Social Networks as a Shortcut to Correct Voting


  • The author wishes to thank Robert Huckfeldt, Matthew Buttice, and Elizabeth Simas for their help designing and implementing the experiment. The article also benefited from comments by William Berry, David J. Cooper, Brad T. Gomez, Jens Grosser, Benjamin Highton, Jennifer Jerit, Mark Lubell, Anand Sokhey, Walter J. Stone, and the anonymous reviewers at the Journal. Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association and the 2009 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

John Barry Ryan is Assistant Professor of Political Science, The Florida State University, 558 Bellamy, Tallahassee, FL 32306-2230 (


This article reports on a small group experiment studying how the preferences of an individual's social network affect her ability to vote for the candidate who will provide her with the greater benefit on both valence issues and position issues. The research diverges from traditional formal models and experimental studies of social communication by expanding the communication network beyond the dyad. The results suggest that social communication is a useful information shortcut for uninformed independents, but not uninformed partisans. Informed individuals incorporate biased social messages into their candidate evaluations, which results in higher levels of incorrect voting in certain types of networks.