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«Does Enclave Deliberation Polarize Opinions? ¨ ¨¨ Kimmo Gronlund • Kaisa Herne • Maija Setala Published online: 8 February 2015 Ó The ...»

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Moving on to the follow-up survey, the trend to more permissive attitudes continues among the participants of the con like-minded groups. In the period between the experiment and the follow-up survey, five additional people in con likeminded groups had become supporters of more immigration. To sum up, 14 out of 44 con participants in mixed groups changed sides as a result of deliberation (13 at T5 as one person had shifted back), and 11 out of the 42 con participants deliberating in like-minded groups had changed sides at the follow-up survey.

Altogether 24 of the total of 86 participants in the con enclave changed sides as a result of the experiment. Considering that the threshold for becoming tolerant was drawn at 7.5, and not at 7 which would be at the middle of the scale, we can conclude that the results show a clear shift toward a more liberal position at the individual level. More than every fourth participant with anti-immigration attitudes became permissive toward immigration as a result of deliberation.

Did the fact that some participants were more moderate and some more extreme have an effect on the obtained results? We have earlier acknowledged that even though random assignment was used, it produced a somewhat biased division between the two treatments. Participants in the like-minded treatment were, by chance, somewhat closer to the mean position on the 14-item scale than the participants in the mixed treatment. This was true for both enclaves, which raises the question of whether the observed opinion changes reflect the fact that moderates were more inclined to change toward the mean than participants with more extreme views. In order to test this, we divided the sample into four new groups. Participants with the label ‘con extreme’ scored less than 5 on the scale at T1, whereas participants labeled ‘con moderate’ had values between 5 and 6.7 (the cutoff point). Among the liberal participants, the pro moderates scored between 8.3 and 9.99, whereas the ‘pro extremes’ scored at least 10.

Table 6 compares these four groups of subjects within the two treatments.

The dependent variables in Table 6 consist of the amount of opinion change and learning on immigration issues in the course of the experiment, as well as a variable measuring the discussion activity of the participants. Discussion activity was coded as a relative measure showing how much each individual talked within their group.

Polit Behav (2015) 37:995–1020 1011

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The variable was coded from the transcriptions of the audio recorded deliberations in each group and measures the number of characters spoken by a person in relation to the total number of characters spoken in the group, excluding the moderator.11 Table 6 shows that the observed changes in the con enclave were not caused by moderates becoming more tolerant. On the contrary, the participants with more extreme anti-immigrant opinions shifted clearly more in a liberal direction than the moderates did. In the mixed treatment, the shift among extreme con participants was over 2 units on the 14-item scale, and also in the like-minded treatment, it was over

1.2 units. Especially in the like-minded treatment, participants with extreme antiimmigrant opinions were the ones who drove the group mean toward a more liberal direction.

Within the pro enclave, the observed minor polarization was caused by the moderates becoming more tolerant; they shifted 0.67 units upwards, whereas the participants with extremely tolerant views stayed put. This difference is statistically significant at the 0.01-level. Moving on to knowledge change and discussion activity, Table 6 shows that there were no differences between the moderate and extreme participants in either enclave or treatment. The observed knowledge gains were similar in each group and the relative activity of the participants did not differ within treatments and enclaves according to how extreme their baseline views were in relation to each other.

In order to gauge the impact of knowledge gains on opinion change, we also divided the participants into those who learned and those who did not learn about immigration in the course of the deliberation event.12 This analysis is relevant in The number of characters was chosen instead of the number or words since the Finnish language consists of long words and no prepositions are used. Instead, the language uses cases which adds characters to words. In practice, the relative numbers of words and characters were highly collinear (rxy = 0.84, p \ 0.01).

Most participants learned correspondingly to one item of the ten items measuring knowledge related to immigration, which makes dichotomization somewhat tricky. Therefore, we label participants who scored two or more correct answers after deliberation as learners (n = 85), whereas the rest are coded as nonlearners (n = 122). Because of the ceiling effect, also the two most knowledgeable persons who scored eight correct items at T3 were coded as learners (one of them learned one more item during deliberation, whereas the other remained at 8).

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order to rule out the possibility that the perceived opinion changes were caused by the briefing given by the organizers. Each participant is placed in their enclave and treatment. The main variable of interest is opinion change, but as in Table 6, we also look at the discussion activity of each subject. Table 7 displays the impact of learning.

Table 7 shows that learning was not a key factor driving opinion change. Within the con enclave, the difference in opinion change between learners and non-learners is not significant in either treatment. There is only one statistically significant difference in the table. In the pro enclave, those participants who were subject to the like-minded treatment and did not learn became more extreme. This seems to give some support to the existence of a link between cognitive errors and polarization, as suggested by Sunstein. Further, those participants in the pro enclave who learned in the course of deliberation did not polarize. Regarding discussion activity, we can see that there were no differences in activity between those who learned and did not learn within any of the four group types. This indicates that the deliberations in the small-n groups were balanced and equal. To sum up, the additional analyses conducted in Tables 5, 6, and 7 seem to support the initial interpretations we made in conjunction with hypotheses testing.


