Political Discussion


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This is the presentation I gave for the Jesse Jones Fellowship at the College of Communication of the University of Texas at Austin in Fall 2009. Explains an overview of my research on citizens' political talk and why it matters.

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  • Citizens’ discussions are a central tenet of democracy Communication theory supports the link between discussion and participation. E.g.,: Two step flow of information (Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1955) Communication mediation model (Shah et al., 2001, 2005)
  • Formal vs. Informal: Structured deliberation: formal, with rules, in public settings. E.g., Congress, juries, deliberative polls  elites Informal public discussion: informal, unstructured, in public settings. E.g., parties, interest groups, work, churches, school boards, town hall  elites and some citizens Casual political talk: informal, unstructured, in private settings. E.g., family dinner, friends  citizens’ modal form of political talk Interpersonal vs. CMC: Internet has opened new venues for discussion (e.g., blogs, SNS, chatrooms) What we talk to: Quality argumentation and level of information (Gastil, 2008) Who we talk to: Heterogeneity of discussants (Mutz, 2006)
  • News as antecedent of talk News as a consequence of talk Talk is more persuasive than news, but news is more informative Talk is an amplifier and/or mediator of news effects
  • Political Discussion

    1. 1. Informal Political Conversations, Social Networks and Participation in Public Life Sebasti án Valenzuela School of Journalism Jesse Jones Fellowship Presentation October 2008
    2. 2. <ul><li>Talk is good for democracy </li></ul>
    3. 3. New approach to an old idea… Gabriel Tarde (1890s) Alexis de Tocqueville (1830s) Paul Lazarsfeld (1940s) Jurgen Habermas (1960s)
    4. 4. <ul><li>“ With talk we can invent alternative futures, create mutual purposes, and construct competing visions of community” </li></ul><ul><li>--Benjamim Barber (1983/2003, p. 177) </li></ul>
    5. 5. But what kind of talk? <ul><li>Formal vs. Informal </li></ul><ul><li>Interpersonal vs. Computer-Mediated </li></ul><ul><li>Family vs. Strangers </li></ul><ul><li>Public issues vs. Private issues </li></ul>
    6. 6. What I study <ul><li>The effects of informal conversations about public affairs between non-elite members of a political community on their knowledge, efficacy and participation </li></ul><ul><li>Online and offline public talk </li></ul><ul><li>Public talk within social networks </li></ul>
    7. 7. And the news media???
    8. 8. My Research <ul><li>Talk as moderator of news use effects </li></ul><ul><li>New online platforms for talk </li></ul><ul><li>Social network attributes (e.g., diversity, ties) </li></ul>
    9. 9. Talk as Moderator <ul><li>Moderator : A variable that changes the impact of one variable on another. </li></ul>
    10. 10. Previous Research <ul><li>Talking amplifies the positive effects of news use </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Compensates for news shortcomings (cognitive) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Provides mobilizing information (behavioral gaps) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Talking can be detrimental to the positive effects of news use: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Interference or distortion (cognitive) </li></ul></ul>
    11. 11. Purpose and method <ul><li>Test if talk moderates news effects on attitudes </li></ul><ul><li>Which attributes interact with news use: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Is it talking more often? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Talking with politically sophisticated people? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Talking with people who share (or don’t) my political preferences? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Secondary analysis, NES survey, 2000 </li></ul>
    12. 12. Political Knowledge OPTIMISTIC VIEW: People who don’t follow the news can learn from discussion with others OR PESSIMISTIC VIEW: For people who follow the news, discussing too much can hinder their political learning
    13. 13. Self-Efficacy Network disagreement strengthens the positive relationship between news and political self-efficacy, particularly among those who discuss frequently. SO Talkative news junkies with heterogeneous networks have extremely high political efficacy!
    14. 14. New online platforms for talk <ul><li>Virtual forums </li></ul><ul><li>E-mail threads </li></ul><ul><li>Blogs </li></ul><ul><li>Chatrooms </li></ul><ul><li>IM </li></ul><ul><li>Social network sites </li></ul>
    15. 15. and civic/political life <ul><li>Not SNS per se , but specific uses what matter </li></ul><ul><li>Informational vs. recreational uses of SNS </li></ul><ul><li>Own online survey, college students, 2007 </li></ul>
    16. 16. Heavy vs Light Users +27% (±5%) <ul><ul><li>FB Groups </li></ul></ul>+2% (±4%) Political participation +10% (±4%) <ul><ul><li>FB Groups </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>+16% (±4%) </li></ul></ul>Civic participation <ul><ul><li>+ 5% (±1%) </li></ul></ul>Social trust <ul><ul><li>+15% (±2%) </li></ul></ul>Life satisfaction
    17. 17. <ul><li>Informational uses are more related to participation than recreational uses. </li></ul>Testing our Assumptions <ul><ul><li>Political </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Civic </li></ul></ul>+4% <ul><ul><li>+1% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>-1% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>-1% </li></ul></ul>+3% <ul><ul><li>Information seeking </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>+2% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Self-status seeking </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>+1% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Entertainment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>+2% </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social interaction </li></ul></ul>
    18. 18. Social Network Attributes <ul><li>Unique contribution of F2F and CMC on offline and online participation </li></ul><ul><li>Specific attributes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ties: strong, weak </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Heterogeneity: disagreement, diversity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Quality: expertise, reasoning </li></ul></ul><ul><li>CJCR online survey, adult sample, 2009 </li></ul>
    19. 19. Network Variables <ul><li>Network size online/offline </li></ul><ul><li>Strong ties: family, friends </li></ul><ul><li>Weak ties: strangers, demographic diversity </li></ul><ul><li>Network disagreement: ratio of “safe” to “dangerous” discussion </li></ul><ul><li>Reasoning: argumentation, issue-based discussion </li></ul>
    20. 20. Results
    21. 21. Some lessons… <ul><li>Talk is good for democracy </li></ul><ul><li>Talk and news: a complex relationship </li></ul><ul><li>Cyberoptimism AND cyberpessimism </li></ul><ul><li>We’re only starting to scratch the surface! </li></ul>
    22. 22. Future Research <ul><li>Theoretical synthesis </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Connection to existing theories </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>From deliberation to communication </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Methodological challenges </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Experiments </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Observations </li></ul></ul>
    23. 23. Thanks to… <ul><li>My co-authors : Homero Gil de Z úñiga, Kerk Kee, Namsu Park and Yonghwan Kim </li></ul><ul><li>All my colleagues at the </li></ul><ul><li>Maxwell McCombs, Talia Stroud, Sharon Strover, Teresa Correa and all the other people who directly or indirectly contributed to my research </li></ul><ul><li>The J-School and the College of Comm for the $$$! </li></ul>