Real-Time Reactions to a 2012 Presidential Debate: A Method for Understanding Which Messages Matter


Much of our understanding of social influence in individual political behavior stems from representative surveys asking respondents to identify characteristics of a small number of people they talk to most frequently. By focusing only on these few close contacts, we have implicitly assumed that less-intimate associates and features of network structure hold little influence over others’ attitudes and behavior. We test these assumptions with a survey that attempted to interview all students at a small university during a highly-salient municipal election. By focusing on a small, well-defined community, we are able to explore the relationship between individuals, their close associates, and also less-immediate associates. We are also able to explore features of network structure unobtainable in representative samples. We demonstrate that these less-immediate associates and network features have the potential to exert important influence that conventional survey approaches would miss.

In Public Opinion Quarterly