Expanding the Conversation: Multiplier Effects from a Deliberative Field Experiment

D. Lazer, A. Sokhey, M. Neblo, K. Esterling, R. Kennedy
Political Communication
June 15, 2015


Do formal deliberative events influence larger patterns of political discussion and public opinion? Critics argue that only a tiny number of people can participate in any given gathering and that deliberation may not remedy and may in fact exacerbate inequalities. We assess these criticisms with an experimental design merging a formal deliberative session with data on participants' social networks. We conducted a field experiment in which randomly selected constituents attended an online deliberative session with their U.S. Senator. We find that attending the deliberative session dramatically increased interpersonal political discussion on topics relating to the event. Importantly, after an extensive series of moderation checks, we find that no participant/nodal characteristics, or dyadic/network characteristics, conditioned these effects; this provides reassurance that observed, positive spillovers are not limited to certain portions of the citizenry. The results of our study suggest that even relatively small-scale deliberative encounters can have a broader effect in the mass public, and that these events are equal-opportunity multipliers.

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