The results from the experiment do not show systematic patterns of group polarization in the like-minded groups. H1a and H1b concerning attitude changes gain only partial support. Those people in the con enclave who deliberated in likeminded groups did not become more extreme: on the contrary, they became more permissive toward immigration.13 In the mixed groups, participants in the con enclave became more permissive, whereas participants in the pro enclave did not become more critical toward immigration. Depolarization therefore occurred in the mixed treatment but it concerned the con enclave only. It is also notable that we did not find any clear indications of an amplification of cognitive errors in the likeminded treatment. H2a and H2b anticipated differences in learning between the treatments. Contrary to our hypotheses, participants assigned to mixed groups did not learn more than participants assigned to like-minded groups. Most participants learned to a substantial degree but this was mostly a result of the information given to them at the beginning of the deliberation event. Still, an interesting fact is that opinion polarization only occurred among those pro enclave participants in the likeminded treatment who did not learn in the course of deliberation. This group became even more tolerant (Table 7), which draws attention to the connection between non-learning and opinion polarization (c.f. Sunstein 2007, 80–95, 140–143).

One possible explanation to our findings on attitude change could be social desirability. Despite the increase of anti-immigration rhetoric in the Finnish political discourse, expressions of anti-immigration attitudes are still likely to face public In this respect our results are similar to those received by Sanders (2012).

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disapproval. It is possible that participants felt pressure to provide politically correct liberal answers, i.e. that social desirability influenced their survey responses. Social desirability could influence participants’ answers both when they respond to surveys at home and during the deliberation event itself.

There are certain features, however, that speak against this interpretation. First, the respondents were guaranteed anonymity in all surveys. This is likely to reduce the need to provide socially desirable answers. Second, there was a larger increase in the tolerant direction among those con participants who took part in the deliberation event compared to the con respondents in the control group. Since willingness to give desired answers can be expected to have on impact on both groups, this result suggests that social desirability cannot be the only explanation for opinion shifts and that deliberation had an impact on participants’ viewpoints. Of course, one might argue that social desirability effect had to do with the fact that participants were at the university campus discussing in a group and being monitored by other participants and a moderator. This view does not, however, account for the fact that the con participants’ opinions continued to change into a more liberal direction even after the event. Nevertheless, it should also be acknowledged that social desirability might be hard to separate from the actual effect of deliberation, and further, that social desirability is hard to distinguish form ‘civilizing force of hypocrisy’ (Elster 1998) which is likely to play a role in public deliberation.

The results of the experiment suggest that opinion polarization is not by any means an ‘automatic’ consequence of biases in group composition or, more precisely, in the initial dispositions of group members. One possible explanation for the absence of group polarization is the ad hoc nature of our experimental groups.

Sunstein (2002, 180–181) points out the importance of ‘‘affective factors, identity and solidarity as factors which might increase or decrease group polarization’’.

Affective ties can be expected to diminish dissent in groups. When people identify themselves as members of a group with a degree of solidarity, they are likely to reinforce the initial tendency prevailing in the group and, consequently, the group

Polit Behav (2015) 37:995–1020 1015

becomes more extreme. Because the participants of our experiment were subject to random allocation into small-n groups, no affective ties should have been eminent.

The ad hoc nature of the groups made it difficult for the participants to develop a within-group solidarity based on some common denominator (e.g. being pro- or anti-immigrant) in the given time frame of 4 h, especially since the participants were never informed about the composition of their group during the experiment.

In our experiment, all significant opinion changes were to the direction of more permissive attitudes toward immigration. The development of more permissive opinions in the mixed treatment may be explained by the established mechanism that exposure to differing political views ‘‘increases awareness of rationales for differing viewpoints and thus increases political tolerance’’ (Mutz 2006, 68).

However, the increase in tolerance in con like-minded groups can still be regarded as somewhat surprising. Our experimental treatment which included two elements of what Mutz (2006, 61) calls the deliberative ‘package’, i.e. information and discussion procedures including rules and moderators, was not designed to disentangle their respective effects. Our finding that learning was not positively correlated with opinion changes suggests that the information provided in the briefing material, as such, did not contribute to the increased permissiveness of opinions.

The most likely explanation for our results is the nature of deliberation, after all.

The results support the view that deliberation is different from other forms of talk and that discussion procedures can have a strong impact on outcomes. The ‘deliberative package’ seems to have an impact on how groups discuss and how opinions develop. This is, in fact, precisely what Sunstein with colleagues suggest when they discuss the results obtained in an experiment with like-minded groups without information, discussion rules or moderators: ‘‘(I)deological amplification is highly likely to occur as a result of political deliberation among the like-minded. It also suggests circumstances in which ideological amplification might be dampened or prevented. In particular, interventions that involve external administrators or independent flows of information, might produce different kinds of shift and might serve to intensify or to dampen amplification’’ (Schkade et al. 2010, 243, our italics).

Despite the initial ‘like-mindedness’ of the con enclave groups, there seems to have been a sufficient degree of disagreement to trigger deliberation where arguments were assessed by their merits. Information, discussion rules and moderators all encouraged the participants to evaluate arguments. Following Sunstein (2002, 180), polarization may have been avoided in the con like-minded groups because the participants who defended the prevailing tendency of the group were ‘particularly unpersuasive’, and the outliers (people with the most liberal immigration attitudes) were especially convincing. Furthermore, because individuals in the con like-minded groups did not know the composition of their group, they may have tried to argue in ways which would appeal also to people with conflicting viewpoints.

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