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Blog Polarization and Self-Segregation

Henry Farrell, Eric Lawrence, and John Sides have collaborated on a paper, still in late draft stages, entitled “Self-Segregation or Deliberation? Blog Readership, Participation, and Polarization in American Politics.” A PDF of the working copy is available here.

Henry reports that,

Blog and Media Ideological Scaling Graphs[B]log readers seem to exhibit strong homophily. That is to say, they overwhelmingly choose blogs that are written by people who are roughly in accordance with their political views. Left wingers read left wing blogs, right wingers read right wing blogs, and very few people read both left wing and right wing blogs. Those few people who read both left wing and right wing blogs are considerably more likely to be left wing themselves; interpret this as you like. Furthermore, blog readers are politically very polarized. They tend to clump around either the ‘strong liberal’ or the ‘strong conservative’ pole; there aren’t many blog readers in the center. This contrasts with consumers of various TV news channels, as the figure [thumbnailed at right] illustrates. All of this suggests that blog readership is unlikely to be associated with the kinds of deliberative exchange between different points of view that some political theorists would like to see.

Sides adds,

Only 6% of political blog readers named both left and right blogs. Thus, most blog readers are “carnivores” rather than “omnivores”: they like partisan red meat, as it were. This is the self-segregation that the paper discusses.

I’m clearly an outlier, a right-of-center blogger who not only reads from both sides of the aisle but reads predominantly the other side. I suspect this stems from my tendency to read blogs written by academics and journalists, which skews the choices of quality blogs available to me.  Further, I’ve got numerous commenters from the left, right, and center.

That aside, the results don’t much surprise me.  After all, we’re a polarized polity right now, so it stands to reason that we’d see the same in the blogosphere.  Given that the mass media outlets to which blogs are compared in the chart above are ostensibly “neutral” whereas the blogs are openly biased, it’s remarkable how polarized the audiences of the former are.

Further, as I’ve discussed perhaps ad nasuem in posts over the past five plus years, most blogs are frankly unreadable by those not sympathetic to the point of view of the author.  This holds true even when one excludes the 90-plus percent of political blogs that are unreadable, period.   Few people have an appetite for being rudely insulted on a regular basis, having their intelligence, decency and patriotism questioned.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Derrick says:

    Further, as I’ve discussed perhaps ad nasuem in posts over the past five plus years, most blogs are frankly unreadable by those not sympathetic to the point of view of the author.

    Maybe its my perception but it seems to have gotten worse over the past few years. I consider myself pretty center-left, and I used to spend the majority of my time here, The Corner, Althouse, Captain’s Quarters, Rightwing Nuthouse and Balloon Juice (pre-John turning to the light). I’ve found it much harder lately to enjoy the blogs on the right, with Althouse turning mush shriller (albeit mostly by her commenters), Cole switching sides and the Corner turning in a much poorer effort as far as I’m concerned. I’ve tried to maintain some balance but reading Instapundit and RedState and being told that I’m for the terrorists just isn’t as much fun as it used to be.

    At this point, I can’t think of many center right blogs that don’t go out of their way to insult and seem worth reading other than this, Douthat and Bainbridge. If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them?

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  2. sam says:

    That is to say, they overwhelmingly choose blogs that are written by people who are roughly in accordance with their political views. Left wingers read left wing blogs, right wingers read right wing blogs, and very few people read both left wing and right wing blogs.

    Well, I guess I’m one of those few who read both. I will say that my day begins with my reading the major newspapers online, then my fav left-wing blogs, then my fav right-wing (or right-centrist…James :) ) blogs. Having read the left-wing blogs, I don’t go back to them during the day, instead I frequent the blogs of the folks on the other side of the divide. I’m pretty sure my motives are mixed for doing things this way.

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  3. Nevrdull says:

    this phenomenon can be nicely illustrated by a quick glance at memeorandum: whenever a news item pops up at one of the right-wing blogs, it gets disseminated by those who roughly agree; the same at the opposite end of the spectrum.
    myself, i read the moderate blogs left and right of center, and generally avoid the frothing-at-the-mouth people in the corners (except for the occasional laugh at townhall – they’re so cute when they hate.)

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  4. William d'Inger says:

    Everything is relative I guess. This blog is right-of center relative to the NYT, CBS news and Today show, but I certainly do not consider it conservative. It may appear that way to people in heavily liberal places like the Northeast Corridor and SF Bay regions because their concept of “center” is pretty darn far left in their biased milieu.

