Turbulences in the Climate of Opinion :
Methodological Applications of
the Spiral of Silence Theory
ELISABETH N O E L L E - N E U M A N N The phenomena to be studied under the term public opinion are essentially instances of behavior. . . . They are frequently performed with an awareness that others are reacting to the same situation in a similar manner. FLOYDH . ALLPORT,Toward a Science of Public Opinion
Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 1 , 1937:13
and attitude survevs were. from the start. linked to the concept of public opinion. When a new quarterly journal for this field was founded in 1937, the title of Public Opinion Quarterly was adopted, apparently without qualms. Yet the relationship between survey results and public opinion has been insufficiently discussed. W e have developed new kinds ofquestions and analytic models based on an interpretation of the concept of public opinion. This conceptualization enables us to observe the development of the climate of opinion and of the attitudes of individuals earlier and more clearly than is possible with conventional survey questions. Two very different meanings attach to the concept of public opinion: The first carries a critical connotation-public opinion is the judgment, founded on rational discussion, of informed and responsible citizens meting out praise or blame t o the government. The second meaning, which is older, connotes pressure to conform. This is how Jean Jacques Rousseau, who coined the concept of public opinion in 1750, understood it, and so did John Locke, almost a hundred years earlier, who gave a Abstract New tools for measuring changes in public opinion can be derived from the theory of the spiral of silence. Measures of individual assessment of the climate of opinion and of confidence about showing one's own opinion document the processes by which the losing side falls increasingly silent and the winning side is therefore overrated. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann is Professor of Communication Research, University of Mainz, and Director, Institut fiir Demoskopie Allensbach. A first draft of this article was presented at the 31st Annual ~ A P O RConference, Asheville, ~ o h Carolina, h May 1976. POQ 41 (1977) 143-158
different name to the same phenomenon: "Law of Opinion and Reputation." Without following up the historical development, we shall here use the definition of public opinion as pressure to conform. The following theses are central to our argument and method:' 1. As social beings, most people are afraid of becoming isolated from their environment. They would like to be popular and respected. 2. In order to avoid becoming isolated and in order not to lose popularity and esteem, people constantly observe their environment very closely. They try to find out which opinions and modes of behavior are prevalent, and which opinions and modes of behavior are becoming more popular. They behave and express themselves accordingly in public. 3. W e can distinguish between fields where the opinions and attitudes involved are static, and fields where those opinions and attitudes are subject to changes. In this context, the sociologist Tonnies has referred to a liquid and solid state, although it should be noted that in the social field one will not find any completely "solid" conditions. Where opinions are relatively definite and static-for example "customs"-one has to express or act according to this opinion in public or run the risk of becoming isolated. In contrast, where opinions are in flux or disputed, the individual will try to find out which opinion he can express without becoming isolated. 4. Individuals who, when observing their environments, notice that their own personal opinion is spreading and is taken over by others, will voice this opinion self-confidently in public. On the other hand, individuals who notice that their own opinions are losing ground, will be inclined to adopt a more reserved attitude when expressing their opinions in public. It follows from this that, as the representatives of the first opinion talk quite a lot while the representatives of the second opinion remain silent, there is a definite influence on the environment: An opinion that is being reinforced in this way appears stronger than it really is, while an opinion suppressed as described will seem to be weaker than it is in reality. The result is a spiral process which prompts other individuals to perceive the changes in opinion and to follow suit, until one opinion has become established as the prevailing attitude while the other opinion will be pushed back and rejected by everybody with the exception of the hard core that nevertheless sticks to that opinion. I have proposed the term "spiral of silence" to describe this social-psychological m e c h a n i ~ m . ~
more detailed exposition is given in Noelle-Neumann (1974). Two recent articles (O'Gorman and Garry, 1976-77; Fields and Schuman, 1976-77) deal with the phenomenon of "pluralistic ignorance" as manifested by patterned misjudgment of public opinion by the public. My findings, which mostly document the sensitivity of the public to trends in public opinion, do not negate the fact o r importance of patterned misperceptions of other people's opinions. Rather, the methodological innovations here proposed may help to clarify some conditions and consequences of such misperceptions, that is, "impairment of the quasi-statistical sense" through polarization of opposing camps of opinion.
