Reading public opinion: The influence of news coverage on perceptions of public sentiment

Diana C. Mutz, Joe Soss

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    94 Scopus citations


    This study traces the effects of a purposefully chosen news agenda on the perceived and actual issue opinions of members of the mass public. Using a year-long, quasi-experimental design, we analyzed a newspaper's attempt to move community opinion and bring about policy change. We examined the success of these efforts from the perspective of their intended effects on public opinion and from the perspective of their unintended effects on perceptions of the broader political environment. Overall, our findings suggest that this strategy is extremely limited in its ability to bring about changes in the opinions of individual members of the mass public or even changes in the salience they attach to an issue at a personal level. Nonetheless, we find that this practice may have important effects on citizens' perceptions of the salience the community as a whole attaches to an issue and on their perceptions of the dominant opinion climate within their communities. Although these effects may not be identical to the goals of the news organization, the ability to alter the perceptual environment in which policy changes transpire implies that news organizations may be able to facilitate indirectly the very changes they seek.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)431-451
    Number of pages21
    JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Jan 1 1997

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