Americans are increasingly concerned about the future of democracy. The virality of misinformation in American politics has led people to question the public’s ability to navigate our complex information environment and make rational choices. At the same time, intensifying affective polarization has driven partisans farther apart, perhaps at a time when we need to come together most. My research is uniquely suited to help us understand some of these key challenges in American politics by examining the intersection of information consumption and social interactions about politics. I study the content, process, and consequences of interpersonal political communication.

By critically interrogating the process and content of both online and offline political discussion, my work highlights the ways in which the social realities of these interactions might undermine or enhance previously theorized benefits of discussion for political behavior. I tackle these social realities through three core lines of inquiry. My most recent work builds upon this foundation to tackle questions directly related to misinformation and partisan media effects.

Consequences of Interpersonal Political Communication

Although early work on social information viewed it as a crucial pathway to inform the otherwise inattentive public, this portion of my work suggests that the story is much more complex. In the articles and book manuscript described below, I show that information becomes sparse, biased, less accurate, and mobilizing as it flows from the media to political conversations. This distorted social information can facilitate misinformation, polarization, and political engagement for the one-third of Americans who turn to others for political news. This work has been supported by the Social Science Research Council and the Weidenbaum Center.

  • Book Manuscript: Through the Grapevine: Socially Transmitted Information and Distorted Democracy, under contract (draft available upon request)
  • Carlson, Taylor N. 2018. “Modeling Political Information Transmission as a Game of Telephone.” Journal of Politics. 80(1): 348-352. [Paper]
  • Carlson, Taylor N. 2019. “Through the Grapevine: Informational Consequences of Interpersonal Political Communication.” American Political Science Review. 113(2): 325-339. [Paper]
    • Winner of the John Sprague Award (APSA Political Networks Section), 2019
    • Winner of the Best Conference Paper Award (APSA Political Networks Section), 2019
    • Winner of the Timothy Cook Award (APSA Political Communication Section), 2019
  • Anspach, Nicolas M. and Taylor N. Carlson. 2020. “What to Believe? How Social Media Facilitate Misinformation.” Political Behavior. 42(3): 697-718. [Paper]
  • Work in Progress
    • Let’s Talk About It: How Election Outcomes Affect Media Choice (with Jenna Pedersen)
    • How do political conversations racialize crime news coverage? (with Nazita Lajevardi and Shayla Olson) Pre-registered
    • Extremism Spirals and How to Break Them (with Carly Wayne and Erin Rossiter) Pre-registered, supported by the National Science Foundation and the Weidenbaum Center
    • Do Individuals’ Policy Priorities and Policy Frames Cluster within Social Networks? (with Amber Boydstun and Matthew Pietryka) Under Review

Contentious Interpersonal Political Interactions Project

The second major project is a coauthored book and series of articles with Jaime Settle called the Contentious Interpersonal Political Interactions (CIPI) Project. We develop a theoretical framework for understanding political discussion as a social process. In so doing, we highlight that many political discussions are undesired and do not reflect the free flow of ideas that could expose people to the diverse perspectives that could reduce affective polarization. This research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and Facebook.

  • Book: What Goes Without Saying: Navigating Political Discussion in America, with Jaime E. Settle, Cambridge University Press (2022)
  • Carlson, Taylor N. and Jaime E. Settle. 2016. “Political Chameleons: An Exploration of Conformity in Political Discussions.” Political Behavior 38(4): 817-859. [Paper]
  • Carlson, Taylor N. and Jaime E. Settle. 2019. “Opting Out of Political Discussions.” Political Communication 36(3): 476-496. [Paper]
  • Carlson, Taylor N., Charles T. McClean, and Jaime E. Settle. 2020. “Follow Your Heart: Could Psychophysiology Be Associated with Political Discussion Network Homogeneity?” Political Psychology 41(1): 165-187. [Paper]
  • Hibbing, Matthew V., Jaime E. Settle, Nicolas M. Anspach, Kevin Arceneaux, Taylor N. Carlson, Chelsea Coe, Edward Hernandez, John Peterson, and John Stuart. “Political Psychophysiology: A Primer for Interested Researchers and Consumers.” Politics and the Life Sciences 39(1): 101-117. [Paper]
  • Carlson, Taylor N. and Jaime E. Settle. 2023. “Freedom of Expression in Political Discussion” PS: Political Science and Politics. [Paper]
  • Work in Progress
    • Partisan Group Threat and the Consequences of Cross-partisan Conversation (with Erin Rossiter). [Paper] [Appendix] Revise and Resubmit (Journal of Politics)
    • To Discuss or Not to Discuss? How Selective Exposure to Political Discussion Conditions Experimental Findings on Polarization (with Erin Rossiter)

Inclusivity in Political Communication Research

The third is a collaborative project funded by the James Irvine Foundation with co-PIs Marisa Abrajano and Lisa García Bedolla. In this project, we use original survey data matched with publicly available voter records to examine how political discussion networks vary between ethnoracial minority groups. In so doing, we interrogate seminal theories in political communication to evaluate the extent to which they generalize to marginalized communities. My ongoing work in this space continues to evaluate whether theories of media and politics and misinformation hold when we consider the unique experiences of people from stigmatized groups.

  • Book:Talking Politics: Political Discussion Networks and the New American Electorate, with Marisa Abrajano and Lisa García Bedolla, Oxford University Press 2020
  • Abrajano, Marisa, Taylor N. Carlson, Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Stan Oklobdzija, and Shad Turney. 2020. “When campaigns call, who answers? Using observational data to enrich our understanding of phone mobilization.” Electoral Studies 64: 102025. [Paper]
  • Carlson, Taylor N., Marisa Abrajano, and Lisa Garcia Bedolla. 2020. “Political Discussion Networks and Political Engagement Amongst Voters of Color.” Political Research Quarterly 73(1): 79-95. [Paper]

Misinformation and Media

  • Carlson, Taylor N. and Seth J. Hill. 2021. “Experimental Measurement of Misperception in Political Beliefs.” Journal of Experimental Political Science. [Paper]
  • Not Who You Think? Exposure and Vulnerability to Misinformation (with Nick Anspach) Forthcoming, New Media & Society. [Paper]
  • Work in Progress
    • CueAnon: The (not so) Strategic Endorsement of Political Conspiracy Theories (with Ben Noble) [Paper] [Appendix] Under Review
    • An Era of Minimal Exposure but Not-So-Minimal Effects? The Case of Fox News (with Eunji Kim) Pre-registered, draft available upon request