    The main reason I come here is that James (in spite of what some zealot respondents here claim) generally doesn’t give knee-jerk opinions. His thoughts are mostly analyzed logically with respect to historical precedence, flavored with a healthy dose of common sense.

    I am willing to swing liberal where the liberal position makes more sense and conservative where the conservative position makes more sense. It’s just that, in the overall scheme of things, liberals appear more wedded to emotional nonsense than to clear reasoning.

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  5. Michael says:

    [B]log readers seem to exhibit strong homophily. That is to say, they overwhelmingly choose blogs that are written by people who are roughly in accordance with their political views.

    <sarcasm>In other news, people are more likely to eat food they like, socialize with people they like, and generally associate more with the things they like than the things they don’t.</sarcasm>

    I think the mistake they’re making here is thinking people read blogs for information, and not simply for entertainment.

    Left wingers read left wing blogs, right wingers read right wing blogs, and very few people read both left wing and right wing blogs. Those few people who read both left wing and right wing blogs are considerably more likely to be left wing themselves; interpret this as you like.

    I’m generally left-of-center on most topics, but this is about the only blog I read. Occasionally I’ll read an article on TPM, or DKos, but there’s no point in sticking around for the comments at those blogs. 5 years ago I was a commenter on DKos (had a diary I never used too), now if you don’t post within the first 10 seconds, nobody will every scroll down far enough to read your comment. Alas, now my only diary is at Slashdot.

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  6. I don’t think this is at all interesting as a conclusion. Typically, people have always tended to cluster in extreme groups that agree with their existing beliefs.

    What’s always interested me is whether blogs will make it easier for people who didn’t previously participate in ANY group to find one where they could participate, for people who participated in few groups to participate in more of them, and for people who participated in VERY extreme groups to find less-extreme groups.

    It just seems to me like people are expecting blogs to CHANGE EVERYTHING, when really they’re just going to tilt the landscape a little. People will migrate a bit… but they’ll still be pretty much the same people, behaving in pretty much the same way.

    I think the blogiverse has pretty much just been another data point demonstrating John Gabriel’s inestimable brilliance.

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  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Like you, James, I’m an outlier. My politics is center-center. My main interest is the nexus between policy and politics and, consequently, I lean strongly towards foreign policy and econ blogs.

    The foreign policy and econ blogs are disproportionately right-leaning. I’m not certain why that is but it certainly seems to be true. Further, I’ve usually found being the farthest left commenter on a right-leaning blog a more comfortable place to sit than being the farthest right commenter on a left-leaning blog. I’m not certain why that is, either, but it’s certainly been my experience.

    I couldn’t honestly tell you what’s going on at the strongly partisan and ideological blogs since, by and large, I find them boring and dreary regardless of the party or ideology. As should be apparent from my blogroll I’m an omnivore. The earliest blogs on my blogroll were right-leaning (for reasons listed above), many of the blogs on my blogroll are centrist, my most recent additions have tended to be left-leaning. I consider myself an omnivore in my reading with the caveats noted above.

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  8. Dave, isn’t there an old joke about “in America there are two parties, the stupid party and the evil party; I am proud to be part of the stupid party”?

    I think that’s been locked down a bit more, so the left is convinced the right is evil, and the right is convinced the left is stupid. The problem is, it’s easy to demonstrate you’re not stupid… but demonstrating you’re not evil is pretty much impossible. So it’s a lot easier to get the rank-and-file on the right to take you seriously, even if they disagree with you.

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  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Yeah, Caliban Darklock, that’s why I’m a centrist. I don’t believe that the right is evil and I don’t believe that the left is stupid.

    I do believe that people value different things differently and have differing tolerances for risk and attraction to rewards.

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  10. bains says:

    …but there’s no point in sticking around for the comments at those blogs. 5 years ago I was a commenter on DKos (had a diary I never used too), now if you don’t post within the first 10 seconds, nobody will every scroll down far enough to read your comment.

    And herein is a problem. Too often the acerbic tone and utter vacuity of the comments are attributed to the actual bloggers. That is not to say that folks such as John Cole and his ‘never leave a gratuitous snark unsaid’ style exacerbates the negative tone of the comments and hence the overall appeal of a blog to non-choir members. But I think Althouse and TalkLeft are mis-judged (dismissed and/or ignored) based primarily on caustic comment threads.

