One of those terms that gets bandied about a lot. Mobilised by competing advocacy coalitions (love them push-polls, eh?). NOT a synonym for ‘national mood’.
See this –
In their recent piece about trans-subsystem dynamics, Jones and Jenkins-Smith (2009) chronicle the evolution of the treatment of the concept of public opinion within the ACF. The authors conclude that the ACF, in its most current manifestation, treats public opinion as a tripartite concept (pp. 39–40). First, public opinion acts as an exogenous constraint outside of the policy subsystem. Second, public opinion can also operate as an internal shock within a subsystem, critically redistributing resources (Sabatier & Weible, 2007). And third, public opinion is a resource that elites within subsystems will tap when possible. We find that policy narratives can be empirically specified within all three of these theoretical demarcations (i.e., exogenous constraint, internal shock, and resource) to better specify
how and why public opinion matters in the policy process. We address each of these areas.
(Shanahan et al. 2011:550)
Shanahan, E. Jones, M. and McBeth, M. 2011. Policy Narratives and Policy Processes. Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 39 (3). pp.535-561.