Generally, public opinion can be defined as the common opinion shared by a particular social group that is united according to certain characteristics (sex, residence, occupation, age, etc.). However, it should be noted that this definition is very general and does not mention the fact that the general public usually does not show strong opinions while certain subgroups are concerned with those public realities that affect them directly.
The correlation between public relations and public opinion lies on the level of media and society. Media is not separated from society, but it is its foundation that functions according to certain rules determined by the time and place. This dictates the need for constant communication between the media and the public, which results in the formation of public opinion. According to Walter Lippman, ordinary people are not exposed to everything the world has to offer. It is where the media comes and forms a picture of the world for us. The more attention the media pays to a certain issue, the more important it becomes in the public eye.
The events that preceded the Gulf war are the classic example of how the public opinion can be influenced by public relations. American public relations group was used by the government of Kuwait to change the public opinion in favor of America starting the war against Iraq. They employed various techniques ranging from press conferences broadcasted live to bumper stickers. Consequently, the people adopted a positive feeling towards the idea of war without realizing that everything was set up.
Moreover, a vital part is still played by opinion leaders. They are companies, officials, and authoritative figures who create a bridge between the media and the part of the population that is not actively seeking ultimate sources of information.
However, public opinion is not always this open to being manipulated. With exposure to numerous information sources, a great part of the public tends to form its own opinions regarding the current events. The simple truth is that the more educated the public is and the more access it has to information, the harder it is to control. That’s why the Western world is a lot safer from the influence of false advertising than the Third World countries.
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Public opinion can be subject to the influence of public relations only when there is a balance in decision making between both the media and the public.