In a democratic society, citizens can influence and participate in decision-making.
As a result, it is critical that citizens be informed about the impact of any potential policy, because they, like politicians, have a say in what public policy looks like. Public affairs plays a critical role in the way that crucial information is transmitted between the government and its constituents, and facilitates civic engagement by fostering an informed citizenry.
The field of public affairs involves communicating with both key decision-makers, such as politicians and legislators, and ordinary citizens. Much of the work that public affairs professionals do involves influencing public opinion. Much like advertising, public affairs involves preparing information in a way that is accessible to large groups of people who don’t necessarily have specialized education, and persuading them to act in a particular way. However, the stakes are much higher with public affairs, which involves the public at large and not simply the interests of one company.
The most obvious example of public opinion determining public policy is when a political candidate wins an election by receiving more votes than the opposition. But other examples are more complex, such as when political parties construct their platform based on what they perceive to be the interests of their core constituents, even if the majority of the general public opposes those interests. Other times, public policy may prioritize national security or social stability over majority opinion if these things are considered to be in conflict with each other.
The exact relationship between public opinion and public policy is a controversial topic. Public opinion is often divided, and sometimes not every voice is heard. To fix problems in a democracy, though, it is important to take action rather than be cynical and apathetic. Public affairs is all about studying the patterns of civic engagement, whether through voting, writing, or spending, and recognizing opportunities to respond in turn. It is not about getting everyone to agree on every issue, but about ensuring that those who have a stake in public policy are allowed to influence it.