The Accidental Pundit: Intention and Opportunity in Political Discussion
Posted: 16 Jun 2016
Date Written: June 16, 2016
Informal political discussion plays a crucial role in democracy, yet its importance depends in large part on diversity among conversation partners. If people select partners based on political similarity, however, such diversity will be hard to achieve. We develop two models of political conversation — intentional and accidental. The intentional model predicts that political similarity drives selection, while the accidental model implies that people end up talking together for other reasons that may induce a spurious correlation with politics. The two explanations have importantly different implications for the prospects of overcoming political echo chambers. To adjudicate between these accounts, we draw on a rich, longitudinal panel of whole network data, with information on a variety of social relationships, political attitudes, and demographics. We find that accidental, rather than intentional, processes shape political discussion networks. People do not choose their discussion partners on the basis political similarity, suggesting that the barriers to promoting diversity among discussants may be more fragile than previously thought.
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