TURBULENCES IN THE CLIMATE OF OPINION
Public Opinion Is Based on a Quasi-Statistical Sense In the light of these theses, public opinion is here defined as controversial opinions that one is able to express in public without becoming isolated. This applies to fields subject to changes, that is, fields of opinion that are in flux. In the case of definite principles and customs, public opinion is constituted by attitudes and modes of behavior one has to express in public if one does not want to become isolated. It is no surprise that phenomena of public opinion understood in this sense become objects of awareness, especially in times of rapid social change, and then also become objects of scholarly inquiry. In societies and in periods where social change is slow, no strenuous observation of the social environment is necessary to avoid isolation: the norms, expected and approved patterns of behavior, are known as well as the dominant opinions. On the other hand, attentive observation of the social environment is indispensable in rapidly changing industrial societies, especially during revolutionary phases, not only because of the ongoing changes but also because negative sanctions become dangerous to the individual when new public sentiments come to prevail through a process described as: "A party opinion becomes the general opinion" (Bryce). It is thus no accident that the various concepts of "public opinion" were coined in revolutionary times, including the expression "climate of opinion," which, according to Robert Merton, was first used by Glanville in the middle of the seventeenth century in England. This term definitely points in the right direction (as we know today), since it expresses the notion of an outside world surrounding the individual and influencing him in his behavior and feelings whether he likes it or not. Three new instruments for measuring climate of opinion, in addition to the conventional questions concerning the respondents' opinion, can be derived from this theoretical conception for application to survey research in general and public opinion research in particular: ( I ) questions concerning the observation of the social environment by the individual respondent; (2) questions concerning readiness to stand up for one's opinions (to express one's opinion in spite of the risk of isolation); and (3) a measure of polarization: how far do guesses about the dominance of one or another opinion in the social environment vary among adherents of different parties (or followers of different political leaders, holders of different attitudes)? The greater the difference between the guesses, the greater the polarization. W e shall first give examples for the use of these instruments in case one and two. They are taken from surveys of the Institut fiir Demoskopie Allensbach undertaken between 1965 and 1976. As a rule, these are omnibus surveys with 1,000 to 2,000 personal interviews, conducted with a cross section of the population aged sixteen and over in the Federal Republic of Germany and in West-Berlin.
Observations of the Social Environment Traditionally, we measure the strength of political parties with questions like: "Assuming the next election for the Bundestag would be this coming Sunday, which party would you vote for?" If we evaluate the situation according t o the results from this kind of question, the relative strength of the two big parties remains practically unchanged between December 1974 and March 1976: In December 1974, 53 percent and in March 1976, 52 percent declare themselves for the Christian Democratic Party; in December 1974 and also in March 1976, 38 percent for the Social Democrats. In these 16 months, the difference between the best and the worst percentage for the Christian Democratic Party is 6 percent and for the Social Democrats 4 percent. A totally different, more unsettled picture results, however, if individual respondents are asked about their perception of the social environment: "Regardless of your personal opinion, d o you think most people in the Federal Republic are holding a favorable opinion of the Christian Democratic Party (Social Democratic Party), or don't you think so?" With this question, considerable fluctuations in the climate of opinion emerge; the slight weakening shown up by the traditional question about voting intentions in the course of 1975 is paralleled, but looks more like a break in the weather: the difference between the best result for "Most people are holding a favorable opinion of the Christian Democratic Party" (December 1974, 56 percent) and the worst result (December 1975, 32 percent) is 24 percentage points. The measure "I do not think that most people are holding a favorable opinion of the Christian Democratic Party" moves up and down in complementary fashion. By December 1975, positive and negative evaluations of the environment have become almost equal. Then the climate recovers until spring 1976. Similarly, the question about percentage of the environment shows considerable fluctuations for the Social Democrats, fluctuations which are paralleled by the voting intentions of the respondents, but only so slightly that they fall on the borderline of statistical significance (Figures 1 and 2). Another way to inquire about perceptions of the social environment is to ask about the future: which opinions are thought to be on the increase and which on the decrease, or: which party is going to win the next election. A question of this kind proved to be a better instrument of prediction than the traditional question about voting intentions in the two elections for the Bundestag in 1965 and 1972 (it was not asked in the 1969 ele~tion).~ In 1965 as well as in 1972, during the months and weeks before the A question of this kind was asked in the Erie County Study and its predictive power was recognized, but there were difficulties of interpretation. Cf. Paul F. Lazarsfeld, et al, (1968:XIV).
