We usually think of politics in two ways: as the "big-P" politics of campaigns and referendums -- noisy, zero-sum contests that get lots of public attention -- and the "small-P" politics of gaining approval for policies and projects. These are the non-zero-sum contests of compromise and tradeoffs that revolve around regulatory approvals, planning board and city council votes, and the occasional state law.
But there's a third version, a kind of meta-politics that's critical to progress but rarely gets noticed. It's the politics of public opinion. How important is public opinion? Listen to Abraham Lincoln: "With public sentiment," Lincoln said, "nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions."