Public opinion theory and research are becoming increasingly significant in modern societies as people's attitudes and behaviors become ever more volatile and opinion poll data becomes ever more readily available. This major new Handbook is the first to bring together into one volume the whole field of public opinion theory, research methodology, and the political and social embeddedness of polls in modern societies. It comprehensively maps out the state-of-the-art in contemporary scholarship on these topics.

With over fifty chapters written by distinguished international researchers, both academic and from the commercial sector, this Handbook is designed to:

Give the reader an overview of the most important concepts included in and surrounding the term ‘public opinion’ and its application in modern social research; Present the basic empirical concepts for assessing public opinion and opinion changes in society; Provide an overview of the social, political and legal status of public opinion research, how it is perceived by the public and by journalists, and how it is used by governments; Offer a review of the role and use of surveys for selected special fields of application, ranging from their use in legal cases to the use of polls in marketing and campaigns.

The SAGE Handbook of Public Opinion Research provides an indispensable resource for both practitioners and students alike.


WolfgangDonsbach and Michael W.Traugott

Public Opinion—A Nebulous Concept

In 1968, W. Phillips Davison wrote the entry for ‘public opinion’ for the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, concluding that ‘there is no generally accepted definition of the term’ (p. 188). Three years earlier Harwood Childs (1965) had described no less than 48 different definitions of public opinion in the relevant research literature.

Since then, the definitional situation has certainly not become any clearer; and after almost half a century of empirical research, not much has changed. But at the same time, public opinion is, as Vincent Price (1992, p. 1) wrote, ‘one of the most vital and enduring concepts in the social sciences.’ Public opinion continues to be one of the fuzziest terms in the social sciences—and ...

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