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Marita Carballo e-mail(Login required)
Esteban López-Escobar e-mail(Login required)
Maxwell McCombs e-mail(Login required)


This essay addresses the relationship between communication, public opinion, and democracy, which is evident in Athenian democracy. It briefly considers the complexity of the concept of public opinion, and how it was understood as a political phenomenon accepted in general thinking and political action, as a consequence of the democratic dynamism originated by the printing press. After briefly considering some of the most relevant ideas about this relationship throughout the 19th century, this essay discusses the main attitudes that emerged in the face of public opinion after the First World War, from which the most relevant theories about the effects of media on opinion, behaviours, and action begun to be developed. The study takes into account the development of an empirical science of public opinion, linked to scientific opinion surveys. It summarises how the investigation of the effects of the media goes through a stage in which they are considered irrelevant, until some studies – especially the theories of agenda setting and the spiral of silence– recovered the idea of the powerful effects of the media. Finally, the essay addresses the new challenges posed by the disenchantment with democracy, the loss of credibility of the media, and the way of understanding communication, at a time in which digital technology has facilitated the creation of social media, causing a situation described as the post-truth era, in which the global need for information becomes more evident. The new challenges affect the political science, research on public opinion, and the science of communication, which requires a foundation of greater consistency than the current one.


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