Revisiting Disagreement in Social Networks: Results from a Series of Survey Experiments

Abstract

The concept of interpersonal political disagreement remains central to work on deliberation in mass publics, and to the broader study of social context. Indeed, the extent to which individuals are exposed to challenging information, perspectives, and norms in their everyday lives is widely considered to play a fundamental role in democratic functioning. Using name generators embedded in surveys, some scholarship has emphasized the mostly agreeable nature of Americans’ core social networks. Building on these techniques, we reconsider these—perhaps incomplete—portraits of disagreement by: 1) replicating standard political name generator prompts, and 2) randomly assigning respondents to additional ones that explicitly ask them to name individuals with whom they disagree. The manipulations on these items vary the depth of disagreement, as well as its subject-matter and experience. Our study advances debates over the conceptualization and operationalization of disagreement, and is particularly timely given contemporary narratives concerning division and affective polarization.

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