Published Work: Public opinion
“It could turn ugly”: Selective Disclosure of Political Views and Biased Network Perception
Cowan, Sarah K., and Delia Baldassarri
Published in Social Networks 52: 1-17 (2018)
This article documents individuals selectively disclosing their political attitudes and the consequences for social influence and the democratic process. Using a large, diverse sample of American adults, we find Americans keep their political attitudes secret specifically from those with whom they disagree. As such, they produce the experience of highly homogeneous social contexts, in which only liberal or conservative views are voiced, while dissent remains silent, and often times goes unacknowledged. This experience is not the result of homogeneous social contexts but the appearance of them. Pervasive selective disclosure creates a gap between the objective social network and the perceived social network in which political agreement is over-estimated. On the micro-level, the processes of social influence on the formation and modification of political attitudes that occur when people converse with those with whom they disagree are thwarted and on the macro-level, this mechanism of selective disclosure leads to the perception of a greatly polarized public opinion.