Live interviewers spoke to respondents contacted via a combination of landline and cell phone using random digit dialing RDD with stratification by media market. Online question lists are for reference purposes, and may not reflect exactly the mix of items on each wave of the survey. The poll has a strong record when comparing its estimates of public opinion with corresponding election outcomes. The poll also had an excellent record for the recall primary and general election for president and U. Our analyses combine respondents from these waves into a single dataset, with dummy variables for collection period to control for variation in dependent variables over time.
This moment the recall election is the political bookend of the contentious period; the retrospective survey items thus gauge respondents' experience of the — period.
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Our analyses examine two talk outcomes. Running the regressions separately for the two types of talk yields substantially the same results. In regressions, these factors were entered as controls, and no weighting was used. To measure economic precariousness of respondents H2a, H2b , we asked whether their personal finances had been affected by the recession begun in We also included a measure of the density of respondents' counties, whether rural Office of Management and Budget OMB were coded as rural; those with a metro area greater than one million residents only Milwaukee County were coded urban; all others were coded as suburban.
To test H3, we created a term interacting rural residence and total quantity of talk. To understand how membership in groups targeted by Act 10 affected individuals' discursive participation H5a, H5b , we asked respondents whether they or another member of their household was a member of a labor union or worked for a local, state, or federal government. This yielded four categories of households: those that included both union and government workers To test the differential effects of political leaning on cutting off talk within different occupational categories H5c , we created terms interacting respondents' ideology with each of the three occupational categories of interest.
Table 1 presents a linear regression predicting total quantity of political talk, and Table 2 a logistic regression predicting the act of cutting off talk with at least one person. Note that the components of the outcome variable in Table 1 are included as controls in Model 5 of Table 2. Hypothesized interactions are included at the bottom of Table 2 ; each interaction term was included in a separate regression with the controls of Model 5. When asked whether they had stopped talking about politics with someone over disagreements about Walker and his policies, nearly a third of our respondents That the rate was nearly three times as high over a short period in Wisconsin speaks to the intense division felt by citizens.
The test of H1 can be found in Table 1 , where we see that partisan strength is indeed a prominent predictor of political talk. However, once we control for total quantity of talk in Model 5 of Table 2 , partisan strength is not significantly related to ending talk RQ1.
It appears that partisans are talking more, and are no more or less likely to stop, than their moderate peers. The predictions that distressed economic situations would increase both the quantity of talk H2a and the likelihood of closing off talk H2b were confirmed. It may be that those who perceived the recession to have affected them directly experienced an enhanced emotional connection to the issues raised by Act 10—causing them both to engage in more talk, but also to be more susceptible to cutting it off when that talk turned unfriendly Valentino et al.
Hypothesis 3 predicted that talk in rural communities would be more fraught than those in other areas. Although we saw no direct relationship between rural living and cutting off talk, we did find the hypothesized interaction: Increased talk raises the likelihood that some talk will be cut off for rural residents more than it does for others Figure 1 , in support of H3. Table 1 reveals that being outside of the political norm of one's county has an unequivocal depressive effect on political talk, confirming H4a.
What is more, while starting from a lower baseline of talk, political outsiders are also more likely to cut off the conversation in which they are engaged, confirming H4b—see Model 5 of Table 2. We expected that union members and government workers would be spurred to talk about politics by the fact that it had been brought to their door H5a ; presumably, they also would be relatively likely to end conversation because of its intensely personal nature H5b.
Table 1 confirms that government workers, whether in or out of unions, were engaged in more talk activity; but no significant effect was detected for private union workers. Table 2 demonstrates that members of all three occupational categories were disproportionately likely to cut off political talk with someone when compared to the general public, supporting H5b.
In fact, in comparison to the overall sample, in which Again, in comparison to what little figures we have for comparison Mitchell et al. We also anticipated differential rates of cutting off talk according to the relationships between individuals' predispositions and their occupations.
In particular, we expected more liberal private union members, and more conservative public union and nonunion government workers to experience greater conversational rupture H5c. The interaction terms found at the bottom of Table 2 mostly confirm this hypothesis: The effect of being a private union member on cutting off talk was magnified for more liberal workers.
The opposite was true for nonunion government workers, though we found no significant interaction for public union members see Figure 2. In support of H6a, we saw significant associations between newspaper, Internet news, and social media use and political talk Table 1 , Model 4. Lending partial support to H6b, television news consumption was associated with a reduction in likelihood of cutting off talk, though newspapers and online news showed no significant relationship. And our data confirm H7, that social media use was associated with an increased likelihood of closing off talk Table 2 , Model 5 , implying that respondents did indeed encounter difference in their online social networks—to an extent that they sometimes ended conversations with contacts.
In a society that is polarized and fragmenting, informal political talk among citizens stands as an attractive bulwark against societal disintegration. But our case shows that in at least some instances, informal political talk itself breaks down. Why did the beneficial separation of elite rancor and everyday citizen discourse fail in this case?
Our analysis points to a confluence of factors, including simmering historical divisions and resentments; a severe economic crisis; and elites pressing their partisan advantage. Under these circumstances, many citizens were spurred to talk about politics, others cut off talk because of disagreements, and some did both.