    The secondary problem, as Michael points out, if the reasonable commentors do not engage in the first 20 or so comments, the threads tend to get hijacked by pot-bangers of all ilk. It is just not worth ones time.

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  11. William d'Inger says:

    I think that’s been locked down a bit more, so the left is convinced the right is evil, and the right is convinced the left is stupid. The problem is, it’s easy to demonstrate you’re not stupid… but demonstrating you’re not evil is pretty much impossible. So it’s a lot easier to get the rank-and-file on the right to take you seriously, even if they disagree with you.

    I consider this pure gobbledygook. It’s on the order of saying:
    SINCE: left is the opposite of right
    AND: wrong is the opposite of right
    THEREFORE: left is wrong
    It may be cute, but it meaningless.

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  12. I’m moderate right politically. As I sometimes say, I’m more liberal than most republicans, and more conservative than most democrats. In the past I’ve been referred to as a moonbat by Michelle Malkin and a hysterical right winger at Daily Kos. How many bloggers have had that done to them?

    As a result my readership rarely got higher than 500 hits a day. Seven months ago I joined the Wizbang crew. There some of my unconventional opinions, like on immigration(not calling certain people supporters of shamnesty or open borders being one thing) or when I’ve taken Mark Steyn’ sloppiness to task, get a few commenters in a huff saying why Kevin lets me blog there or why I’m not at Wizbang Blue. At least I get commenters at Wizbang, At TFM they were far amd few between.

    Bill

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  13. I failed to mention I have read books by Frank Rich and Michelle Malkin in the same calender year and not had my head explode.

    Bill

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  14. Tlaloc says:

    Some of us are lucky enough to be complete iconoclasts. It’s hard to find an echo chamber when nobody else is crazy enough to believe what you believe. :)

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  15. To a certain extent, it is also the nature of the beast. Harsh, crude language gets used on the Internet between people who “know” each other in a way that would never happen face to face, or at least it wouldn’t happen twice. The anonymity of the crowd and the mob mentality is always on full display on the Internet, in many cases even when the names are well known.

    Sadly, many people, myself included, feel free to issue insults to strangers in a fashion that can usually only be safely used with the closest of friends. But they say the first step towards solving a problem is admitting you have one.

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  16. Mark says:

    I do what I can to read all sides. I’m a pretty run-of-the-mill libertarian, but I wind up reading more from the left than from the right. But the blogs I do read tend to be the less hyperpartisan blogs on each side, and I’ve found that there are precious few righty blogs that fit that description- certainly Ed Morrisey is good and Allahpundit seems to have gotten less shrill since Morrisey moved to Hot Air, but beyond that I can’t think of any prominent righty bloggers that aren’t hyperpartisan other than Douthat, plus some other righties who have pretty much abandoned the Republican Party entirely. But even the smaller blogs on the Right tend to be unbelievably shrill in a way that many smaller blogs on the Left are not. It may just be a function of the liberal blogosphere being bigger, creating a sample bias problem, or maybe it’s just a function of the incredible unpopularity of the Republican Party right now, which has chased most of the more temperate righty bloggers from the party fold.

    I do know that I enjoy every single member of the Atlantic crew, and find each of them thought-provoking in their own right.

    I suspect one reason the blogosphere is so polarized, though, is that it is inherently self-selecting – in order to be a political blogger you have to be passionate enough about politics to write about them, and certain enough in your beliefs to put them out there for complete strangers to read. In order to have that kind of passion, you usually have to be pretty convinced that you’re right.
    For those of us who view blogging and blog-reading as a way to persuade and be persuaded, this can be pretty frustrating.

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  17. Bithead says:

    Interesting, James.
    I’ve often made the argument that blogs are merely a reflection of what’s already out there. If that’s true, (And I’ve seen nothing to change my mind on the point) what does this say, I wonder, as regards to the massive viewer ratings lead of Fox News?

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  18. mw says:

    “As already noted, we find that there is a general tradeoff between deliberation and participation among blog readers, an increasingly important group of highly politically aware individuals. Blog readers are more likely to participate in politics than non-blog readers, but also very likely to read only blogs whose political leanings accord with their own.”

