Public opinion

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Public opinion is the aggregate of individual attitudes or beliefs. Public opinion can also be defined as the complex collection of opinions of many different people and the sum of all their views, or as a single opinion held by an individual about a social or political topic.


  • In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4–H Club—the "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history".
    • Spiro Agnew, address to the California Republican state convention, San Diego, California (September 11, 1970); Congressional Record (September 16, 1970), vol. 116, p. 32017. William Safire, then a speechwriter for President Nixon, was the author of "nattering nabobs of negativism," according to The Washingtonian (March 1985), p. 11, and The Washington Post (August 27, 1987), p. C4.
  • Nothing is more dangerous in wartime than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll, always feeling one's pulse and taking one's temperature. I see that a speaker at the week-end said that this was a time when leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.
    • Winston Churchill, speech, House of Commons (September 30, 1941); Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963 (1974), vol. 6, p. 6495.
  • I had grown tired of standing in the lean and lonely front line facing the greatest enemy that ever confronted man—public opinion.
  • Heroes are created by popular demand, sometimes out of the scantiest materials, or none at all.
  • Public opinion, or what passes for public opinion, is not invariably a moderating force in the jungle of politics. It may be true, and I suspect it is, that the mass of people everywhere are normally peace-loving and would accept many restraints and sacrifices in preference to the monstrous calamities of war. But I also suspect that what purports to be public opinion in most countries that consider themselves to have popular government is often not really the consensus of the feelings of the mass of the people at all, but rather the expression of the interests of special highly vocal minorities — politicians, commentators, and publicity-seekers of all sorts: people who live by their ability to draw attention to themselves and die, like fish out of water, if they are compelled to remain silent.
  • The great masses, who have never been, in the history of mankind, more subject to hypnotic suggestion than they are right now, have become the puppets of the “public opinion” that is engineered by the newspapers in the service, it need hardly be emphasized, of the reigning powers of finance. What is printed in the morning editions of the big city newspapers is the opinion of nine out of ten readers by nightfall. The United States of America, whose more rapid “progress” enables us to predict the future on a daily basis, has pulled far ahead of the pack when it comes to standardizing thought, work, entertainment, etc.
    • Ludwig Klages, Sämtliche Werke, vol. 4, p. 408, as translated by Joseph Pryce
  • In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.
    • Abraham Lincoln, reply in the first debate with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Ottawa, Illinois (August 21, 1858); in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), vol. 3, p. 27.
  • Meditation on any theme, if positive and honest, inevitably separates him who does the meditating from the opinion prevailing around him, from that which ... can be called “public” or “popular” opinion.
  • Liberal education, which consists in the constant intercourse with the greatest minds, is a training in the highest form of modesty. … It is at the same time a training in boldness. … It demands from us the boldness implied in the resolve to regard the accepted views as mere opinions, or to regard the average opinions as extreme opinions which are at least as likely to be wrong as the most strange or least popular opinions.
    • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), p. 8.
  • Private opinion creates public opinion. Public opinion overflows eventually into national behaviour and national behaviour, as things are arranged at present, can make or mar the world. That is why private opinion, and private behaviour, and private conversation are so terrifyingly important.
    • Jan Struther, "The Weather of the World", A Pocketful of Pebbles (1946), p. 341.
  • What news? Ma foi!
    The tiger has broken out of his den.
    The monster was three days at sea.
    The wretch has landed at Fréjus.
    The Brigand has arrived at Antibes.
    The Invader has reached Grenoble.
    The General has entered Lyons.
    Napoleon slept last night at Fontainebleau.
    The Emperor proceeds to the Tuileries to-day.
    His Imperial Majesty will address his loyal subjects to-morrow.
    • Author unknown; reported in Louis Cohen, Napoleonic Anecdotes (1925), p. 229. Taken from a skit of 1815, this purports to show how Napoleon's return from Elba was progressively regarded in Paris.

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