As a group, the Hard Core exists in defiance of isolation (Turner and West, 421). In Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence theory, she classifies those who are hardcore as deviant citizens who are willing to speak out against the majority regardless of context or cost. Though she acknowledges the Hard Core’s existence, Noelle-Neumann considers this group to be an exception to the concept of a societal Spiral of Silence.
Spiral of Silence theory consists of a two-part argument
1) The media impact perceptions of public opinion
2) Based on the perceived opinion of the majority, individuals change or enhance their opinions on a public issue to conform to the majority (Turner and West, 2010).
This argument leads to the concept that those who hold a minority opinion will remain voiceless because they fear isolation, and those who hold the majority opinion will gain strength and continue to be heard (Turner and West, 2010).
Kim, Han, Shananhan, and Berdayes’ (2004) work examining North Korean mass media outlets’ portrayals of public opinion about an economic policy demonstrates the struggle some post-Spiral of Silence studies have with reporting evidence that supports both parts of Noelle-Neumann’s argument. According to Kim et al, Spiral of Silence’s second claim that individuals who are exposed to a majority opinion through media and/or peer groups will take on the majority viewpoint is not heavily supported, thus making the theory slightly controversial in the eyes of these researchers.
I ask, if this research suggests that we, as individuals, are aware of the majority opinion and its portrayal in the media, yet we maintain and voice our viewpoints, are we all, at some point, classified as Hard Core? I would like to dispute the claim that we are unwilling to speak out due to media’s portrayal of the majority viewpoint. I discuss it now to encourage readers of this blog to reflect on their experience with media outlets and public discourse.
Are there times in one’s discursive interactions when an issue of personal importance is left without a voice due to fear of isolation? I presumably say, absolutely. Is the instance induced or supported by the media? Possibly, but if so, have there also been times when a public issue, such as the death penalty or privacy rights on the Internet, is brought to debate and you are compelled to speak out though you knowingly side with the minority? I argue that the second portion of Noelle-Neumann’s theory is too context-dependent to be included as a key assumption of the theory.
Though I agree with Noelle-Neumann’s conceptualization that we are in constant assessment of public opinion climate, I do not agree with the claim that the voice of the silent minority is heard mainly through the Hard Core, unless one expands his/her idea of who may classify as Hard Core. In a world where those who make up the minority of public opinion are perpetually voiceless, are you willing to be Hard Core?
West, Richard and Turner, Lynn (2010). Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application. 4th edition. McGraw Hill.