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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