Spiral of Silence Theory

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Spiral of Silence Theory
Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann’s spiral of silence is a theory that was developed in 1974 and as the founder and the director of the Public Opinion Research Center in Allensbach in Germany; she has found evidence of how the spread of public opinion is formed. The term spiral of silence refers to the increasing pressure people feel to conceal their views they think they are the minority. People will be unwilling to publicly express their opinion if they are in the minority and they will also be more vocal if they believe they are a part of the majority. Thus, the more marginalized you become, the less you speak and so you spiral into a fully marginalized position. Neumann’s claim are based on previous collaborative research as well as her own over the years and came up with four factors that contribute to her theory; but also has its share of critiques and flaws that will be discussed later.

Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann is a German political scientist and introduced this theory to try to explain how public opinion formed. She wondered why the Germans supported wrong political positions that led to the rise of Nazism in the 1930s-1940s. Adolf Hitler dominated the whole society and the minority Jews became silent due to the fear of isolation or separation and some may argue death. Neumann believes there are five factors liked to the spiral of silence. According to Noelle-Neumann, pluralistic ignorance is one of the factors and is the mistaken idea that people believe everyone thinks as they do. The mass media can create pluralistic ignorance by focusing on the spread of one opinion and muting the minority opinion, causing people to believe what they believe is what everyone else believes also. She states, “The effects of mass media increase in proportion to the degree in which selective perception is made difficult.” Neumann admits that written words in the media such as magazines, newspaper and any current literature, it’s possible for any reader to avoid contrary opinions. But she thinks television is a different story. In my research I found a good example to illustrate this claim. “A farm worker regularly received his wages at the end of the day on Friday. Each week he then walked to the local tavern and lost all his money gambling in a backroom poker game of five card draw. After a few months a friend took him aside and advised, “Don’t play with those guys any more – they’re cheating you blind.” “Oh I know the game is rigged,” the farmhand replied, “but it’s the only game in town.” [Griffin, Em. "Spiral of Silence." A First Look at Communciation Theory. 7th ed. N.p.: McGraw-Hill, n.d. N. pag. Print].

Television is usually the only game in town. Television has an all surrounding presence, its single point of view, and repetition message that is seen by numerous people every second on the day, every day. The power of television overrides selective exposure, therefore biasing a whole nation’s judgment of the prevailing opinion. Given media’s role in crystallizing public opinion, the media becomes a crucial aspect of those who desire to shape the public mood. It is no longer good enough for powerful influential people either in politics or the business world to just have these high positions in society to change public opinion. They must be ready and willing to control the media. That gives anyone with friends in high places or inherited wealth an advantage over the average citizen in programming the quasi-statistical organ that Neumann says reader and viewers have. Only half facetiously, she claims the people have a quasi-statistical organ, a sixth sense that picks up information quickly and unconsciously about what the general public is feeling and thinking. This is another factor for the spiral of silence and it describes an “innate ability,” to gauge public opinion. The mass media plays a large part in determining what the dominant opinion is, since our direct observation is limited to a small...
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