TURBULENCES IN THE CLIMATE OF OPINION
Figure 1. Voting Intentions Produce Fallacy of Stability-Observations of Climate of Opinion Expose Fluctuations: Christian Democrats
VOTING INTENTION: C h r i s t i a n Democrats POLITICAL CLIMATE: F i g u r e s based on n e g a t i v e r e p l i e s - " d o n ' t t h i n k most people l i k e C h r i s t i a n Democrats" F i g u r e s based on p o s i t i v e r e p l i e s - " t h i n k most people l i k e C h r i s t i a n Democrats" D000QI
SOURCE:Dec. 1974, IFD-Survey 3010; July 1975, IFD-Survey 3017; Sept. 1975, IFDSurvey 3019; Dec. 1975, IFD-Survey 3022, Jan. 1976, IFD-Survey 3023; March 1976, IFD-Survey 3025.
election date, the two big parties were running neck and neck in numbers of supporters. N o trend of who would be the final winner could be established. But, inexplicably at first, a contrast showed up when we asked the question: "Of course, no one can know, but who d o you personally think will win the Federal Elections, who will receive the most votes: the Christian Democratic Party or the Social Democrats?" The Christian Democratic Party rose from 33 percent in December 1964 to 44 percent in July 1965 and 52 percent in September 1965. Only two weeks before the election date, the question about voting intentions also showed this tendency and the Christian Democratic Party went to the front with a clear gain of 3 percent (Figure 3). In 1972 the time for observation was much shorter because the election date was moved up and there were only six weeks of election campaign. But even in this short time, the pattern of 1965 was repeated: a neck and
Figure 2. Voting Intentions Produce Fallacy of Stability-Observations of Climate of Opinion Expose Fluctuations: Social Democrats VOT l NG INTENT ION: S o c i a l Democrats F i g u r e s based on n e g a t i v e r e p l i e s - " d o n ' t t h i n k most people POLITICAL CLIMATE: l i k e S o c i a l Democrats" F i g u r e s based on p o s i t i v e r e p l i e s - " t h i n k most people l i k e S o c i a l Democrats" L@@@@@@@l
SOURCE: ~ e c 1974, . IFD-Survey 3010; July 1975, IFD-Survey 3017; Sept. 1975, IFDSurvey 3019; Dec. 1975, IFD-Survey 3022; Jan. 1976, IFD-Survey 3023; March 1976, IFD-Survey 3025.
neck race of the two big parties without recognizable change if the number of supporters was measured with the question about voting intentions. If, however, the climate of opinion was measured with the question: "Who d o you think will win the election?" we found a steady rise in the expectation of a Social Democrat victory. Finally, in the last phase of the campaign, the number of supporters of the Social Democrats also increased and thus the decisive margin for the election victory became observable (Figure 4).
Readiness to Stand up for One's Opinion Without a theory of public opinion like the one I have put forward, it would be difficult to explain the phenomenon just dealt with-that the survey results based on voting intentions show both big parties running neck and neck, while a steady increase in the expectations of victory for
TURBULENCES IN THE CLIMATE OF OPINION
only one of the parties can be observed. If we follow the spiral of silence hypothesis, the facts become clear: supporters of both parties may be equal in numbers, but they are not equal with regard to their confidence in the final success for their cause and, therefore, they are not equal in their readiness to argue their cause. Supporters of one side-the Christian Democratic Party in 1965, the Social Democrats in 1972-are willing to stand up for their opinion. (This can be demonstrated for 1972.) Thus they appear stronger to the observer than they really are and this, again, induces other people to take a stand also, while the opposition hides more and more often and retires into silence. These observations also contribute to the discussion of the effect of published survey results on' opinion formation before elections. The steady rise of victory expectations for one side could not possibly be attributed to the neck-and-neck results of the surveys which were published. On the contrary, if these publications had influenced opinion formation, expectations regarding the victory of one o r the other party should have remained unchanged, or, at most, the number of "undecided" respondents should have increased. Since, however, the opposite occurred, that Figure 3. Climate of Opinion Changes While Voting Intentions Remain Unchanged
Only a t t h e very l a s t stage o f t h e campaign v o t e r s - m a i n l y w i t h low p o l i t i c a l i n t e r e s t - change v o t i n g i n t e n t i o n s i n accordance w i t h t h e pressure o f t h e c l i m a t e Voting intention: C h r i s t i a n Democrats S o c i a l Democrats """"""""""" Question: "Of course no one can know, b u t who do you personnaly t h i n k w i l l win t h e Federal E l e c t i o n s , who w i l l r e c e i v e t h e most votes: t h e C h r i s t i a n Democrats, o r the S o c i a l Democrats?" C h r i s t i a n Democrats w i l l win S o c i a l Democrats w i l l win
Dec.64 Jan.65 Feb.65 Mar.65 Apr.65 May 65 Jun.65 Ju1.65 Aug.65 Sep.65 SOURCE:Dec. 1964, IFD-Survey 1095; Jan. 1965, IFD-Survey 1097; Feb. 1965, IFDSurvey 1098; March 1965, IFD-Survey 2000; April 1965, IFD-Survey 2001; May 1965, IFD-Survey 2002; June 1965, IFD-Survey 2003; July 1965; IFD-Survey 2004; Aug. 1965, IFD-Survey 2005; Sept. 1965, IFD-Survey 2006.
