[lit-ideas] Re: interaction of polls and public opinion

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2006 11:07:06 +0900

On 10/25/06, Eric Yost <eyost1132@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

If people watch televised poll results that indicate 30 percent of the public believes X, will that cause an upward shift in the percentage who believe X? Is there a critical polling mass (50 percent? 60 percent?) when a polled opinion about X multiplies itself? And how does the frequency of publicizing polls alter future polled opinion?

I bet John McCreery knows something about this.

There may be such research. If so, I'm unfamiliar with it. A couple of things I have read recently do suggest, however, that the "critical mass" metaphor may not be appropriate in discussing social phenomena.

One critical flaw in the metaphor may be the assumption that there is
only one tipping point, as there is when a nuclear exposion occurs.
Anthropologist/marketing guru Grant McCracken suggests in his new book
_Flocks and Flows_ that cultural phenomena must typically survive five
to six tipping points en route from the chaos of innovation to
becoming conventional wisdom. At each of those tipping points the meme
in question must break through and appeal to a wider audience than the
narrower group to which it first appealed.

A similar point is made in one of the books on network analysis that I
am currently reading as background for my current research project (if
anyone is interested I will try to locate the particular book in
question; at the moment it isn't to hand). The topic is the
application of network analysis to explanation of crowd behavior. The
specific question is why some bar fights fizzle out while others
result in full-scale riots. Here, again, a critical issue appears to
be the way in which the crowd is structured.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that people can be ranked in order
of propensity to become involved in a bar fight, so that 1s tend to
start fights, 2s tend to join in immediately, 3s stay out until a
certain proportion of the crowd is already fighting, 4s stay out
longer, etc. A single 1 can start a riot if there are enough 2s who
will leap in to create a fight big enough for the 3s and then the 4s
to get involved as well. But in a crowd in which there aren't enough
2s the fight fizzles out.

The thrust of both of these analyses is that there isn't a single
"critical mass" threshold. There is, instead, a range of thresholds,
each a function of the structure of the population in question and
(the other side of that coin) the propensities of the individuals who
comprise it.



John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN

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