Recent election surprises, regime changes and political shocks seem to indicate that the public agenda has become more fast-moving and volatile. One of the likely components of this political turbulence is the recent change in how we acquire and consume information. Yet, there has been no systematic study of the individual bases of political opinion formation. This project seeks to address this gap by studying the relation between social information and political opinion.
Explaining the science
To understand the effects of exposure to social information on individual political opinion, this project is drawing on methods from experimental psychology and social data science, trying to quantify the extent to which social information can influence an individual’s political opinion or stance, and whether this influence is stronger for any particular set or type of political issues.
Social media platforms have been shown to inject instability and uncertainty into social life, public opinion, civil society and the policy-making environment. By showing in real time what other people are doing, these platforms create a pool of social information, which can influence users. These feedback influences at work on social media platforms have been shown to introduce instability into cultural markets, and may be having wider effects on what issues the public, media and politicians focus their attention on, and affect policy-making or even contribute to political turbulence.
Although the large-scale consequences of this volatility of public political attention are visible in current political events, the extent to which social information can change an individual’s political opinion or stance is still poorly understood. This project is addressing this challenge by trying to understand in which contexts social information can change an individual’s opinion about the importance of a political issue and by quantifying how large these changes can be.
Understanding the ways in which social information affects the dynamics of political opinion will shed light on the role of social media platforms, leading to a more thorough understanding of the undercurrents of public opinion that have, in recent years, burst to the surface in highly unpredictable ways.
This can inform the creation of early warning signals that may aid in prediction and explanation of public opinion dynamics, improve the opportunities to help policy makers understand and represent the will of their constituents, and guide the design of better online platforms for social interaction.