Importance and Criteria of Public Opinion to Government

Opinion cannot be regarded as public unless it is substantially shared by the dominant portion of the community. This does not, however, mean that it should be an opinion of the majority. Nor is unanimity required, although the more generally an opinion is held the more public it can be said to be.

In fact, progress begins with the minority and it is completed, as George William Curtis says, “by persuading the majority, by showing reason and the advantage of the step forward, and that is accomplished by appealing to the intelligence of the majority.” History has sufficient examples to prove that no reform in any country met with popular favour at the outset.

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In most cases a few persons took up a cause arousing very great opposition in the beginning. Their persistent efforts, however, enabled them to enlist popular opinion in their favour.

Willoughby says, “In any community of men that what has assumed the character of public opinion is the result not of the opinion of all its members but only of those persons, few or many, who are led to think and to form judgements regarding matters of general interest.”

A true public opinion is, therefore, one which is promoted by due regard to public welfare. It rests on weighing the facts and is not the result of a prejudice or an impression. It is an enduring opinion of the people.

The true worth of public opinion is that while the minority may not share the majority opinion, but they must feel by conviction, not by fear or coercion, to accept it as it aims at the good of all and no sectional interests are involved. If the majority promotes its own interests disregardful of the interests of the community as a whole, it is not a genuine public opinion.

On the other hand, if the majority opinion is inspired by the ideals of the good of the community, it is a genuine public opinion. It means that in a representative government where the majority party holds the reins of administration and decisions are taken by majority of votes.

The majority party should so conduct itself that the opinion held by it is par excellence and the legislation it enacts has the spontaneity of acceptance by all sections of the people otherwise there shall be neither peace nor contentment nor obedience to laws nor loyal devotion to the State.

If the criterion of law is that it should be the expression of the will of the people, it is a condition precedent that it must be representative of the popular opinion.

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