The Electoral Relevance of Political Talk: Examining Disagreement and Expertise Effects in Social Networks on Political Participation


  • This article was presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. I am grateful to Jason Barabas, J. Tobin Grant, Jennifer Jerit, Bob Huckfeldt, Christopher Kenny, Jan Leighley, Jeff Mondak, John Scholz, Fred Solt, Michelle Wade, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments. Lecture attendees at the University of Connecticut and the University of Nebraska-Omaha also provided helpful feedback. All errors remain my responsibility.

Scott D. McClurg is assistant professor of political science, Southern Illinois University, 3165 Faner Hall, Mailcode 4501, Carbondale, IL 62901-4501 (


Although people with larger, more politicized social networks are more likely to participate in elections, we know very little about what drives this relationship. I argue that the electoral relevance of political talk depends heavily on the political expertise imbedded in discussion networks. Using data gathered during the 1996 presidential election, I demonstrate that the level of political sophistication in a person's social network exerts a positive influence on participation. Importantly, this effect is greater than the impact of political preferences in the network, the factor that is implicitly considered to be the main link between networks and involvement. This evidence makes two contributions to research on networks and participation. First, it provides support for a theoretical model that better accounts for research on the relationship between political talk, political disagreement, and involvement. Second, it changes the normative implications associated with political talk by suggesting that networks can encourage both higher levels of involvement and increased consideration of differing viewpoints.