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Opinion Leader

An “opinion leader” is one whose opinions about something have a significant impact on the opinions of others.

Today, an “influencer” is sometimes used as a synonym for opinion leader. In earlier times, they might be called a “park bench orator.”

They are usually people who are held in high esteem and have a high degree of influence within a specific community, group, or societal level due to their competence, skills, charisma, or their role within the group.

The term is rooted in the two-step flow theory of communication, which posits that information from the media moves in two distinct stages—first, individuals (opinion leaders) who pay close attention to the mass media and its messages receive the information, and then they pass it on to the wider population.

In politics, an opinion leader helps to shape public opinion about policies, issues, and candidates for political office.

They have the ability to frame political debates, influence policy decisions, and shape public opinion by advocating for certain perspectives or actions.

For instance, an opinion leader in a political party could influence the party’s stance on a critical issue such as healthcare reform or climate change.

Outside of politics, an opinion leader might shape popular views of religion, business, social mores, or culture, for example. 

Fifty years ago, opinion leaders probably wrote editorials for major newspaper or for broadcast news programs.

Today, opinion leaders are much likelier to be online, sharing their views via social media.

Through their ability to affect change, online opinion leaders play a critical role in the democratic process.

Use of “Opinion Leader” in a sentence

  • As an opinion leader in the Democratic party, Senator Johnson’s speeches often sway many of her colleagues’ viewpoints on policy matters.
  • Local media often turn to opinion leaders during election season to better gauge the sentiments and possible voting patterns within the community.
  • By engaging with their constituents through social media, today’s political opinion leaders have a greater impact on shaping the national conversation around key issues.