Public Opinion Research
Observed from a macrosociological perspective, the human behavior presents an astounding regularity. In his studies on the suicide, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, used the term “social stream” to explain those consistent patterns. It is a mystery why individuals who do not know each other adopt the same ideas, attitudes and behaviors, why they are carried along, dragged by social streams. Public Opinion, this phantom, is the term that can help us explain that regularity.
Journalists and political actors refer to public opinion as an informal Court open, as Walter Lippmann put it, day and night. The study of this mysterious authority is my main academic emphasis. In my teaching and research activity, I explore the role of public opinion in social, political and economic dynamics.
In my studies on public opinion, I rather focus on the microsociological aspect of the phenomenon. It is not the whole picture, the current state of the issues what attracts my attention, but the psychological mechanisms that move the individual to give up his/her individuality and disappear in the anonymity of the big number.
I have developed the theoretical construct Moral Hypertrophy as well as an empirical research model to detect and evaluate it. Moral Hypertrophy is a morbid sharpening of moral perceptions and feelings. When that happens, certain moral values or principles are considered to be absolute, i.e. applicable at any given time and in any given place.
All our moral values and ideological standpoints can become subject of moral hypertrophy. At this moment, the community exalts specific moral principles and elevates them over anything else. The sensitiveness of its members intensifies, and with it their readiness for the aggression. Aggression must not necessarily adopt the form of physical violence. There are different forms of punishment for deviants in a group. In some cases, the aggression might appear in an active form, such as physical or verbal violence, or different degrees of mockery and derision. In other cases, as Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann points out, the aggression is rather passive. The group just ignores the individual who deviates from the norm, isolates him/her. This form of passive aggression, the social isolation, does not necessarily represent a more lenient punishment. Our social nature explains why a life under such circumstances might become entirely unbearable.le-Neumann often states, does not necessarily represent a more lenient punishment. Our social nature, according to the author, explains why a life under such circumstances becomes entirely unbearable.
Quantitative methodologies are the basis of both my research agenda and my methods courses.
I have gathered a vast experience designing and carrying through public opinion research projects in different countries (Germany, Spain, U.S.). In Germany, I collaborated for years with the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, founded by my professor and mentor Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. Allensbach was the first public opinion research center created in Europe. In this center, I developed a series of public opinion research projects and participated in several electoral opinion polls, as well as in market research projects. This experience materialized in a serious of courses at undergraduate and graduate level that range from the most basic explorative techniques analyzing frequencies, tendencies, and basic correlations to the most sophisticated inferential statistics to establishing prediction models.
My own empirical research focuses on the impact of mass media on public opinion. Thus, I am also familiar with the most common techniques of content analysis. The analysis of public opinion dynamics goes hand in hand with mass media content analysis. I developed research strategies to reveal ideological patterns in the media coverage both in news outlets and narrative artifacts. Recently, I have been exploring deep data mining techniques in social media. The process of extracting information through our activity in those popular digital platforms is becoming one of the most urgent ethical issues to be addressed.
Following the line of studies of my mentor in Germany, Prof. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, I have been exploring the development of public opinion on controversial issue. The foundational work of Noelle-Neumann, the theory of the Spiral of Silence, focuses on the role of the social human nature in public opinion dynamics. Our fear of isolation explains why we decide to speak out or shut up when it comes to expressing our opinion in public settings. Thus, I am interested in detecting isolation threats for those who are perceived to deviate from the sanctioned social streams.
Based on the work of German anthropologist Arnold Gehlen, I am also working on the development of a scale to measure the construct this author called moral hypertrophy (Hypermoral). The concept of moral hypertrophy is key to understand the development of social psychological phenomena such as fundamentalism (in all its different manifestations – religious, ideological, nationalist, etc), populism or political polarization. In my last publications, I explore the tendencies in media usage, with particular focus on the brutal penetration of social media, and how media habits affect the academic performance of the current college generation.
A Map of Worries. How Social Media is Impacting the Perceived Urgency of Issues in the Current College Generation. INTED2023, March, 2023. doi: 10.21125/inted.2023
The Cultural Quotient Scale: In Search for a Consistent Predictor of Academic Performance. ICERI2023. November, 2022. doi: 10.21125/iceri.2022
Impact or Media Consumption Habits on Academic Performance. ICERI2021. November, 2021. doi: 10.21125/iceri.2021
Bidimensional Acculturation and Academic Success Among Latina/o College Students. Journal of Latina/o Psychology. January, 2018
La Opinion Pública en la España de Cervantes (Public Opinion in Cervantes’s Spain). Pamplona. EUNSA. 2013
Honor and Public Opinion. Human Studies. volume 32, number 3.
Everyone Knows. Public Opinion in Philip Roth’s contemporary tragedy “The Human Stain” Philip Roth Studies. Volume 5, number
“Honra y opinion en la Novela Picaresca Española” (Honor and Public Opinion in the Spanish Picaresque Novel) El Aleph 142 (July/September 2007) pp. 17-35.
“Machiavelli and Erasmus: The Divergent Fate of Two Names. An Inquiry into the Interrelation between Thinking, Reputation and Posterity”. LOGOI, Issue 10. July-December 2006. pp.9-28.