The them into feeling a certain way

The following lesson will discuss how individuals known as opinion leaders shape the public’s perceptions on complex issues, such as politics. There will be a short quiz following the lesson to check your understanding.

Opinion Leaders

Growing up, did you ever ask a friend for advice to help you make a decision? For me, it was trying to decide on what type of car I should buy.

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I had to consider things like: What type of car was safest? What was the most reliable model? What did all those performance buzzwords mean? Luckily, I had a friend who knew a lot about cars, so I really valued his opinion when deciding for myself. Sure, I could have decided on my own, but that would have taken more time and knowledge than I currently had. However, the fact that I had someone who’s opinion I trusted made my decision that much easier.The same goes for decisions made in politics. Little of what happens in our political system is clearly black or white. In fact, many political issues rest in an ambiguous grey area. It doesn’t help matters much when political candidates often try to avoid feeling too strongly on a topic so as not to alienate a voter base.

Instead, when something happens in contemporary politics, we turn to people we trust to gauge how we should feel about something. We call these people opinion leaders.In politics, opinion leaders interpret and disseminate political messages for the average person to help him or her understand complex political issues. Typically, the opinion leader is held in high esteem by those who accept his or her opinions.

Examples of political opinion leaders include political pundits, or self-professed experts in a particular field, especially those who are called upon to provide comments or opinions in the media, such as public officials, celebrities, and media personalities.

Why Opinion Leaders Matter

The public on the whole has grown heavily skeptical towards politicians because people often feel that politicians may be attempting to manipulate them into feeling a certain way about an issue. Thus, what makes opinion leaders so important is that they are often seen as trustworthy and without a particular purpose. People are more inclined to accept a political message from someone they know rather than an elected official whom they have never met. In fact, for a brief moment, just think about something simple, like what type of clothes you should buy.

You would probably trust the opinion of a fashionable friend over a faceless company that may just want your money.And, for much more complex issues, like foreign policy, economic management, climate change, and immigration, it would take too much time and expertise for any one individual person to be educated on all of those things themselves. Thus, we look towards opinion leaders to help us out.A classic example of using opinion leaders to engage the public on a political issue was the use of opinion leaders by Al Gore to raise awareness about climate change in his Climate Project.

Gore found opinion leaders by recruiting individuals who were educated on environmental issues and saw themselves as influential in their community and among their friends and family. From there, he trained the opinion leaders on the information he wanted them to spread and enabled them to influence their communities. By using opinion leaders, Gore was able to educate and influence many Americans to take notice of climate change and change their actions. And so utilizing opinion leaders can alter how supportive people are of a particular political issue and can either help or harm a politician’s agenda.In politics, however, the media plays a crucial role as an opinion leader because oftentimes people don’t have someone they know that can educate them on a particular issue. Thus, people start to look towards media pundits who they see as likable or similar to themselves and make them into opinion leaders.

There are in fact entire cable TV networks dedicated to forming pundits into political opinion leaders. The problem becomes that media pundits may be biased, and so some opinion leaders may spread skewed information that people use to form their own opinions. So, while opinion leaders do help us form our opinions, we do need to make sure we do a little fact checking on our own whenever possible.

Lesson Summary

In politics, opinion leaders interpret and disseminate political messages for the average person to help him or her understand complex political issues.

Typically, the opinion leader is held in high esteem by those who accept his or her opinions. Examples of political opinion leaders include political pundits, or self-professed experts in a particular field, especially as called upon to provide comments or opinions in the media, such as public officials, celebrities, and media personalities. They are important because they help shape people’s opinions on complex issues that they otherwise don’t have the time or expertise to learn on their own. Utilizing opinion leaders can alter how supportive people are of a particular political issue and can either help or harm a politician’s agenda.

Learning Outcomes

After reviewing this lesson, you’ll have the ability to:

  • Describe the roles of opinion leaders and pundits and identify examples of them
  • Explain why opinion leaders are important and the impacts they can have on the public’s opinion on political issues
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