Are Political Opinions Contagious? An Investigation on the Effects of Seating Position and Prior Attitudes on Moment-To-Moment Evaluations During the Presidential Debates

Suresh Ramanathan, University of Chicago, USA
Ann McGill, University of Chicago, USA
Joan Phillips, Loyola University, USA
Daniel Schill, Rita Kirk, Southern Methodist University, USA; Southern Methodist University, USA
During the recent Presidential election season, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain went head-to-head in three nationally televised debates. A rating panel of undecided voters provided moment-to-moment evaluations of each debate. This study investigates the effect of social influence on raters’ evaluations. Data analyzed from one debate show that the evaluations made by people attitudinally distant from each other to begin with tended to co-vary to a greater extent with each other when such individuals sat next to each other as opposed to separately, while those who were attitudinally close to each other to begin with were not affected by seating arrangement. More importantly, the greater covariance in evaluations among people who were attitudinally distant led to a greater polarization in attitudes post-debate.
[ to cite ]:
Suresh Ramanathan, Ann McGill, Joan Phillips, and Daniel Schill, Rita Kirk (2010) ,"Are Political Opinions Contagious? An Investigation on the Effects of Seating Position and Prior Attitudes on Moment-To-Moment Evaluations During the Presidential Debates", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 37, eds. Margaret C. Campbell, Jeff Inman, and Rik Pieters, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 242-245 .