Civic Talk

Civic Talk: Peers, Politics, and the Future of Democracy

Casey A. Klofstad
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 184
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Civic Talk
    Book Description:

    Does talking about civic issues encourage civic participation? In his innovative book,Civic Talk, Casey Klofstad shows that our discussions about politics and current events with our friends, colleagues, and relatives-"civic talk"-has the ability to turn thought into action-from voting to volunteering in civic organizations.

    Klofstad's path breaking research is the first to find evidence of a causal relationship between the casual chatting and civic participation. He employs survey information and focus groups consisting of randomly assigned college freshman roommates to show this behavior in action. Klofstad also illustrates how civic talk varies under different circumstances and how the effects can last years into the future. Based on these findings, Klofstad contends that social context plays a central role in maintaining the strength of democracy. This conclusion cuts against the grain of previous research, which primarily focuses on individual-level determinants of civic participation, and negates social-level explanations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0274-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The process of selecting the forty-fourth president of the United States began in the State of Iowa. On January 3, 2008, tens of thousands of Iowans braved the below-zero cold of winter, and took time away from their jobs and families, to gather in town halls and school gymnasiums to express their preference for the nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties. At the end of the caucuses, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois emerged as the Democratic Party’s winner, with 38 percent of the vote. In doing so, Senator Obama beat out two better-known candidates: John Edwards, former senator from...

  6. 2 Civic Talk and Civic Participation
    (pp. 11-28)

    In this chapter I lay down the foundation of my argument by examining the existing scholarship on civic talk and civic participation. I then show how our understanding of the relationship between these two phenomena can be made clearer with new evidence. In the chapters that follow, I use a number of different sources of data to show how and why civic talk affects how we participate in civil society.

    Civic talk is the informal discussion of politics and current events that occurs within a social network of peers: the friends, colleagues, family members, and other individuals who are present...

  7. 3 Does Civic Talk Cause Civic Participation?
    (pp. 29-50)

    The experience this student had during her first year in college is a textbook example of what we would see if civic talk has a meaningful effect on how individuals choose to participate in civil society. The student came to college with a given set of characteristics and patterns of behavior. She was then placed into a new social setting in her dormitory, where the interactions she had with her randomly assigned roommate had an influence on how she looked at and participated in civil society. In other words, engaging in civic talk led the student to have what we...

  8. 4 Why Does Civic Talk Cause Civic Participation?
    (pp. 51-70)

    The previous chapter presented evidence of the causal relationship between civic talk and civic participation. Data from the C-SNIP Panel Survey show that civic talk increased participation in voluntary civic organizations by 38 percent. These same data show that civic talk also increased the likelihood of turning out to vote by 7 percentage points. The positive effect of civic talk on civic participation appears, however, to be contingent on the individual’s motivation to participate. For example, the C-SNIP Panel Survey shows that civic talk had little effect on participation in political activities such as protesting, contacting elected officials, and political...

  9. 5 Do You Matter?
    (pp. 71-90)

    In the preceding chapters, I showed that the people in our social environment have a meaningful impact on how we choose to participate in the processes of democratic governance. Evidence from a quasi-experimental panel survey and a series of qualitative focus groups shows that, when we discuss politics and current events with our peers, we are more likely to participate in civic activities. This relationship between civic talk and civic participation exists because of resources, engagement, recruitment, and norms. Conversations about politics and current events provide us with information about how to participate in civic activities, enhance our sense of...

  10. 6 Do Your Peers Matter?
    (pp. 91-108)

    The evidence presented in the previous chapter shows that one’s personal characteristics mediate the effect that civic talk has on civic participation. Specifically, the preponderance of the data shows, perhaps disappointingly to those concerned with civic disengagement, that individuals who are willing and able to participate in civic activities will be more positively affected by engaging in civic talk. This issue, and its normative consequences, will be considered in greater detail in Chapter 8.

    Given that who we are matters, the next question to address is whether the characteristics of our peers matter. The data presented in this chapter show...

  11. 7 The Significant and Lasting Effect of Civic Talk
    (pp. 109-126)

    In the previous chapters I showed how, why, and under what conditions civic talk affects one’s patterns of civic participation. While these findings extend our knowledge on participatory democracy, three important questions have been left unanswered. First, given the extant literature’s focus on individual-level antecedents of civic participation, how does the magnitude of the civic talk effect compare to that of one’s individual characteristics? Second, while civic talk has a significant effect on civic participation, does it have an effect on other politically relevant attitudes and behaviors? Finally, does the relationship between civic talk and civic participation last beyond the...

  12. 8 Peers, Politics, and the Future of Democracy
    (pp. 127-142)

    In his assessment of what political scientists know about predicting elections, the famed cultural historian Louis Menand came to the conclusion that there is much about civic participation that we still do not understand. Of the myriad explanations that exist for why we vote and whom we choose to vote for, no single theory has a monopoly on the truth. However, one thing that is certain is that social context has a place on this list of explanations. We may not be Aristotelian political animals, but we are social animals; we experience politics and current events with and through our...

  13. APPENDIX A: The Collegiate Social Network Interaction Project (C-SNIP)
    (pp. 143-150)
  14. APPENDIX B: C-SNIP Panel Survey Questions and Variables
    (pp. 151-160)
  15. APPENDIX C: Matching Data Pre-processing
    (pp. 161-164)
  16. References
    (pp. 165-174)
  17. Index
    (pp. 175-184)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 185-185)