Unanimity, Discord, and the Communication of Public Opinion


  • An earlier version of this article was delivered at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. The author is grateful to Paul Johnson and John Sprague, as well as to a number of colleagues for opportunities to present these arguments: Larry Bartels, Henry Brady, Steve Fischer, Iris Hui, Gary Jacobson, Martin Johnson, Jon Krosnick, and John Scholz.

Robert Huckfeldt is professor of political science, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95615 (rhuckfeldt@ucdavis.edu).


This article is concerned with the political communication of opinion that occurs through networks of associated citizens. Its primary attention focuses on opinion variance within populations and networks and how such variance affects communication among and between individuals. Particularly in the context of ambiguous or infrequent communication, people may experience difficulty in forming judgments regarding the opinions of others. In such situations, environmental priors become useful devices for reaching these judgments, but a problem arises related to the utility of these environmental priors when discord rather than unanimity characterizes the contextual distribution of opinion. The article's argument is that dyadic discussions between two citizens are most enlightening, and environmental priors least enlightening, when surrounding opinion is marked by higher levels of disagreement. The analyses are based on data taken from the 1996 Indianapolis-St. Louis study.