The Spiral of Silence Online: A Conclusion

After nearly two months working on my project, I am finally ready to draw some conclusions, and reflect on my research process. I encountered some unanticipated challenges throughout — such as the thorny survey logic required to design a 2×2 factorial experiment on Qualtrics — to more anticipated ones, such as learning to speak R. In this post, I would like to present some highlights, and outline some of my possible future steps.

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Speaking R (for the Math Averse)

After having collected all of my survey data and downloading it as an Excel file from Qualtric’s survey platform, I imported it into R. What exactly is R, you might be wondering? R is a statistical programming language. If you are familiar with statistical computing, it may help to think of it as something between SPSS and STATA — true statistical software– and Python, a programming language. Before beginning my project, I had no training or experience in programming, and just a basic understanding of statistics. I am also not particularly good at or fond of math. It was not a surprise to me, then, that data analysis was by far the most difficult stage of my project, in part because I had to learn how to work in R as I went.

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The Riddle Part 2, and the Trouble with Experiments

A public opinion riddle, part 2:

To explain the 1965 election public opinion shifts, Noelle-Neumann offered a new theory of social influence: the spiral of silence. The catalyst for the phenomenon was the favorable television coverage of the Christian Democrat party during the Queen of England’s state visit to Germany. In the summer of 1965, the Queen of England had embarked on an 18-city tour of the country. This symbolic state visit, which was covered widely on German television networks, undoubtedly served as good publicity for the Christian Democrats. Christian Democratic Chancellor Ludwig Erhard had accompanied the Queen to most sites, and TV broadcasts often showed him appearing with the Queen to greet cheering crowds (Kennamer 1990, Kaid 2007). Noelle-Neumann argued that, amidst this wave of publicity, supporters of the Social Democrats perceived a lack of social support for their party among the German public. They thus began to see themselves as belonging to a distinct “opinion minority” whose political positions were perceived as less legitimate than those of their dominant Christian Democratic opposition. This lack of perceived legitimacy compounded with a universal fear of social isolation to discourage supporters of the Social Democratic platform to publicly disclose their political opinions and voting intentions in the polls leading up to the election.        

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Designing the Survey

I spent the first week or so of my research fine-tuning the design of my survey. Once I was done, my survey consisted of three blocks:

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Abstract: The Effects of Social Support In Online Political Discussion

This summer, I will be conducting a survey experiment to assess whether social endorsement of a political opinion — in this case, on the Ferguson grand jury decision — on an online social network discourages individuals who hold the minority opinion from expressing their view. Does the perceived level of social support for a political view in an online setting affect an individual’s likelihood to publicly express disagreement?

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