    I tend to agree with bithead’s point that the blogosphere is a reasonable reflection of the political sphere at large (Although his Fox News observation is a bit spurious, since Fox news ratings are dwarfed by the broadcast channels that Bit will the first to claim as Liberal mouthpieces.)

    I’ll also note this historic parallel to the authors’ conclusions, linking increased participation and polarization as going hand in hand:

    “The period from 1840 to 1890 has been labeled “the party period” and “the golden age of parties” because the major political parties (Democrats and Whigs until the mid-1850s, then Democrats and Republicans) were the strongest they have been in American history. Party leaders used patronage and campaign practices that aroused partisan enthusiasm to gain wide membership and keep them loyal and active. It worked. Voter turnout during this period was the highest in American history: between 70 and 80 percent for presidential elections and sometimes higher in state and local contests.”

    Nothing new under the sun.

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  19. Fence says:

    While we are on the subject, I agree places like kos are now unmanageable with its thousands of one-line comments. But here we suffer from a different problem. If you comment more than about 12 hours after the first post, everyone has moved on. There is almost never any long-term discussion.

    This blog is right-of center relative to the NYT, CBS news and Today show, but I certainly do not consider it conservative. It may appear that way to people in heavily liberal places like the Northeast Corridor and SF Bay regions because their concept of “center” is pretty darn far left in their biased milieu.

    You can’t use the latte-sipping argument and the word milieu in the same sentence! 😉

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  20. Michael says:

    But here we suffer from a different problem. If you comment more than about 12 hours after the first post, everyone has moved on. There is almost never any long-term discussion.

    It’s funny, because I’m still arguing with someone on the ID/Evolution article from a few days ago. I think it’s just that by the 12 hour mark, we’ve said all there is to say on any given subject, or at least thoroughly discredited someone’s argument to the point where they concede (willingly or not).

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  21. DL says:

    They’re not only unreadable because they are deemed offensive -sometimes even a good blog like Lucianne.com is offensive such as thes morning with this post:

    “…Can you say “sanitization?”

    I knew you could.

    Hillary, the Demosleaze, the Soviets and the real pro, the Holy Roman Catholic Church has taught them well.”
    I sent an e Mail to register my complaint, as she has tight moniteering of her site and can only assume -they were asleep or found it acceptable to allow religious attacks of pure bigotry. She’s not accepting E-Mails.

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  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    It’s funny, because I’m still arguing with someone on the ID/Evolution article from a few days ago. I think it’s just that by the 12 hour mark, we’ve said all there is to say on any given subject, or at least thoroughly discredited someone’s argument to the point where they concede (willingly or not).

    Dang I missed it.

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  23. Michael says:

    Dang I missed it.

    Which, I must say, made it a much more pleasant experience all together.

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  24. brainy435 says:

    A lot of blogs actually make themselves into echo chambers. Talk Left loves to delete anything they don’t agree with, a habit I’ve noticed with a lot of left of center blogs. It’s pretty funny to follow the comments to a post for awhile, then have one or more of the commentors dissapear completely. Looks like the people the blog posters agree with are arguing with themselves.

    Course, I wouldn’t notice it on right of center blogs since I agree with them most of time anyway. Has anyone else seen this happen?

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  25. Br0c says:

    I think the blogiverse has pretty much just been another data point demonstrating John Gabriel’s inestimable brilliance.

    I hate to say it, but I have to agree with you on one thing Darklock… “Gabe” is a great artist & a bloody genius too.

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  26. Bithead says:

    Course, I wouldn’t notice it on right of center blogs since I agree with them most of time anyway. Has anyone else seen this happen?

    Well, it depends on what you mean.
    If youre asking do leftists get kicked off sites I monitor, yes, I’ve seen it happen a few times. However, if you’re asking if leftists get kicked off those sites simply because the host disagrees with them, I’d have to say it may, but I’ve never seen it myself. On the occasions I’ve seen removals occur, it was because the leftist in question was being a total jerk, even absent political position. Then too, I’ve seen a few on the right get the same treatment from such sites.

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  27. Bithead says:

    But here we suffer from a different problem. If you comment more than about 12 hours after the first post, everyone has moved on. There is almost never any long-term discussion.

    Well, some discussions do go on quite a bit faster than this, others slower…. or at least longer. But I’ve noticed that this site tends to move more quickly through a subject than some. I’ve noted Q&O working at about the same pace as their comment threads develop, as OTB does, here. Based on that parallel, and at the risk of being seen as guilding the lilly somewhat, I suspect and suppose that there’s a couple of reasons for this.