Figure 4. The Pattern of 1965 Is Repeated in 1972-Climate of Opinion Changes
While Voting Intentions Remain Unchanged
During the l a s t days o f t h e campaign b u t t h r e e per cent o f t h e v o t e r s change i n t h e direction o f the pressure o f the climate Voting i n t e n t i o n : C h r i s t i a n Democrats S o c i a l Democrats 0000"000 Climate: C h r i s t i a n Democrats w i l l win S o c i a l Democrats w i l l win .;==
Oct. 9-14 Oct.17-21 Oct.24-28 NOV. 1-6 NOV. 9-14 NOV. 19, 1972") SOURCE:Oct. 9-14, IFD-Survey 2086/1; Oct. 17-21, IFD-Survey 2086/11; Oct. 24-28, IFD-Survey 2087/1; Nov. 1-6, IFD-Survey 2087/11; Nov. 9-14, IFD-Survey 2088.
election forecast, identical with official election results.
is, increasing expectation developed for the victory of one side-survey results which were not published at that time-this shift had to be due to other causes, for example to the observation of other parts of the social environment. In order to measure how far supporters of one or the other side are ready to stand up for their opinion on political party issues, one might before elections ask about willingness to use campaign buttons or car stickers, or efforts to convince opponents or persons who are undecided. A question measuring readiness to display one's opinion-measured separately beforehand-which is suitable for every kind of subject matter and which has been used continuously since 1971 by the Allensbach Institute, runs as follows: "Assuming that you have five hours of traintravel ahead of you, and somebody in your compartment begins to talk about . . . . Would you like to talk with this person or would you rather not talk?" (Noelle-Neumann, 1974). Following the split-ballot method, half the respondents are told that the fellow-traveller on the train is arguing for party X or opinion X and the other half is told that he is arguing against X. In this way, we get the following four yardsticks for the climate of opinion: (1) Percent ready to enter into conversation. Our results to date show that this percentage depends not only on the difficulty or abstractness of
TURBULENCES IN T H E CLIMATE O F OPINION
the subject under discussion, but also on the interest or saliency of the topic: higher or lower readiness to enter into an argument give us a measure for saliency. One of the highest values measured so far was found in the fall of 1975: 58 percent of respondents were willing to join in a conversation on the subject of what is more important, liberty or equality. (2) The strength of the readiness to stand up for one's opinion among different demographic groups as an indication for each group's share in the formation of the climate of opinion. (3) Public commitment behavior of the opponents in some controversial issue. At the beginning and towards the end of changes in the climate of opinion, minorities-avant garde and hard core-are more willing to stand up for their opinion than the majority, while during the hot phase, when the new opinion actually begins to prevail, those who think that they are, or soon will be, the majority, are more willing to d o SO. (4) The degree to which the readiness to stand up for one's opinion depends on whether the partner in the discussion is on one's side or an opponent. Supporters of all political opinions react most sensitively to pressures from the environment, as can be shown in the following example of the use of the fourth measuring device. Between 1974 and 1976 we asked twice about the readiness to talk to a supporter, or-in half the cases- to an opponent of the Social Democrats during a five-hour train ride. The climate of opinion in 1974 was favorable to the Social Democrats. During this time the public commitment behavior of the supporters of the Christian Democratic Party clearly depended on whether a partisan or an opponent was in the train compartment, while supporters of the Social Democrats were not worried, and were ready to argue regardless of whether their fellow traveller was partisan or opponent. The climate of opinion had changed in 1976-negatively for the Social Democrats, positively for the Christian Democrats. Now we saw the opposite kind of picture: a sensitive consideration among the supporters of the Social Democrats whether it was a partisan or an opponent who was leading the discussion in the train compartment, and, on the other hand, among the supporters of the Christian Democrats a readiness to argue regardless of the attitudes of fellow travellers. Measurements taken in between showed the development, for example a strong readiness for public commitment among the supporters of the Social Democrats after Helmut Schmidt became Chancellor in 1975, but then increasing caution to avoid isolation (Table 1). With these results the guess that supporters of the left (SPD) are generally more ready to stand up for their opinions is refuted. This was not yet clear in 1974 when observations over a period of time were missing. These sensitive reactions cannot be simply interpreted as bandwagon
Table 1. The Change of Climate Between 1974 and 1976 Supporters o f Christian Democrats n
Fall 1974 Willmg tojoln in a conversation on the preferred partywith a sympath~zer with an opponent
Supporters o f
n - -
Spring 1976 Willing to join in a conversation on the preferred party with a sympathizer 46 with an opponent 44
SOURCE: Allensbach Archives, ID-Surveys 3010 and 3023.
