Talking politics : political opinion expression and avoidance across conservative, liberal, and heterogeneous groups

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2016-05

Authors

Peacock, Cynthia Clemons

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Abstract

Discussion among the public about politics and public affairs is a hallmark of deliberative democracy. Specifically, sharing information, expressing opinions, and learning about the perspectives of others defines a deliberative system. People oftentimes find expressing their political opinions difficult, unpleasant, and even threatening. Yet when people refrain from expressing their ideas and opinions, those points of view remain absent from the public sphere. The implications of avoiding the expression of political opinions are considered detrimental by those who think that society is better when people communicate their positions and understand the perspectives of others. This dissertation centers on the occurrence—and avoidance—of political opinion expression, or the act of openly stating one’s political opinion. I employed quantitative, thematic, and content analyses to investigate data from The Electronic Dialogue Project in Campaign 2000 (ED2K) and an original survey, to explore how often and in what contexts people avoid expressing their opinions during political conversations, the ways in which diverse opinions and opinion expression avoidance take place in conservative, liberal, and heterogeneous networks, the motivations for avoiding the expression of political opinions, and the strategies employed in avoidance. Among other findings, I provide evidence that challenges some commonly held assumptions about political talk. Results indicate that even within one conversation, people both expressed and avoided expressing their opinions about politics. Within political discussions overall, whether discussion members were in disagreement with one another did not influence their likelihood of directly expressing their opinions. Ideologically heterogeneous groups did not emerge as bastions of diverse opinions. Finally, I used a thematic analysis and drew from interpersonal communication, mass communication, political science, and social psychology, to uncover the motivations and strategies involved in people’s decisions to avoid expressing political opinions. Political talk is perhaps the most accessible form of political engagement and helps people to understand themselves, each other, and the world around us. This dissertation examined the occurrence of and contexts surrounding political opinion expression and avoidance, and the existence of disagreement and diversity in political discussions.

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