People Research Facilities Events

Robert Huckfeldt, PhD, Department of Political Science
University of California, Davis

Unanimity, Discord, and the Communication of Public Opinion
January 12, 2007

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Abstract - This paper is concerned with the political communication of opinion that occurs through networks of associated citizens. Its primary attention focuses on opinion variance within populations and networks, and how such variance affects communication among and between individuals. Particularly in the context of ambiguous or infrequent communication, people may experience difficulty in forming judgments regarding the opinions of others. In such situations, environmental priors become useful devices for reaching these judgments, but a problem arises related to the utility of these environmental priors when discord rather than unanimity characterizes the contextual distribution of opinion. The paper’s argument is that dyadic discussions between two citizens are most enlightening, and environmental priors least enlightening, when surrounding opinion is marked by higher levels of disagreement. The analyses are based on data taken from the 1996 Indianapolis-St. Louis study.