NOTE:It is a sign of weakness for a political party when a supporter is inclined to discuss party politics with a sympathizer, but disinclined to engage in a similar discussion with a party opponent. It is a sign of strength when a supporter is just as ready to discuss party politics with sympathizers and opponents. In the fall of 1974 the Christian Democrats feel relatively weak. They are ready to enter into a conversation with supporters only, but are diffident if they have to face opponents. The Social Democrats are equally ready to enter into a conversation whether they are among supporters or opponents. Two years later, the situation is reversed. The Christian Democrats have caught up in the meantime and are equally ready to speak up among supporters or opponents. The Social Democrats, who now feel relatively weak, are ready to speak up only among supporters, but no longer among opponents.
effects, as the wish to be on the winning side. The reactions are better explained as an attempt to avoid isolation. Since the first voting studies, the well-known phenomenon that after an election more people claim that they voted for the victorious party than is shown by the actual votes received by this party has been interpreted as a bandwagon effect. Reality seems to be more complicated. After the election for the German Bundestag of 1972 we could show through panel analysis that there was n o general tendency to maintain that one had voted for the victorious Social Democratic Party. This tendency appeared only among members of those groups whose majority had voted SPD, for example, young people and workers. Among the members of groups who in general had voted for the Christian Democrats, the opposite tendency could be demonstrated, namely the "correction" of the voting decision to make it fit in with one's own group, for example among older or upper-class people in the direction towards the Christian Democrats. Moreover, memories exaggerating voting decisions for the victorious party d o not simply remain static after election day, but move in conjunction with changes in the climate of opinion. The degree of exagger-
TURBULENCES IN T H E CLIMATE OF OPINION
ation or understatement can therefore be used as an indicator of the climate of opinion. If we investigate relationships systematically over a longer period of time, we even find cases where remembered voting decisions for the victor of the election remain behind the actual proportion of votes for this party. Thus in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1965, fewer voters claimed to have voted for each of the two big parties than had actually voted for them. Most remarkable is the sensitivity of the data yielded by the use of social clibate indicators. What d o most people think? Which opinions are on the increase? If a faction considers itself to represent the majoritywith only a few percent of doubters who see their own opinion in the minority-and if this faction also sees its future majority assured and hardly shows any uncertainty in its assumptions about the social environment, this should certainly be regarded as an indication for further (positive) developments. The same in reverse goes for the uncertainty in the other faction which is divided over the question of majority or minority, often evading an answer by saying "undecided." This uncertainty allows the prognosis of defeat for that faction (Tables 2a and 2b).
