Media and Public Opinion in a Fragmented Society
When Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann conceived of and developed her spiral of silence theory in the 1960s and early 1970s, she formulated it in an era when scholars perceived a return to all-powerful media-namely, that the media were able to exert strong eff ects because audience members actively turned to newspapers, television, radio, and magazines to help defi ne social reality. Indeed, the spiral of silence emerged as a theory not only of public opinion, but also of media eff ects. With their ubiquity, consonance, and cumulativeness, the mass media of decades ago allowed individuals to gauge the climate of public opinion and speak out or not, depending on whether they perceived themselves to be in the minority or majority opinion. In this process of eff ects, the media served what Noelle-Neumann (1993) termed an “articulation function,” providing audience members with arguments used to back up their opinions. After all, “if the mass media fail to provide them, there will be no words” (p. 172).