It seems as though every day brings new polls, new logs of public opinion. Really though, how much does it really influence the government, the presidential administration? It would seem as though many instances occur that can be interpreted as an administration acting as they see fit regardless of public opinion and then swaying the public to their side as an afterthought. So the thought actually is that yes public opinion matters but is not necessarily the preceding deciding factor in implementation and action.
The troop deployment to Afghanistan for example, would the administration have sent any troops if the public had not seen fit? Sure they floated numbers for months on end trying to gage what the response would be to different scenarios, 34,000 here 40,000 there but really, if the public had strongly desired 0 troops, would that have prevented the government from acting? Would it have been enough for a immediate pull out from Afghanistan? Now that is a dramatization of the events. Clearly to some the war still appeals to the fear of security marked by the terrorist attacks that started it in the first place. So on a milder note, if the US public had been largely only supportive of say 10,000 troops would it have mattered? If the administration had the knowledge that such a minute number couldn't possibly get the job done would they have thought twice about sending what they needed? I think not.
Now this theory changes as say election year approaches, then the matter of public opinion is front and center, nothing the people don't want in large majority rarely sees any action. So maybe public opinion is contingent on the calendar. Then there is the swaying of the public to the cause after a decision has been made, great propaganda. Does the government really present the truth? Sure they do, candy coated with a big bow, unless they would like a more emotional response then you'll see the battle field tragedies and soldiers, the horrors of human rights violations, you see what they would like you to see, whatever helps the cause.
I know there are so many arguments that the government serves the people, "for the people, by the people" right? This is not denying such. only displaying the fact that many times it is contingent on the desired results. Now arguing such raises the question of whether this is a good characteristic? If the public is strongly against an outcome or decision that the experts say is required, who is better to judge? The public, who for a large part knows a little about everything but not enough about anything, or the experts? Ultimately the public must support what is done or no administration would ever survive, but the point is that complacent public opinion does not need to come before the decisions, it just has to be coerced and conveyed at some point. So, public opinion, does it matter?