It is quite difficult to define Public Opinion because different scholars define it differently. Some define it as the opinion of all the people some others say it is an opinion of leaders, while still others describe it as a majority opinion. But these views do not represent truth.
1. Aggregate of views which men hold regarding matters that affect the community.” However, such as aggregate must have for its basis the welfare of the community and only then can it be recognised and respected as public opinion.
2. In the words of Dr. Beni Prasad, “Opinion may be regarded as truly public opinion when it is motivated by regard for the welfare of the whole of society.”
3. According to Carol, “In its common use Public Opinion refers to the composite reaction of the general public.”
4. Lowell defines Public Opinion,: “In order that opinion may be public, majority is not enough and unanimity is not required, but the opinion must be such that while the minorities may not share it but they feel bound by conviction and not by fear to accept it.”
In simple words we can say that public opinion is neither the opinion of all nor it is the majority opinion. It is an opinion which is generally held by all and its purpose is to highlight the welfare of all. It is a consensus opinion which enjoys the support of a very large majority of people. It is even not opposed by the minorities as it reflects a concern for the welfare of all.
Nature or Characteristics of Public Opinion:
Public Opinion is always characterised by the following features:
1. General Agreement:
It is an opinion behind which there is a general agreement or a consensus.
Public opinion is rational. It is logical. Its validity can be demonstrated by logic or reason.
3. General Welfare:
Public opinion is always governed by the idea of promotion of general public welfare.
4. Related to all aspects of life:
Public opinion can concern any and every matter—Political, Social, Economic, or Cultural.
5. Upholds Morality:
Public opinion always upholds the moral values of society. It is never against morality.
6. Not an Imposed Opinion:
Public opinion is not an imposed opinion. It is a generally held consensus opinion and is the result of growth.
7. Neither Destructive nor Negative:
Public opinion is never destructive and negative. It is positive in content because it always represents public welfare.
8. Based on Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression:
The right to freedom of speech and expression is the most essential condition for the birth of public opinion.
9. Basis of Democracy:
Public Opinion plays a deterministic role in a democracy. All policies of a democratic government rest upon public opinion. The government can remain in power and work successfully only when it is backed by public opinion.
10. Real Sanction behind Laws of the State:
Public opinion is the real sanction behind all Taws and policies of a democratic state. Supremacy of public opinion reflects the sovereignty of people, which is the very basis of a democracy.