Election research and the climate of opinion

Date of publication: June 15, 1986


The main thesis of this paper is that we have taken a new step toward understanding democratic elections since the early seventies. We are now in a position to understand the influence of processes of public opinion on voting behavior. The new influences are the climate of opinion; the use of a "quasi-statistical sense" people have to assess which attitudes are on the increase among the general public and which are on the decrease; the willingness to testify to one's voting intention in public or the tendency to keep silent ("spiral of silence"); the threat of isolating supporters of the other side by imbuing election themes with a moral dimension, and the role of the media, which are by definition public, in this process; and, again, as already treated by Lazarsfeld/Berelson/Gaudet but not by subsequent election research: the role of opinion leaders, the two-step flow of communication and the bandwagon effect.

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann


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