The waterfall model: Formation and circulation of ideas and opinions

Describing and analyzing a political system or component parts of it necessarily implies finding a model or frame of reference that allows us to find the multiple and complicated relationships of an eminently dynamic process.

We share with Easton that “the conceptual framework consists of those theories and assumptions that a researcher uses when undertaking an analysis within a given field of action.” [1] The model that we apply in this research is known as the “cascade model” stated by Karl W. Deutsch, to describe the decision process applied to public opinion.

While it is true that this simplified model was intended to be used for the analysis of international relations, it also has the advantage of describing, in a macro-political dimension, the process of public opinion formation within political systems. “The explanatory value of the cascade model lies, above all, in its ability to highlight the extent to which opinion formation processes are interrupted and regenerated horizontally at each level, that is, by intra-reservoir, or intra-reservoir, interactions.” [2]

El modelo de la cascada describe cómo es que se forman y circulan las opiniones en un sis­tema político, y cómo es que se retroalimentan y forma la opinión pública. De allí su utilidad analítica. Podemos definirlo “como una serie de procesos descendentes cuyos saltos son contenidos a intervalos por contenedores en los cuales se vuelven a mezclar cada vez[3] y que luego de descender se retroalimentan para formar la opinión pública.

1.8.1 Components and participating containers of the model

The model has containers where opinions are formed and in each of them a circular feedback process occurs, and then flows to the next level, until the communication circuit is completed and public opinion is formed. The five containers are: 1) The socioeconomic elite; 2) The political-governmental elite; 3) The media; 4) opinion leaders; and, finally, 5) The population.

To this basic scheme Sartori adds a new point, which is the role and location of intellectuals at the different levels of the cascade, since, as he argues, Deutsch’s model would not adequately explain currents of opinion.

At this point, we must specify that the model as conceived explains any current of opinion because it has the flexibility to propose multiple interactions within each one and then throw it into the next container.

The model also has five communication flow processes, which are: 1) the communication flow of the socioeconomic elite; 2) the political elite; 3) the media; 4) opinion leaders; and, 5) the population. The containers of the model have inside them a process of input and output (input – out) of horizontal information, in the sense that the processed information is discussed and processed inside, likewise, influences from the environment are received, which In this case they are the other levels and they have a memory regarding their procedures or ways of facing certain situations.

The memory we are referring to is the capacity that each of the containers has to store information about past events or political events, which become a precedent in terms of the way of presenting possible courses of action and reactions of the other containers.

Chart 1: The waterfall model in full flow [4]

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