Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam describes an essential part of the governance process
Importance Of Public Opinion – Pakistani governance structure has scantily paid any attention to the public opinion as it thinks it can mould the Pakistani polity the way it likes and prefers. Despite being impervious to the importance of public opinion, the decisive segments of Pakistani polity are, however, forced to acknowledge its relevance and importance due to the pressures exerted by the vociferous clamoring of the people from all walks of life. There is hardly any doubt that the people of Pakistan are experiencing probably the toughest time of their national existence and are openly and widely expressing their opinion that is now getting to the point where it cannot be ignored anymore. The result is that the weight of public opinion is now felt clearly in the country with the traditional ruling classes trying to limit the damage though matters are getting out of their control. The ruling classes are actually paying the price of neglecting the imperatives of public opinion and have tried to muzzle it as much possible but it is now obvious that their efforts have miserably failed.
In its very essence, public opinion has always been rated as an important barometer employed to gauge the feelings, sentiments, popularity or dislike about almost matters related to human existence. It is widely accepted that public opinion is the aggregate of individual attitudes or beliefs held by the adult population and if gauged with sincerity and meaningfully interpreted it could well become a poignant example of collective wisdom. In this context public opinion though apparently comprising the complex collection of opinions of many different people and the sum of all their views but, both its explicit and implicit implications are very profound and deeply instructive.
In modern times, public opinion has generated a host of shapes and forms about its nature and essence that are open to diversified interpretations and every such interpretation is open to further reflection. It is in this context it is mentioned that the corpus of public opinion pertains to quantitative measurement of opinion distributions opening vast vistas for public consumption. Public opinions acts as a potent tool aimed at investigating the internal relationships among the individual opinions that make up public opinion on an issue. It also is an interpretative description or analysis of the public role of public opinion and its importance in governance that goes a long way in harmonising various strands of polity and produces satisfaction levels that enhances development. It is very powerful instrument to disseminate the ideas on which opinions are based and of the uses media institutions employ to obtain desired results.
Though public opinion is not a new concept but it started make its mark in the eighteenth century and widespread education and printing facilities enabled people to keep tabs on many developments taking place around them. Gradually this process brought about enlightened opinion making that equipped the informed sources to start shaping policies accordingly. Public opinion gained wide currency due to the process of urbanisation and other political and social forces. For the first time, it became important what people thought simply because forms of political contention changed. The socio-political activity started to shape the overall contours of polities and emerged as the only means to bring about productive change.
This was the time when philosophers and scholars began fine-tuning the sensitive matter of eliciting public opinion and formulating methods to make it the main source of legitimacy in governance. It was accordingly opined that public opinion had the power to ensure that rulers would rule for the greatest happiness of the greater number. This was the legendary utilitarian aspect of thinking and practice. The idea was further developed and clubbed with the concept of public sphere and this space was considered the locale where public opinion can be formed and the proponents of these ideas raised some very potent questions about the practice of arbitrary decision making of groups engaged in governance. In this context they claimed that it is featured as universal access, rational debate and disregard for rank. Slowly these concepts were ingrained in Western democracies and then shifted to rest of the world.
Many though opined that public opinion has the tendency to be susceptible to elite manipulation and it was insisted again and again that it should be disseminated unalloyed devoid of any bias. Since public opinion is seen as a form of collective behaviour which is made up of those who are discussing a given public issue at any one time, therefore, it is required to cut across all aspects of relationship between government and public opinion as the chances of its getting manipulated becomes manifold if such relationship is not shunned. It is accordingly suggested that the distribution of opinions on a wide variety of issues have explored the impact of special interest groups and have contributed to knowledge about the effects of government propaganda and policy. This aspect is required to be paid specific attention as usually the dominant sources of forming public opinion are public leaders and thinkers, common educated class and common people
Over time the special status of public opinion in socio-political structures established and it was considered as the most persuasive tool of devising policies as well as taking important decisions about governance. Many issues in this respect deal with the question of whether the structure of socio-political action should be viewed as a more or less centralised process of acts and decisions by a class of key leaders, representing integrated hierarchies of influence in society or whether it is more accurately envisaged as several sets of relatively autonomous opinion and influence groups, interacting with representative decision makers in an official structure of differentiated governmental authority. The former assumption interprets individual, group and official action as part of a single system and reduces politics and governmental policies to a derivative of three basic analytical terms: society, culture and personality.
The rapid spread of public opinion measurement around the world is a reflection of the number of uses to which it can be put. Public opinion can be accurately obtained through a random sample survey and if the survey comes out credible then it becomes easy for decision makers to act according to the cumulative content of such an exercise. Governments have increasingly found surveys to be useful tools for guiding their public policies and it has become a standard practice of governance in many parts of the world. Many experts believe that public opinion can be influenced by public relations and the political media and every effort should be made to analyse it as rationally as possible. Additionally, mass media utilises a wide variety of advertising techniques to get their message out and change the minds of people. The tide of public opinion becomes more and more crucial during political elections, most importantly elections determining the national executive.
Public Opinion in the modern world has assumed a crucial place in almost fields of human interaction. It is now the most potent form of gauging opinion of the people on wider scale and provides authorities and agencies a credible tool to assess a policy, product or measure. Neglecting public opinion is a potential peril particularly in a situation where the modern cyber technology has added tremendously to its potency providing people to express their opinion widely. The Weekender
Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam is a seasoned social activist