- The Social Logic of Politics: Personal Networks as Contexts for Political Behavior
With few exceptions, a clean but unfortunate division of labor characterized political research in the past three decades of the 20th century. The discipline of political sociology took on the interface between political institutions and social institutions, characterizing social movements, considering the sources and consequences of the development of welfare states, developing critical theories of power and hegemony, fighting an exhausting battle between new institutionalism and power elite theory, and examining the implications of interlocking directorates for coordinated corporate political action. Political science, on the other hand, maintained disciplinary jurisdiction over the study of formal political institutions such as legislatures, courts, executive leadership, political parties and elections.
As Alan S. Zuckerman reminds us in his historically engaging and thematically rich introduction to the edited volume The Social Logic of Politics, this division had not always been observed. Indeed, modern election studies were grounded in the work of Paul Lazarsfeld and his colleagues in the Columbia University Department of Sociology. Lazarsfeld recognized that political institutions are social institutions at heart, in the Simmelian sense of interdependent individuals interacting in a web of overlapping group affiliations. Zuckerman recounts decisions by political scientists in the 1950s to reject the sociological model on [End Page 1844] methodological grounds (hypotheses describing interdependence are incompatible with statistical tests demanding independence), strategic grounds (if political behavior is merely one instance of social behavior governed by sociological rules, political science becomes merely one instance of sociology), and theoretical grounds (politics is not a matter of influence through interaction, but rather is driven by rational calculators with preferences).
The Social Logic of Politics convincingly demonstrates that these grounds for rejecting interaction-based explanations of political preference and behavior are no longer valid. A variety of modeling techniques able to handle instances of autocorrelation, including network effects, hierarchical linear and structural equation models, are employed to useful ends to test hypotheses regarding the impact of interdependent interaction on political behavior. Across these and other methodologies, in cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses, social context is consistently found to be associated with expressions of political preference and political behavior such as voting, even when controlling for the social and economic position of individuals.
Refutation of strict individualism in political theory might have sufficed two decades ago to grab our attention. Since then, however, a number of studies have demonstrated the impact of social ties on the course of political phenomena such as social movements, corporate political behavior, legislative coalitions, and the international diffusion of policy innovation. Zuckerman wisely focuses on a subject relatively untouched by recent sociology: electoral preference and behavior. Contributions to the volume not only establish the relevance of a variety of social ties (friends, spouses, parents, neighbors, coworkers), but also attempt to explain variation in the strength of the force of social ties on politics. The answers here can be strikingly counterintuitive. Robert Huckfeldt, Paul Johnson and John Sprague counter Solomon Asch's comforting lesson that the presence of one dissenter can dissipate conformist pressures; in political communication networks, they find that views of lone dissenters are often ignored. Laura Stoker and M. Kent Jennings demonstrate that even as gender gaps in political preference widen in the aggregate, they narrow between particular married couples over time. Jeffrey Levine finds that casual acquaintances exert no weaker an influence on political preferences than close friends do.
Although the volume focuses most strongly on personal discussions held between respondents and those directly tied to them, Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie as well as James Gimpel and J. Celeste Lay bring meso-sociological concerns to light, examining the impact of neighborhood and community characteristics on voting behavior and perceptions of political efficacy. Christopher Anderson and Aida Paskeviciute incorporate macro-level context, finding that greater political heterogeneity in a country and greater political marginality within that country lead to greater political discussion among individuals.
Given the volume's strong sociological orientation, it is stunning to see that not one of...