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.

The Historical Roots of Public Opinion Research


Formation of Publics

Public opinion has been recognized as a political force since the eighteenth century by prominent political theorists as varied as Rousseau, Tocqueville, Bentham, Lord Acton, Bryce and others, but measuring and accounting for it through quantitative social science methods started in the early twentieth century (→ The Public and Public Opinion in Political Theories). By the 1950s, the study and measurement of public opinion via commercial polling and scholarly research had become institutionalized.

To explain the institutionalization of an intellectual activity, one needs to explain both demand and supply. On the demand side, in the nineteenth century, governments, reformers and intellectuals wanted information on the state of mind, social problems, and political dispositions of ordinary people. As ...

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