Opinion Leaders: Who Are They & Why Do They Matter?

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  • 0:01 Opinion Leaders
  • 1:29 Why Opinion Leaders Matter
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will discuss how individuals known as opinion leaders shape the public's perceptions on complex issues, such as politics. There will be a short quiz following the lesson to check your understanding.

Opinion Leaders

Growing up, did you ever ask a friend for advice to help you make a decision? For me, it was trying to decide on what type of car I should buy. I had to consider things like: What type of car was safest? What was the most reliable model? What did all those performance buzzwords mean? Luckily, I had a friend who knew a lot about cars, so I really valued his opinion when deciding for myself. Sure, I could have decided on my own, but that would have taken more time and knowledge than I currently had. However, the fact that I had someone who's opinion I trusted made my decision that much easier.

The same goes for decisions made in politics. Little of what happens in our political system is clearly black or white. In fact, many political issues rest in an ambiguous grey area. It doesn't help matters much when political candidates often try to avoid feeling too strongly on a topic so as not to alienate a voter base. Instead, when something happens in contemporary politics, we turn to people we trust to gauge how we should feel about something. We call these people opinion leaders.

In politics, opinion leaders interpret and disseminate political messages for the average person to help him or her understand complex political issues. Typically, the opinion leader is held in high esteem by those who accept his or her opinions. Examples of political opinion leaders include political pundits, or self-professed experts in a particular field, especially those who are called upon to provide comments or opinions in the media, such as public officials, celebrities, and media personalities.

Why Opinion Leaders Matter

The public on the whole has grown heavily skeptical towards politicians because people often feel that politicians may be attempting to manipulate them into feeling a certain way about an issue. Thus, what makes opinion leaders so important is that they are often seen as trustworthy and without a particular purpose. People are more inclined to accept a political message from someone they know rather than an elected official whom they have never met. In fact, for a brief moment, just think about something simple, like what type of clothes you should buy. You would probably trust the opinion of a fashionable friend over a faceless company that may just want your money.

And, for much more complex issues, like foreign policy, economic management, climate change, and immigration, it would take too much time and expertise for any one individual person to be educated on all of those things themselves. Thus, we look towards opinion leaders to help us out.

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