Skip to content

Walter Lippmann Public Opinion Bibliography Examples

In what is widely considered the most influential book ever written by Walter Lippmann, the late journalist and social critic provides a fundamental treatise on the nature of human information and communication. As Michael Curtis indicates in his introduction to this edition. Public Opinion qualifies as a classic by virtue of its systematic brilliance and literary grace. The work is divided into eight parts, covering such varied issues as stereotypes, image making, and organized intelligence. The study begins with an analysis of "the world outside and the pictures in our heads, " a leitmotif that starts with issues of censorship and privacy, speed, words, and clarity, and ends with a careful survey of the modern newspaper. The work is a showcase for Lippmann's vast erudition. He easily integrated the historical, psychological, and philosophical literature of his day, and in every instance showed how relevant intellectual formations were to the ordinary operations of everyday life. Public Opinion is of enduring significance for communications scholars, historians, sociologists, and political scientists.

From the beginning of modern polling, social scientists have debated over what public opinion is and how to measure it. The famous “Lippmann–Dewey Debate” between Walter Lipmann (Lippmann 1922, Lippmann 2009) and John Dewey (Dewey 1954) put these questions into sharp relief. Lippmann argued that no real public existed, and that we should therefore not expect to run government according to its views. Dewey, by contrast, argued that citizens formed publics when there was something to debate about. The essential ideas in this debate formed the background for more technical discussions such as the definition of “attitudes” in Allport 1935 as the underlying raw material of public opinion. Childs 1939 and especially Gallup and Rae 1940 are prime examples of how a technique of scientific measurement helped define and crystallize the concept of public opinion for scientists and citizens alike.

  • Allport, Gus W. 1935. Attitudes. In A handbook of social psychology. Edited by Carl Murchison, 798–844. Worcester, MA: Clark Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Allport introduces the social scientific concept of attitudes as underlying, relatively stable mental states of individuals. Attitudes direct how an individual will develop an opinion or view about a particular topic, but they are not themselves opinions. Instead, attitudes determine how a person will process new information and new questions in order to generate her opinion.

  • Childs, Harwood L. 1939. “By public opinion I mean”—. Public Opinion Quarterly 3.2: 327–336.

    DOI: 10.1086/265298E-mail Citation »

    Perhaps the strongest statement from the early period of the claim that public opinion was what polls measured.

  • Dewey, John. 1954. The public and its problems. New York: Swallow Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book was a direct response to Lippmann’s pessimistic view of the public. Dewey intended to determine where publics come from and what they can (and can’t) do. Optimistic about everyday citizens’ ability to form ideas about public life, yet pessimistic about trends that lead citizens to avoid politics, Dewey argued that publics emerge when people share a concern about some problem. This disagreement became known as the “Lippmann–Dewey Debate.” First published by Henry Holt in 1927.

  • Gallup, George, and Saul Forbes Rae. 1940. The pulse of democracy: The public-opinion poll and how it works. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    E-mail Citation »

    Gallup was the founder of the legendary polling organization that bears his name. In this early book, he states the case that polling provides a necessary backbone for modern democracy. Its theory is pragmatic, not principled, and demonstrates the natural affinity between democracy and public opinion polling. More than sixty years later, Frank Newport returned to the same themes for the 21st century in Polling Matters (Newport 2004, cited under General Statements).

  • Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

    E-mail Citation »

    The esteemed journalist Walter Lippmann holds that, in general, citizens do not actually hold public opinions. Instead, most citizens understand their own private concerns and do a relatively poor job of understanding how those concerns relate to the wider public world. Because of this, democratic government ought to strive to be efficient and effective, not so much responsive or deliberative.

  • Lippmann, Walter. 2009. The phantom public. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

    E-mail Citation »

    Following his prior book, Public Opinion (Lippmann 1922), here Lippmann declares that there is no actual public. Rather, democratic government imagines there to be a public in order to make government more legitimate. Originally published in 1925 (New York: Harcourt Brace).