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What Goes Without Saying: Navigating Political Discussion in America

Jaime Settle | Associate Professor, William & Mary

Friday, February 19, 2021 9:30 AM



Why, despite high rates of reported political discussion, do so many Americans dislike talking about politics? And how do the mixed considerations people hold about discussion affect the way that they communicate? We argue that we need to consider the psychological experience of political discussion as navigating a social process that is rife with potential challenges to our sense of self and our relationships with others. Variation in the cognitive resources of political conversation, such as interest or knowledge, or in instrumental goals related to learning and persuasion cannot fully explain people’s motivation to seek or avoid discussion, although considerations related to information certainly are part of the story. Discussion is an inherently social behavior, and we argue that without assessing the social factors influencing the decision to talk about politics, we can’t fully understand who talks about politics, with whom, under what conditions, and with what consequence. This book is an effort to open the lid on the processes that lead up to a political discussion and the implications of the conversations that do happen. Our approach is to build on what we already know about political discussion, focusing on the gaps in our knowledge resulting from untested assumptions and limited methodologies in previous work. We apply new measurement techniques in order to better understand the decision-making processes that lead to the initiation of discussion, the nuances of the interactions that do occur, and the consequences of those conversations on a wide set of political and social outcomes.

The American Politics Seminar is a year-long speaker series that features leading scholars in American Politics. Invited scholars present cutting-edge research and engage in lively debate with faculty and graduate students. The seminar is made possible partially through a generous grant from the Bankard Fund for Political Economy at the University of Virginia. The Seminar is organized by Justin Kirkland. Papers are generally sent to invitees in the week or so prior to each talk.

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