Exploring two prominent patterns of discourse from our data may help to explain the dynamics of the closing of political talk. These individuals apparently experienced a politicization of their circumstances that heightened their level of engagement with politics: an increase of passion, in Huckfeldt et al.
New Media and Political Campaigns
This activation both spurred them to talk more and made it difficult to continue conversation when it turned disagreeable. This was the expansion of political conflict into previously apolitical domains. In a sense, Act 10 enabled social identities to mediate political identities, channeling polarization into social networks. Whereas work on polarization tends to assume that contention occurs because of the activation of political identities, our qualitative and quantitative data showed the limited capacity of partisanship to explain conversational breakdown. Rather, the discussion groups we observed had not previously seen a great deal of conflict over occupation, which had not been politically salient.
After Act 10, certain identities, in this case occupational ones, were politicized. The use of social media also followed the pattern of both stimulating political talk and leading to its closure. Thus, whereas Hampton et al. Troublingly, awareness of differences in that context led at least some citizens to employ social media as a sort of sorting mechanism Hampton et al. In a second discourse pattern, private sector union members and individuals politically out of step with their communities saw no enhancement of talk activity opinion dissenters actually talked less , but were more likely to cut it off.
This pattern appears to be more one of alienation—of being the odd person out; no more or less likely to talk, but often finding talk disagreeable and uncomfortable when it occurs. Unfortunately, the expansion of political contention onto dimensions of difference that were previously accommodated, the sorting function of political social media use, and the silencing of political minorities, may compromise the few strands of common experience and interest citizens have with one another. As we have argued, civic culture is undergirded by layers of citizen interaction that include sociality, civic cooperation, and political recognition Putnam, ; though our analysis has concerned but one slice of that culture—talk specifically about politics—our findings suggest a rupture occurring in Wisconsin's civic culture.
Future research is clearly needed to better understand the qualities, extent, and permanence of this transformation. We also must keep in mind that though prominent, cutting off political talk altogether was only one of a variety of responses citizens applied to the contentiousness they found in their midst, as our qualitative method detailed; future research might consider these more carefully, as each has its own implications for social congeniality and civic culture. Individuals were sometimes able to diffuse moments of political tension with humor or the redirection of criticism.
In a second response type, citizens agreed to continue interacting but not talking about the political issue that had stirred controversy. Halting political talk is thus adaptive in that individuals will continue to interact, but they will no longer gain exposure to opinion differences for which we so value political conversation; the civic has been sacrificed to preserve the social. In a third outcome, all social interaction was cut off, representing both civic and social rupture.
Potential implications of this outcome are many—from reinforcing individuals' perceptions that political opponents are unreasonable and cannot be dealt with, to social fragmentation, to declining civic culture and participation as individuals retreat from public life. This typology of responses to discursive contentiousness raises new questions, which future research must address.
First, we are unable to systematically determine whether these outcomes persisted, and under what conditions social interaction or political talk resumed. It is likely that in the case of a tacit agreement to end political talk, it might return. This may be less likely where friendships have been severed; but we are unable to assess this here.
We also have little ability to gauge the aggregate prominence of these responses, as our survey measure picked up a mix of the second and third varieties; these are areas further research must develop. Finally, as noted earlier, in this essay we have concentrated on talk and its occurrence, not on outcomes; nonetheless, future research should investigate whether a reduction in political talk, itself, has the sorts of unfortunate consequences we might expect from the talk literature. Still, this limitation little affects our larger project of studying contentiousness as a stress in the civic fabric: Both forms of the ending of political talk represent a disruption of civic life as it is understood in the literature on political talk.
We have made the case that Wisconsin's experience in — has significant implications for the fortunes of political talk under conditions of political contentiousness. We have focused on local political, social, and historical detail for a granularity of data that has allowed us to examine a specific polity in detail. At the same time, larger processes of globalization, postindustrialization, and polarization clearly played roles in our case, and the data and insights we share here have implications for broader political contexts, especially in the United States following the presidential campaign.
The toll to civic culture has likely been felt along various fault lines of occupation, location, and circumstance comparable to those that have defined Wisconsin politics. In periods of polarization and fragmentation, political talk may break down, unable to tolerate differences that reveal deeper divides. Volume 67 , Issue 1. If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account.
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Media as Political Actors
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Abstract Despite the democratic significance of citizen talk about politics, the field of communication has not considered how that talk is weathering stresses facing our civic culture. The value of political talk: Integration, tolerance, and participation Political talk's importance is often understood in terms of its contribution to the normatively desirable outcomes of social integration, tolerance, and civic participation; in a word, to civic culture. Kenski show more. Review Text "The latest volume in Robert E. Denton's quadrienniel works on presidential campaigns is a solid and worthy contribution to the literature on this subject.
Appleman, Democracy in Action, p Review quote "The latest volume in Robert E. About Robert E. Denton Robert E. He is the author, co-author or editor of twenty-six books on the presidency and political campaigns, several in multiple editions. Trent and R. Friedenberg, Rating details.
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Pages Theorising Political Communication in Africa. Back Matter Pages About this book Introduction This edited collection is a cutting-edge volume that reframes political communication from an African perspective. Editors and affiliations.
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