The Spiral of Silence, the Pundification of the Populous and the Blind Taste Test

Several decades ago, the German pollster Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (who worked for a time at a pro-Nazi paper) put forward the notion of the Spiral of Silence, in part to explain why people in Germany went along with the Nazis:

Observations made in one context spread to another and encouraged people either to proclaim their views or to swallow them and keep quiet until, in a spiraling process, the one view dominated the public scene and the other disappeared from public awareness as its adherents became mute. This is the process that can be call a “spiral of silence.” [book on google books]

I think we see a related phenomenon in our society. There’s the image of choice (McCain/Obama), but anything beyond that is rendered null and void. One of the main mechanisms for this is what I call the pundification of the populous. Most citizens no longer are. They are wannabe pundits, they have become pundified. The want to talk about who’s up, who’s down, who is “electable,” who “won the debate last night,” etc. Almost anything other than what their deepest beliefs are, what they want the world to look like in their heart.

One tool to get people to get grounded back to their own belief systems is “blind taste test” polling. This method of “polling” asks people what they think about various issues and then tells them what candidates are closest to them. This approach is taken by GlassBooth.org. (Note that this page excludes Baldwin and other candidates; also, it is rather counter-intuitive in how it is set up for my taste. If someone builds a better one, I’d be happy to link. Note past efforts include Matt Waterman’s very analytical one for the 2008 primary race. USA Today had one that was quite good and visually appealing, but took it down. Here’s a picture of what it looked like. They now have one that is pathetically restricted to Obama and McCain.)

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