Testing Variations of the Threat of Isolation Can we demonstrate that it is really the fear of isolation that produces the tendency to keep silent? For this purpose, we developed a test comparing one half of the respondents who react under something like the normal pressure of the climate of opinion with the other half for whom the controversy and the possible threat of isolation are called to attention. The test is designed as a field experiment according to the split-balTable 2a. Winning and Losing Factions Differ in Self-Assurance Question: "Quite apart from your own opinion: what do you think: are most people in the Federal Republic o f Gern~anyfor or against the death penalty?" March 1971
Most people are for the death penalty Most people are against the death penalty Opinions are divided half and half Impossible to say
SOURCE:Allensbach Archives, IfD-Survey 2069
Opponents o f Death Penalty: Winning Faction ( n = 280)
Partisans of Death Penalty: Losing Faction ( n = 175)
12 64 15 9
38 19 29 14
Table 2b. Winning and Losing Factions Differ in View of the Future Question. " D o you think that in a few years the death penalty could be re-introduced, or do you think that improbable?" -
March I971 Opponents of Death Penalty: Winning Faction ( n = 280)
Partisans of Death Penalty: Losing Faction ( n = 175)
Death penalty could be re-introduced Improbable Impossible to say, no opinion
SOURCE: Allensbach Archive, ID-Survey 2069.
NOTE:In 1972 the "winning faction" could win a relative majority
lot method. W e take as an example the subject of smoking in the presence of nonsmokers. The following questions were used in a population survey with about 2,000 interviews: 1. A question to identify smokers, categorized by smokers of cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and average number of cigarettes, pipes, and cigars smoked daily. 2. An attitude question: "There are many occasions when smokers and nonsmokers get together and then the question arises: Should smokers forego smoking or should they simply smoke. Here, on this list you see two viewpoints. What is your opinion, what viewpoint do you agree with?" The two viewpoints listed read: "In the presence of nonsmokers a smoker should forego smoking completely. It would be inconsiderate to smoke because for those who never smoke, it is very unpleasant to have to breathe smoky air." And: "One cannot demand that a smoker completely forego smoking if nonsmokers are present. It is not all that irksome for nonsmokers." 3. The question introducing the experimental factor, posed in half of the interviews only, consists of a sentence completion test showing two persons in conversation. One person says: "I feel that smokers are inconsiderate. They force other people to breathe noxious smoke." T h e other person begins with the words: "Well, I feel. . . ." The respondent is asked by the interviewer to finish the sentence. Eighty-eight percent of respondents followed this request. At this point, the contents of the sentence completions are not important. The sentence completion test was only chosen to strengthen the aggression stimulus through the pressure to give an answer. The control group is not presented with the sentence completion test. According to the split-ballot method (Cantril, 1947; Noelle-
TURBULENCES IN THE CLIMATE O F OPINION
Neumann, 1970) experimental and control group are divided randomly and thus statistically equal. 4. T o both groups of respondents the question about their readiness to talk: "Let us assume that you have a five-hour train ride before you and somebody in your compartment begins to talk and says: In the presence of nonsmokers a smoker should forego smoking completely. Would you like to join in the conversation with this person or would you not especially like to?" Answer categories provided: Would like to join-Not especially-Undecided. 5. T o both groups of respondents the question about their assessment of the social environment: "Regardless of your own opinion, how do you think most people feel: Are most people in the Federal Republic of Germany of the opinion that smokers should forego smoking in the presence of nonsmokers or that they should feel free to smoke?" W e want to test the assumption that smokers who uphold the right to smoke in the presence of nonsmokers are more likely to keep silent if the threat to isolate themselves with this attitude is called to their attention (Table 3). With the help of this test we can observe, among smokers as well as among nonsmokers, our initial statement in thesis 4: "Individuals who, when observing their social environments, notice that their own personal opinion is spreading . . . will voice this opinion self-confidently in public." Table 4 shows our findings for nonsmokers. An Instrument to Measure Polarization As a further methodological suggestion based on the theory of public opinion here proposed, we mentioned the development of an instrument to measure polarization. W e begin with the following assumption: the more acute a controversy, the more adherents of opposing viewpoints Table3. Test of the Hypothesis of Silence: When the Threat of Isolation is Called to Attention Smokers Who Claim Right to Smoke in Presence of Nonsmokers
Respondents willing to join in a conversation on the subject of smoking in presence of nonsmokers Respondents not willing to do so Undecided
Without Being Alerted to Threat of Isolation ( n = 225)
After Being Alerted to Threat of Isolation (n = 253)
48.4 41.3 10.3
39.5 45.1 15.4 --
