The spiral of silence hypothesis

Date of publication: September 1, 1989

Author: Harm't Hart

Abstract:

Noelle-Neumann 's Spiral of Silence theory contains a number of hypotheses. For our purpose the following is important: When people believe that their opinions about a certain subject are not shared by a majority in their country they will hesitate to express their views in public. Consequently only certain viewpoints are heard, reinforcing the impression of their prevalence. This hypothesis was tested in a secondary analysis, using the data of a survey held in 22 countries. The subject of the survey was the arms-control negotiations and the likelihood of a nuclear war. 11 countries were selected for the analysis, countries with a clear optimistic or a clear pessimistic majority. It was found that contrary to the hypotheses, people belonging to a minority more often talk about the chance of a nuclear war, when they know themselves to be in the minority, than when they do not know. It was also found that people who believe themselves to have minority opinions more often speak about the chance of a nuclear war when their opinions actually deviate from those of the majority, than when their opinions are in agreement with those of the majority. These results can be explained in several ways. It is possible that the need to distinguish oneself from others, especially in the interview situation, is stronger than the pressure to conform. Another explanation, derived from the Spiral of Silence hypothesises also possible however: people do not hesitate to express their opinions because of a difference of opinion with the present majority but because they feel that their opinion is loosing ground. More data is required before this hypothesis can be tested.

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