Why are political conversations uncomfortable for so many people? The current literature focuses on the structure of people’s discussion networks and the frequency with which they talk about politics, but not the dynamics of the conversations themselves. In What Goes Without Saying, Taylor N. Carlson and Jaime E. Settle investigate how Americans navigate these discussions in their daily lives, with particular attention to the decision-making process around when and how to broach politics. The authors use a multi-methods approach to unpack what they call the 4D Framework of political conversation: identifying the ways that people detect others’ views, decide whether to talk, discuss their opinions honestly—or not, and determine whether they will repeat the experience in the future. In developing a framework for studying and explaining political discussion as a social process, What Goes Without Saying will set the agenda for research in political science, psychology, communication, and sociology for decades to come.

Published June 2022 with Cambridge University Press. Available on Amazon.
Supported by the National Science Foundation.

Over five decades of research has made clear that social networks can have an important impact on our political behavior. Specifically, when we engage in political conversation within these networks we develop connections that increase the likelihood that we will become politically active. Yet, most studies of political behavior focus on individuals, rather than the effects of networks on political behavior. Furthermore, any studies of networks have, by and large, been based on White Americans. Given what we know about the ways in which neighborhood, cultural, friend, and family networks tend to segregate along ethnic and racial lines, the authors of this book argue that we can assume that political networks segregate in much the same way.

This book draws on quantitative and qualitative analyses of 4000 White American, African American, Latino, and Asian American people to explore inter and intra-ethnoracial differences in social network composition, size, partisanship, policy attitudes, and homophily in political and civic engagement. The book thus makes three key contributions: 1) it provides, for the first time, detailed comparative analysis of how political networks vary across and within ethnoracial groups; 2) demonstrates how historical differences in partisanship, policy attitudes, and engagement are reflected within groups’ social networks; and, 3) reveals the impact that networks can have on individuals’ political and civic engagement.

Published May 2020 with Oxford University Press.
Reviewed in Perspectives on Politics.
Supported by the James Irvine Foundation.

Through the Grapevine: Political Conversations and Distorted Democracy

In this book, I argue that learning about politics through the proverbial grapevine fuels distorted democracy. Distorted democracy is marked by an underinformed, polarized, and engaged public. Analyzing a collection of nearly a dozen experiments, original survey data, and a new dataset of over 180 million comments on over 5 million Tweets by media outlets, I show that as people discuss what they read in the news, the actual information exchanged in conversations becomes heavily distorted: it becomes sparse, carries more partisan bias, and is somewhat less accurate. This means that when individuals primarily learn about politics from others instead of from the news, as about one-third of the American public does, they are likely to be exposed to distorted information that can affect their decision-making. Although they can sometimes learn more than they would had they received no information at all, when this casually informed segment of the public relies on social information, they are more likely to believe misinformation and hold more extreme and sorted policy preferences. What is more, the changes in content as information flows through the grapevine can also be mobilizing, leading to a world in which a large segment of the public is politically engaged based on distorted information.

Manuscript in progress. Drafts available upon request.
Supported by the Social Science Research Council, Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy, and the National Science Foundation.