Decades of work have illuminated the influence interpersonal networks exert on voting behavior, political participation, the acquisition of political knowledge, tolerance, ambivalence, and attitude polarization. These central findings have largely been grounded in examinations of political discussion and have remained robust to measurement differences of key concepts like disagreement, various data collection methods, and multiple research designs ranging from the cross-sectional to large-scale field experiments. By comparison, scholars understand considerably less about individuals’ motivation to approach their social contacts when it comes to politics, and about why networks produce the outcomes that they do; this calls researchers to reflect on and revisit previous research, but also to consider new paths of research. Although there is a growing body of promising work focused on “whole,” or complete, networks, much can also be gained by better integrating social psychology into the study of egocentric, or “core,” political networks. Answering these (and other) questions will help connect current findings, emerging methods, and nascent theory. Such connections should advance dialogues between research on group influence, discussion networks, and individual political behavior.
Ian Shapiro, Steven Richardson, Scott McClurg, and Anand Sokhey
Douglas R. Pierce
Traditional models of political decision making tend to focus on the subject’s information levels or information-processing strategy. One of the most common conceptions of political decision making assumes that voters who are informed by a store of factually accurate policy information make more optimal decisions—that is, decisions more in line with their supposed political interests—than those who lack such information. However, this traditional view of political decision making minimizes the roles of affect and social influence on judgment. No phenomenon underscores the primary place of these constructs more so than the meteoric rise of online social media use. Indeed, scholars working at the intersection of social media use and political judgment have made important revisions to the traditional model of political decision making. Specifically, the popularity of online social networks as a tool for exchanging information, connecting with others, and displaying affective reactions to stimuli suggest that new models of competent political decision making which take into account social, affective, and cognitive elements are replacing older, information-based and rational choice models. In this essay, I review some of the pertinent literature on social media use and decision-making and argue that motivation, emotion, and social networks are key components of political judgment and are in fact more relevant to understanding political decisions than political knowledge or political sophistication. I also propose that new models of political decision-making would do well to take into account automaticity, social approval, and the role of information in both rationalizing preferences and persuading others.
Jacob R. Neiheisel
Shaped by Marxist understandings of religion as a source of comfort, but not action, numerous scholars have explored whether various aspects of religion can be linked to participatory acts, either in politics or in civic life more generally. Decades of social scientific research on the subject offer no simple lessons regarding the relationship between religion and participation. Some elements or aspects of religion have been demonstrated to drive down levels of civic and political engagement. Although the whole picture is much more complicated, it is accurate to say that private devotionalism and other facets of religious belief that emphasize individual spirituality and a relationship with the divine over taking steps to improve conditions on Earth are going to promote detachment from the civic realm. By contrast, collective aspects of religious belief and practice often track with greater levels of political participation. These collective elements include the creation of religiously based social networks, as well as opportunities to practice civic skills and receive entreaties to political action. At a different level of analysis, government action on such moral issues as abortion and same-sex marriage has served as a spur to the political involvement of religious interests, whereas government regulation of religion has been shown to deter participation in the civic arena by religious organizations and groups. Taken together, the literature on religion and participation suggests that religion can serve as both a spur to civic and political engagement and as a suppressant, depending both on an individual’s approach to his or her faith and on the institutional dynamics that impinge on the political involvement of religious interests in the public square more generally.
Yotam Shmargad and Samara Klar
The field of political science is experiencing a new proliferation of experimental work, thanks to a growth in online experiments. Administering traditional experimental methods over the Internet allows for larger and more accessible samples, quick response times, and new methods for treating subjects and measuring outcomes. As we show in this chapter, a rapidly growing proportion of published experiments in political science take advantage of an array of sophisticated online tools. Indeed, during a relatively short period of time, political scientists have already made huge gains in the sophistication of what can be done with just a simple online survey experiment, particularly in realms of inquiry that have traditionally been logistically difficult to study. One such area is the important topic of social interaction. Whereas experimentalists once relied on resource- and labor-intensive face-to-face designs for manipulating social settings, creative online efforts and accessible platforms are making it increasingly easy for political scientists to study the influence of social settings and social interactions on political decision-making. In this chapter, we review the onset of online tools for carrying out experiments and we turn our focus toward cost-effective and user-friendly strategies that online experiments offer to scholars who wish to not only understand political decision-making in isolated settings but also in the company of others. We review existing work and provide guidance on how scholars with even limited resources and technical skills can exploit online settings to better understand how social factors change the way individuals think about politicians, politics, and policies.
An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning. Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts. Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century. The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous. Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.
Christina Ladam, Ian Shapiro, and Anand Sokhey
As the most common form of voluntary association in America, houses of worship remain an unquestionably critical component of American civil society. Major approaches to studying religion and politics in the United States are described, and the authors present an argument for focusing more attention on the organizational experience provided by religious contexts: studying how individuals’ social networks intersect with their associational involvements (i.e., studying religion from a “interpersonal” perspective) may actually shed new light on intrapersonal, psychological constructs like identity and religiosity. Evidence is presented from two nationally representative data sets that suggests considerable variance in the degree to which individuals’ core social networks overlap with their houses of worship. This variance exists within and between individuals identifying with major religious traditions, and such networks are not characterized solely by agreement (as theories of self-selection might suggest).