ELISABETH N O E L L E - N E U M A N N
Table 4. Test of the Hypothesis of Silence: When Support to Own Opinion Is Assured Nonsmokers W h o Demand That Smokers
Forego Smoking in the Presence o f
Without Support With Support from an Aggressive from an Aggressive Partisan Partisan ( n = 330) ( n = 197) Respondents willing to join in a conversation on the subject of smoking in presence of nonsmokers Respondents not willing to discuss Undecided
37.3 50.6 12.1
48.5 36.7 14.8
avoid each other. The more the adherents of opposing viewpoints avoid each other, the more the estimates of the climate of opinion will differ because they judge more and more on the basis of impressions from different social circle^.^ The instrument will be demonstrated using the case of the federal election campaign of 1976. The interview question about the climate of opinion for the Christian Democratic Party has been employed before. It runs: "Regardless of your personal opinion, d o you think most people in the Federal Republic are holding a favorable opinion of the Christian Democratic Party, or don't you think so?" In order to measure the congruence o r distance of the assessments of the climate of opinion among partisans and opponents of the Christian Democratic Party, we use the measure of discrepancy D = introduced by Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957). Thus it can be shown how during the election year of 1976 the notions about a favorable or unfavorable climate of opinion for the Christian Democratic Party deviate more and more from each other (Table 5). The highest measures of polarization as shown by the discrepancy between assessments resulted from views about the favorable or unfavorable climate of opinion for Chancellor Willy Brandt in January 1971 (D = 78.7) and for the treaties with the Eastern countries (D = 71.1). An especially low discrepancy resulted in April 1976 from the question whether or not a member of the Communist Party should be admitted as judge (D = 12.2).
' This is a shortened exposition emphasizing the assessment of the climate of opinion through personal contacts, personal observations. In fact, however, the mass media play an important part for the assessment of the climate of opinion. This connection can only be treated in a more detailed description of this measure of polarization.
TURBULENCES IN THE CLIMATE OF OPINION
Table 5. Polarization of Opinions about Christian Democrats in Election Year 1976 Measured by Growing Discrepancy of Assessments of Climate of Opinion by Partisans and Opponents
Question: "Regardless of your personal opinion, do you think most people in the Federal Republic are holding a favorable opinion of the Christian Democratic Party, or don't you think so?" Partisans of Christian Opponents of Christian Democratic Party Democratic Party January June Sept. 1976 January June Sept. 1976 ( n = 258) ( n = 179) ( n = 331) ( n = 229) ( n = 244) ( n = 279)
Most hold favorable opinion Most do not hold favorable opinion Undecided
Discrepancy of assessments ofclimate of opinion D=
6 37 32 39 11 4 27 30 24 46 50 49 - - - - - 100 100 100 100 100 100 January 1976
June 19 76
Summary Defining public opinion as controversial opinion that one is able to express in public without becoming isolated, and noting the tendency of individuals to assess the climate of opinion and its trends so as not to isolate themselves, we derive new tools for measuring public opinion through survey research: 1. Measures showing how the individual respondent assesses the climate of opinion and its future development. These measures prove to be more sensitive to change than questions about the respondent's own opinions. 2. Measures of the willingness to stand up for one's opinions which show self-confidence-or lack of it-based on this sensitive quasi-statistical sense for the distribution of majority and minority trends. Readiness to join in conversations under varying conditions serves as an indication of the degree of confidence to be on the winning side. This confidence in turn influences the climate of opinion in a spiralling process. 3. A measure of polarization between partisans of opposing viewpoints shows the process whereby two camps are formed whose members avoid each other and listen only to members of their own camp. The quasi-statistical sense is thus impaired. Examples from surveys between 1965 and December 1976 demonstrate how these instruments measure unobtrusive changes and even predict developments in the climate of opinion.
References Allport, Floyd H . 1937 "Toward a science of public opinion." Public Opinion Quarterly 1:7-23 Cantril, Hadley 1947 Gauging Public Opinion. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Fields, James M., and Howard Schuman 1976-77 "Public beliefs about the beliefs of the public." Public Opinion Quarterly 40:427-448 Lazarsfeld, Paul F., Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet 1968 The People's Choice. New York: Columbia University Press. Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth 1970 "Wanted: rules for wording structured questionnaires." Public Opinion Quarterly 34:191-201 1974 "The spiral of silence. a theory of public opinion." Journal of Communication 24:43-5 1. O'Gorman, Hubert, with Stephen L. Garry 1376-77 "Pluralistic ignorance-a replication and extension." Public Opinion Quarterly 40:449-458. Osgood, Charles E., George J. Suci, and Percy H. Tannenbaum 1957 The Measurement of Meaning. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.