Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship
Ideology, Deliberation and Persuasion within Small Groups: A Randomized Field
Experiment on Fiscal Policy
Esterling, Kevin M., Archon Fung, and Taeku Lee. "Ideology, Deliberation and Persuasion within Small Groups: A Randomized Field Experiment on Fiscal Policy." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP13-036, September 2013.
This paper evaluates the dynamics of small group persuasion within a large scale randomized
deliberative experiment, in particular whether persuasion in this context is driven by
the ideological composition of small groups, to which participants were randomly assigned.
In these discussions focusing on U.S. fiscal policy, ideological persuasion occurs but does
not tend to be polarizing, a result that is inconsistent with the “law” of group polarization
identified in small group research. In addition, the results demonstrate the presence of
persuasion that is net of ideological considerations, a residual form of preference change
that we label “deliberative persuasion.” The direction and magnitude of deliberative persuasion
are each associated with participants’ perceptions of the informativeness of the
discussion, but not with the civility or the enjoyableness of the discussion. In addition,
informativeness is most closely associated with deliberative persuasion for liberals who
come to agree with conservative policies, for conservatives who come to agree with liberal
policies, and equally associated for both liberals and conservatives on items that are
orthogonal to ideology. The results show that small group dynamics depend heavily on
the context in which discussion occurs; that much of the small group experimental work
pays little to no attention to this context; and that deliberative institutions are likely to
ameliorate many of the pathologies that are often attributed to small group discussion.