In our multi-faceted society, it is often critical for important stakeholders to evaluate the weight of public opinion before embarking on ventures that deeply affect people’s lives. It is especially important to probe public opinion on controversial issues – and we are not short of those – not only to discover what the majority of Guyanese think about these issues, but also why they hold such views and what they want to see happen.
Life in Guyana is replete with examples of this necessity. For instance, as insignificant as it may seem to the casual observer, it would have been particularly interesting, for example, for a comprehensive survey to have been done in relation to the erection of elevated walkways, and the reasons for such structures. It would have been even more absorbing to hear the opinion of the everyday man and woman with respect to the utterances in support of that development.
Unfortunately, almost all attempts by the media and other responsible and qualified groups to venture into the realm of assessing public opinion in Guyana would be quickly deemed far from “scientific” and described as producing highly questionable results. Of course those who are fiercely protective of their “brand” would rubbish any negatives.
It is pertinent to note that many of the viewpoints used by naysayers, and purporting to represent the majority opinion of the Guyanese public, are entertaining but meaningless, because they were obtained under seriously flawed, unscientific circumstances.
For instance, it is quite evident that many persons erroneously regard the opinion of the majority of letter writers to newspapers, or the viewpoint of the majority of those who call in on various TV talk shows, as representing the opinion of the public at large.
The reality is that many opinions that are widely publicised in Guyana are specifically expressed to advance particular causes. Clearly, certain special interest groups try to give the impression that the views are those of the entire country.
Such groups, which include some media houses, are well aware that public opinion can be manipulated by weighing to produce some desired result. That is why Guyana experiences the phenomenon of different sources presenting widely divergent viewpoints on various issues as though these represent the prevailing public view.
In this flawed process, many persons overlook the fact that public opinion is not static. The people’s views about an issue develop and change over time, according to many variables, like the amount of information available or the emergence of societal pressures. Sometimes public opinion is an evolutionary process, moving from poorly informed reactions to more carefully considered conclusions.
Recognition that public opinion can progress in stages is a key element of properly assessing same. Changeable opinion is sometimes mistaken for settled public judgment, with unfortunate consequences.
The initial public view of an issue is often affected by strong, emotionally-laden feelings and opinions, which can be unstable and changeable. The raw and unformed quality of public opinion, at this stage, may be vastly different at a later stage, when the populace is better informed and have a better understanding of an issue or problem.
In light of this, it stands to reason that when the resolution of important public issues hinges on the majority viewpoint of the public, there should be extreme caution regarding the results of consultations or any other assessment of the public’s opinion.
It is certainly important to have access to reliable, stable and accurate assessments of the opinions held by the majority of the Guyanese people on various important issues, which accurately reflect their values, priorities, and beliefs.
If Guyana could acquire the means of accurately measuring the weight of public opinion, this would go a long way to help bring about the fair and reasonable resolution of our many challenging issues.
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