How Mass Media Forms Public Opinion

As described in the last section, the "media" is considered an important agent of political socialization, as it can teach people certain political beliefs or values. Besides the socializing role, the media also serves as a "watchdog", drawing attention to government corruption or mistakes, which promotes government transparency and accountability. The media can also serve an agenda-setting role. By covering some news stories and not others, the media has the power to shape what people will think or talk about. Similarly, by "framing" a story from a particular perspective, the media often influences both public opinion and influence government leaders.

Media can have an important effect on public opinion in several ways.


Learning Objectives

Explain the different ways that the mass media forms public opinion


Key Points

  • Mass media frame the details of the story.
  • Mass media communicate the social desirability of certain ideas.
  • Mass media sets the news agenda, which shapes the public's views on what is newsworthy and important.
  • Increasing scandal coverage, as well as profit-motivated sensationalist media coverage, has resulted in young people holding more negative, distrustful views of government than previous generations.



  • framing: the construction and presentation of a fact or issue "framed" from a particular perspective
  • mass media: The mass media are media technologies like broadcast media and print media that are designed to reach a large audience by mass communication.


Mass media effects on public opinion

Media can have an important effect on public opinion in several ways.

  1. Setting the news agenda, which shapes the public's views on what is newsworthy and important
  2. Framing the details of a story
  3. Communicating the social desirability of certain kinds of ideas

The formation of public opinion starts with agenda-setting by major media outlets throughout the world. This agenda-setting dictates what is newsworthy and how and when it will be reported. The media agenda is set by a variety of different environmental and network factors that determines which stories will be newsworthy.

Another key component in the formation of public opinion is framing. Framing is when a story or piece of news is portrayed in a particular way and is meant to sway the consumers' attitude one way or the other. Most political issues are heavily framed in order to persuade voters to vote for a particular candidate. For example, if Candidate X once voted on a bill that raised income taxes on the middle class, a framing headline would read "Candidate X Doesn't Care About the Middle Class". This puts Candidate X in a negative frame to the newsreader.

Social desirability is another key component of the formation of public opinion. Social desirability is the idea that people in general will form their opinions based on what they believe is the popular opinion. Based on media agenda setting and media framing, most often a particular opinion gets repeated throughout various news mediums and social networking sites until it creates a false vision where the perceived truth is actually very far away from the actual truth.

Public opinion can be influenced by public relations and political media. Additionally, mass media utilizes a wide variety of advertising techniques to get their message out and change the minds of people. Since the 1950s, television has been the main medium for molding public opinion, though the internet is becoming increasingly important in this realm.


Source: Boundless
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Last modified: Tuesday, September 29, 2020, 12:17 PM