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Forming Public Opinion Takes Time

Ask people how they feel about the Sept. 11 attacks on America and their response now–14 days later–is bound to vary from their initial response.

That is because public opinion is not static.
“People’s views about an issue can develop and change over time from disconnected, poorly informed reactions to more thoughtful and considered conclusions, from changeable public opinion to settled public judgment,” according to an article entitled “The Seven Stages of Public Opinion” on PublicAgenda.org.
This process involves seven distinct stages, said Daniel Yankelovich, the article’s author and co-founder of Public Agenda.
In the first stage, people become aware of an issue, but do not yet feel a need to act.
In stage two, people move to a sense of urgency, or panic.
Thirdly, the public seeks alternatives for dealing with issues. People turn their “free-floating concern into calls for action,” Yankelovich wrote.
In stage four, people resist trade-offs and believe they can “have it all.”
Then it is time to weigh the pros and cons of the alternatives for dealing with the issue.
“When the public has given a lot of thought to an issue and proposals for addressing it, they begin to hold firmly to their opinions even when presented with unpleasant consequences,” Yankelovich said of stage five.
Stages six and seven are linked. In stage six people accept an idea, and in stage seven they act on that idea.
According to the article, “the final two stages can be grouped together as the stages where the public comes to resolution about an issue.”
Americans find themselves at various stages, and the “resolution” may be a long time in coming for some.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.