Hearing and Seeing the Other Side: Social Network Heterogeneity in the Era of Partisan Politics

Monday, March 27, 2023 (3:30 PM – 5:00 PM)

Delia Baldassarri

Professor of Sociology
New York University

Politically heterogeneous social networks are considered a buffer against political extremism, and exposure to diverse views might be even more crucial in the current highly polarized political climate in the US. However, a consequence of this heightened partisan animosity may be that people avoid those very same heterogeneous networks that have the potential to contain hostility. We thus ask two intertwined questions: (1) to what extent heterogeneous political networks inoculate against outparty hostility? and (2) does political partisanship inform social relationships? 
Using an original survey that includes experiments and novel social network questions, we find that partisanship does not spontaneously come to mind and is not a high priority in determining everyday life interactions. However, if provided information about partisanship, people heavily use it in selecting their interaction partners. Moreover, both close ties and, even more, acquaintance networks are quite politically diverse. Finally, individuals embedded in heterogeneous social networks have significantly lower outparty hostility and are less likely to rely on partisanship when choosing future partners. We advance two mechanisms through which exposure to politically heterogeneous networks might reduce outparty animosity. Political discussions, common with close ties, help people understand others’ point of view — hear the other side –, while exposure to a diverse network of acquaintances contributes to reduce misperceptions about outparty members — see the other side.

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