How Does Public Opinion Affect Politics?

Particularly in democratic systems, public opinion has the power to mold or influence public policy through its exertion of pressure on elected or appointed officials, and those seeking to be elected to office. In extreme situations, public opinion results in people being placed or removed from positions of power and influence.

In democratic systems, most public officials are placed in their positions through votes supplied by various national, state and local constituencies. Because elected officials are bound to these constituencies for support and re-election, they have a vested interest in supporting legislation or other public policy initiatives that represent the majority opinions of those voters.

Public opinion and its ability to influence political decision-making can be bolstered by a number of outside agents also frequently present in democratic systems. Reasonably free journalism is one example, where government misconduct can be brought before public scrutiny through a variety of different media, including newspapers, television and the Internet. Additionally, non-governmental organizations, interest groups and even government protection agencies can inform the citizenry and provide vehicles for direct action in correcting political wrongs.

The field of public opinion provides further opportunities for people with different interests and identities to find voice and collaboration in political spheres. For instance, people can unite under specific banners, such as family rights, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Frequently, the opinions of such groups are measured in surveys that are then consulted by elected officials when making policy.