is a King!” So, if the TV viewers are asked, what types of electric meet knives they prefer, the main issue – whether it is necessary to make such knives at all is ignored,” Herbert Schiller, the author of the Subconscious Manipulators wrote.

It is even possible to turn in the right direction the results of the survey conducted by all the rules and with a low margin of error. For example, consider the difference between these two explanations for the same news:

1. One in five U.S. adults doesn’t use the Internet.

2. Of the 9 percent of U.S. adults who respond to telephone opinion surveys, one in five doesn’t use the Internet.

When you look through the results of a survey of the popular magazine for men or women of the world’s most handsome man or the most beautiful woman don’t be upset if in list there is no favorite actor of yours. Forbes, which became famous for its list of the wealthiest people in the world, relies on the official information businessmen provide to the tax authorities (and send a copy to the publisher’s e-mail). Ratings can be easily cheated, and all of us know that.

In August, 2013 the large international agency Kantar presented a research according to which three out of four Americans consider the majority of polls lean towards a certain point of view while only 19 percent think they are objective. Respondents specified that they have more trust to surveys, conducted by independent companies and scholars.

When you are asked by the newspaper: “Who can save the world – Putin or Obama?” you are obviously driven into a corner. Before you give an answer to similar questions, participating in an interactive, think whether these journalists respect you or deceive claiming your opinion is important for them. A challenge is that the public opinion and polls have become our vital reference point. It’s getting harder to explain to journalists and their readers the processes around them, without resorting to statistics and conclusions of pollsters.

Photo: Shutterstock

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