    * In both cases, the subjects are more completely explored in the posting itself. This strikes me as indication of the level of smarts of the writers at the Blog.

    *The commentors in both cases are for the most part smarter, and express their points more completely. Being smart, they also find applying logic to the arguments at hand, far easier than some. They’re also better informed than most. So manage as a result of those factors, to exhaust discussion of a topic before many others have had a chance to scratch the surface. (All the participants being up to date on a topic is an increadible timesaver, vs having to explain every nuance of an argument.)

    There’s another level I need to mention here, though it doesn’t totally fit with the rest of my comment; In the case of both the blogs I’ve mentioned, there’s an apparent recoginition that ideas have consequeces. In short, there’s a passion here, among both authors and commentors, that drives some of that speed, too. Passion is, for example, what takes things to a personal level, well beyond mere poliicy discussion, which end up putting everyone to sleep.

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  28. Grewgills says:

    Has anyone else seen this happen?

    I’ve seen it regularly at Redstate and a few other far right sites I’ve visited. I’ve had my account at Redstate shutdown under a few names for pointing out logical inconsistencies in the arguments of hosts and commenters.

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  29. mw says:

    Has anyone else seen this happen?

    I have had posts deleted and ultimately had my account suspended at RedState. A notable example was a diary that was erased minutes after posting it on that site. It was a completely dispassionate, fact based and documented post about investors preferring divided government. Of course that was in 2006, when RedState did not like the idea of divided government. The irony is that I expect they would like to promote the idea now, since voting for divided government is the only good reason to vote for John McCain – Alas, I no longer have an account there.

    I’ll be posting an updated 2008 version of the same post on my blog soon (it is still true), and am considering posting it at Daily Kos. I expect a similar outcome. I’m just a glutton for punishment I guess.

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  30. Michael says:

    I’ll be posting an updated 2008 version of the same post on my blog soon (it is still true), and am considering posting it at Daily Kos. I expect a similar outcome. I’m just a glutton for punishment I guess.

    I’m not sure Kos ever deletes diary posts. I know he’s taken a lot of flak in the past for _not_ deleting people’s accounts, even when asked to, so your post should be fine there.

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  31. James Joyner says:

    I’m not sure Kos ever deletes diary posts.

    He’s had several purges, actually. A couple years back, he got rid of a bunch of hateful diaries, later they purged Cindy Sheehan stuff after she went rogue, and it seems like he’s recently gotten rid of some of the Clinton bitter dead-enders.

    Kos is running a progressive Democrat machine, not a free-for-all for public debate. Nor does he pretend otherwise. I’m fine with that incidentally. It’s his dime.

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  32. Michael says:

    He’s had several purges, actually. A couple years back, he got rid of a bunch of hateful diaries, later they purged Cindy Sheehan stuff after she went rogue, and it seems like he’s recently gotten rid of some of the Clinton bitter dead-enders.

    I remember him purging some conspiracy theorist stuff, but it was mostly far-left, not right, and like you said, pretty hateful stuff. And Cindy Sheehan’s diary is still in existance, I think she was just told that she wasn’t welcome there anymore.

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  33. Correllation What Now? — Nathan Burke Joins the Roundtable…

    I asked Nathan Burke o join the Roundtable this week in part because his work for matchmine, which offers a recommendation tool to users to suggest content they might like across all forms of media, makes him an excellent guest to discuss one of the st…

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  34. Polarized Partisan Politics Promotes Popular Participation…

    James Joyner at Outside the Beltway is not surprised by the results, observing in “Blog Polarization and Self-Segregation”… I agree with Joyner that the blogosphere is a reasonable reflection of the political sphere at large, so the finding that po…

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  35. mw says:

    @Michael @JJ
    I think Michael is correct that they do not delete the diaries – it is more a matter of suffering the slings and arrows of an outraged comment swarm. Well, that’s if you are lucky and not ignored completely.

    I also think they have some sort of double secret probationary troll rating club. At one point I suddenly found I had an ability to troll- rate other Kos Kids. This was back when they liked me. The rating privilege disappeared a few posts later.

    Posting there is entertaining, in a masochistic sort of way, I am just not sure there is any value in it.

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