The Effects of Discussion on Turnout: What can we learn from Observational Survey Data?
w/ Dennis F. Langley
Scholars often use survey data to study how discussion networks influence electoral turnout. Recent work has brought attention to several pervasive aspects of discussion networks that may confound such causal estimates. These confounds include shared environments and the selection of discussion partners on the basis of shared attributes. In this paper, we identify a new threat to causal inference for the study of discussion effects: We show that the well-known problem of turnout over-reporting in surveys is driven by characteristics of individuals’ discussion networks. We go on to show that analyses failing to account for this pattern may obtain biased estimates of the relationship between individuals’ discussion networks and their self-reported turnout.
Networks of Mobilization: Student Involvement in a Municipal Election
w/ Robert Huckfeldt, Daniel M. Maliniak, Patrick Miller, Ronald Rapoport, and Jack Reilly
An enduring issue in the study of political participation is the extent to which political awareness and engagement are socially or individually motivated. We address these issues in the context of a municipal election which generated a high level of political engagement on the part of college students for whom the election was relevant. An effort was made to interview all these students using an on-line survey, and the students were asked to provide information on their friendship networks. The paper demonstrates that awareness and engagement are not simply a consequence of individually defined interests and awareness, but rather that individuals are informed and engaged based on their locations within structured networks of social interaction. [draft]
Deliberation and Motivated Reasoning in Informal Discussion Networks
Many scholars view formal deliberative discussion as a solution to the innumerable informational shortcomings of citizens in democracies, demonstrating how citizens emerge from these conversations with more enlightened preferences and greater interest in political participation. Unfortunately, the highly-structured deliberative settings in which these discussions occur are costly and infrequent. Work has thus sought to understand whether these benefits emerge from the informal political discussions that arise in everyday life. This work has produced mixed results: benefits of informal discussion emerge in some studies, but not in others. I argue that these differences arise due to the variation in the motivations that discussion partners bring to the conversation. Drawing from psychological theories of motivated reasoning, this project develops and tests a theory of how motivations influence the efficacy of political discussion. To do so, I rely on a small-group experiment in which individuals receive and exchange information to help them learn about the benefits offered by two computer-generated candidates. In the experiment, I alter subjects’ (1) motivations to provide accurate information to fellow subjects and (2) the strength of their partisan predispositions toward the competing candidates. The results of the study suggest that subjects’ motivations ultimately determine the utility of political discussion.