The Spiral of Silence affects Fortune panelists

May 18, 2010 • Daily Email Recap

From the World Bank’s Communication for Governance and Accountability Group. This quote and theory help to explain the reluctance of some people to discuss population issues (as epitomized in the story that follows).

“Voicing the opposite opinion, or acting in public accordingly, incurs the danger of isolation. In other words, public opinion can be described as the dominating opinion which compels compliance of attitude and behavior in that it threatens the dissenting individual with isolation, the politician with loss of popular support. Thus the active role of starting a process of public opinion formation is reserved to the one who does not allow himself to be threatened with isolation.” In Memoriam: Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916 – 2010)


Noelle-Neumann is the author of the Spiral of Silence, a theory of public opinion as social control. The essence of the Spiral of Silence is the assumption that people are afraid of being isolated and therefore adjust their opinions to what they perceive as the opinion of the majority. In her words: “… different patterns of behavior are bound for their part to influence the quasi-statistical picture of the distribution of opinions which the individual gains from his social environment. The one opinion confronts him ever more frequently and confidently; the other is heard less and less. The more individuals perceive these tendencies and adapt their views accordingly, the more the one faction appears to dominate and the other to be on the downgrade. Thus the tendency of the one to speak up and the other to be silent starts off a spiraling process which increasingly establishes one opinion as the prevailing one.”
-Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1974). The spiral of silence: A theory of public opinion. Journal of Communication. 24 (2), 43-51.

Here is a panel sponsored by Fortune Magazine in which journalist Poppy Harlow tries to get three panelists to respond to her question about the population problem. All three avoid answering the question. Thanks to Leta Finch for this link where you can see the 4 ½ minute video: http://money.cnn.com/video titled:
9 billion people: Problem or profit (4:32)

From Wikipedia, we learn that Katharine (Poppy) Julia Harlow (May 2, 1982) is an American news anchor and reporter, best known for her journalism at Forbes.com and her work with CNN on television and online. She is currently a business correspondent and anchor at CNNMoney.com based in New York City where she has worked since leaving Forbes.com in 2007, and where she worked as an anchor, reporter and producer. Harlow is a rising star in the cable news industry, going from a modest job at CBS as an intern to appearing on CNN’s CNNMoney.com and on its regular cable program in only three years.


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