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Social Networks and Collective Action


  • The author thanks Dave Baron, Jon Bendor, Bill Berry, Ray Block, Matt Golder, Sona Golder, Jenn Jerit, Özge Kemahlioglu, Charlotte Lee, Scott McClurg, Will Moore, Chris Reenock, John Scholz, Jake Shapiro, Jeff Staton, the Political Institutions Working Group at FSU, and several anonymous reviewers.

David A. Siegel is assistant professor of political science, Florida State University, 541 Bellamy, Tallahassee, FL 32306-2230 (


Despite growing attention to the role of social context in determining political participation, the effect of the structure of social networks remains little examined. This article introduces a model of interdependent decision making within social networks, in which individuals have heterogeneous motivations to participate, and networks are defined via a qualitative typology mirroring common empirical contexts. The analysis finds that some metrics for networks' influence—size, the prevalence of weak ties, the presence of elites—have a more complex interaction with network structure and individual motivations than has been previously acknowledged. For example, in some contexts additional network ties decrease participation. This presents the potential for selection bias in empirical studies. The model offers a fuller characterization of the role of network structure and predicts expected levels of participation across network types and distributions of motivations as a function of network size, weak and strong ties, and elite influence.