Determining public opinion

“We are all in this together against an invisible enemy”. Somehow this does not seem right when there are protests across the country against the Coronavirus restrictions. While some people are not leaving their home at all, some people live their life as if nothing happened. Why can the believes about a public cause differ so strongly from each other?

There are some factors that certainly influence this:

Social circle

“You’re The Average Of The Five People You Spend The Most Time With” the motivational speaker Jim Rohn once famously said. Psychologists agree that our social circle and our network has an important influence on our opinion. We trust our friends and family a lot and when interacting with them, we exchange our opinions. The sum of those people feel about a topic will most likely result in our own believes in some topics. Whether a person will wear a mask can be attributed to whether their friends are wearing masks.

Media consumption

Which channel people listen to will also be an important factor for their believes about certain topics. Their source of media is the information they are confronted with regularly and they process it based on this. It will also determine how often they think about a topic and whether to think about it at all. Consider thinking about the difference in opinion on someone who watches mainly CNN vs someone who watches mainly Fox News.
The trust in media depends also very much on age. According to research of Edelman, young people rely evenly on social media and mainstream media while older people (55 +) rate mainstream media as 3 times more reliable than social media. Media consumption and age are very relevant for the audience and their conceived opinion.

Trusted source of opinion leaders

According to research of Edelman, scientists belong to the most trusted officials with scores ranging from 68 percent to 83 percent. At the very low of the rank are government officials and journalists with scores under 50 percent. Which spokesperson people trust will strongly influence their opinion. But also celebrities and influencer can play an important role for determining opinions.

The power of repetition

The so-called truth effect was first studied at Villanova University and Temple University. When truth is assessed people rely on whether the information is in line with their understanding or if it feels familiar. Repetition usually makes statements easier to process relative to unrepeated statements, leading people to believe that the repeated conclusion is more truthful. The more often we see something in our news feed, the more likely we are to think that it’s true – even if we were sceptical at first.

All those factors have a certain influence on the public perception. It is very hard to accurately predict how strong their role is as it seems very unrealistic to single out one factor and I have not found any research about that. What is your opinion? Have I forgotten some important factors you believe are also very influential for public opinion?

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