Disagreement and the Avoidance of Political Discussion: Aggregate Relationships and Differences across Personality Traits

Authors


  • This research was funded by Yale's Center for the Study of American Politics and Institution for Social and Policy Studies. Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numerical results will be made available at http://huber.research.yale.edu/ upon publication.

Alan S. Gerber is Professor of Political Science, Yale University, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, 77 Prospect Street, PO Box 208209, New Haven, CT 06520–8209 (alan.gerber@yale.edu). Gregory A. Huber is Professor of Political Science, Yale University, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, 77 Prospect Street, PO Box 208209, New Haven, CT 06520–8209 (gregory.huber@yale.edu). David Doherty is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Loyola University Chicago, 1032 W. Sheridan Road, Coffey Hall, 3rd Floor, Chicago, IL 60660 (ddoherty@luc.edu). Conor M. Dowling is Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, 77 Prospect Street, PO Box 208209, New Haven, CT 06520–8209 (conor.dowling@yale.edu).

Abstract

Social networks play a prominent role in the explanation of many political phenomena. Using data from a nationally representative survey of registered voters conducted around the 2008 U.S. presidential election, we document three findings. First, we show that during this period, people discussed politics as frequently as (or more frequently than) other topics such as family, work, sports, and entertainment with frequent discussion partners. Second, the frequency with which a topic is discussed is strongly and positively associated with reported agreement on that topic among these same discussion partners. Supplementary experimental evidence suggests this correlation arises because people avoid discussing politics when they anticipate disagreement. Third, we show that Big Five personality traits affect how frequently people discuss a variety of topics, including politics. Some of these traits also alter the relationship between agreement and frequency of discussion in theoretically expected ways. This suggests that certain personality types are more likely to be exposed to divergent political information, and that not everyone is equally likely to experience cross-cutting discourse, even in heterogeneous networks.

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