Networks and Knowledge: The Simultaneous Impact of Political Discussion Networks and Political Knowledge during Two Presidential Election Campaigns in Brazil
This paper was entitled "There Are Many Ways to Know: The Simultaneous Impact of Political Discussion Networks and Political Knowledge during Two Presidential Election Campaigns in Brazil" in the program of the NIPS 2010 Conference
How do Brazilian adults acquire the political information they need to take part in democratic politics? Political discussion networks are increasingly recognized as an important source of information for citizens even in a relatively stable, high-income democracy such as the US; their impact should be much stronger in a new democracy such as Brazil, where low educational levels coincide with a challenging information environment characterized by weak party cues, a complex electoral system, and extreme multipartyism. However, determining the impact of discussion on knowledge is difficult because of the clear possibility of simultaneity: not only should people learn from their discussions, but those who know more should tend to have a greater amount of political discussion. This paper teases out the mutual impacts of political discussion networks and knowledge using a six-wave panel study of networks and political discussion over the course of two presidential campaigns in Brazil. This paper first assesses the effects of discussion on knowledge while controlling for stable individual-level characteristics leading some people to have higher levels of both discussion and knowledge over time. It then develops longitudinal two-stage least squares models to assess the mutual impact of these two variables. Results show that discussion continues to have an important impact on political knowledge even after adjusting for simultaneity and after taking into account stable individual-level characteristics. Next, I exploit two waves of discussant interviews to show that citizens seek out political discussants who know more about politics. Finally, analysis discovers that the impact of social network discussions is greater for more knowledgeable respondents. This indicates that political discussion reinforces preexisting inequalities in political knowledge.