Aspects of Public Opinion (Report from the Round Table on Politics and Psychology at the Third National Conference on the Science of Politics, New York, September 7 - 11, 1925)

Louis L. Thurstone

At one of the early sessions Dr. W. V. Bingham presented the psychological problems involved in accident prevention, such as the study of relative effectiveness of different types of road signal, the influence of certain types of advertising near the road signals, the variation in traffic rules among different cities and states as a cause of confusion and accidents, and the problem of examining taxi drivers, truck drivers, and

( 127) drivers generally for certification of proficiency. Several such studies are now being conducted with some promise of very useful results. Another problem is that of examining more carefully by psychiatric methods those drivers who are involved in a second accident in the course of a year, on the assumption that such drivers may have characteristics which make them unsafe in emergencies. One of the main purposes of the studies of automobile accidents is to bring out the objective facts as distinguished from those inquiries which have for their objective the placing of blame. Still another type of problem is the study of the relative effectiveness of different types of punishment for traffic offenders, such as heavy or light fines, newspaper ridicule, confiscation of car either temporarily or permanently, revocation of license, and so on.

Mr. Elliott presented at several sessions the different aspects of his proposal to use interest groups as a source of information regarding public opinion. According to this plan, the numerical strength of the vote in each group would be considered as one important factor, the total size of the group as a second factor. By combining such facts for a number of large groups a fair summary of public opinion on a question might be obtained, and also some indication of the character of the groups that favor or reject any given proposal.

Mr. Leigh reported on his study of the reasons assigned by different groups for or against child labor legislation. He is trying to determine some of the factors that are responsible for changes in public opinion.

Mr. Hartman is making several studies, both in group form and with individuals, of the attitudes of students at Syracuse University on questions of public interest, in order to ascertain how these attitudes are changed by courses of instruction in the School of Citizenship.

Professor Merriam presented to the Round Table some of the discussions of Walter Lippmann in a forthcoming volume on public opinion, in which the author indicates the possibility of introducing objective studies of the subject.



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