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The Social Logic of Political Discussion’s Partners Selection: The Strength of Strong Ties.

Julien Audemard
University of Montpellier
Julien Audemard
University of Montpellier
Open Panel

Abstract

A long time perceived as the fruit of independent and rational citizens, political behaviour and opinions in democracy have been described like the products of social determinants by the first sociological works on the subject. More precisely, it has been shown that the integration of the individual in primary groups and his adhesion to certain social norms were more predictive of his acts in the political field than his own judgement (Lazarsfeld, Berelson, Gaudet 1944). The democratic citizen observed and described – in particular – in The People’s Choice was less sophisticated and politicized than the one conceived by democratic theory. This gap between democratic theory and the observation of concrete behaviour was the source of a paradox who is now present behind many works concerning the study of political opinion and behaviour: How can we explain that our democratic systems still work despite the fact that a majority of citizens are not interested in political matters? Many works have attempted to answer this question. Especially, many of them have tried to show that this lack of sophistication did not matter in the sense that even least politicized people could manage to act and think politically by using heuristic mechanisms and information shortcuts. Recently, some works about political discussions between ordinary citizens fall into this perspective. Robert Huckfeldt (Huckefeldt, Johnson, Sprague 2004), based on Down’s works (1957), shows that using casual “street corner” discussions, ordinary citizens obtain low cost information and can compare their opinions with others who don’t agree with them. Using “the strength of weak ties” (Granovetter 1973), citizens can overcome their lack of sophistication within a democratic space who emphases with the classic theory. Our works suggest something radically different. Starting with data obtained by the realization of a snowball sampling and others from qualitative interviews with respondents of the sample, we were able to see that social logics were always present within processes of discussion’s partners selection. Looking at these logics, we can see that the exchange of political opinions operates foremost within primary groups, between intimates sharing the same opinions. Moreover, social emulation created by political interaction seems primarily benefit the most advantaged in terms of political sophistication. These results call again into question the old democratic ideal.