Political blogs – the curious case of the missing centre

There’s an interesting working paper on the culture of political blogs over at Crooked Timber.

Some highlights and discussion:

  • “blog readers tend to read blogs that accord with their political beliefs”.
  • “Cross-cutting readership of blogs on both the left and right of the spectrum is relatively rare”

A few thoughts:

1. The evidence presented suggests that Americans who read blogs tend to be polarised in their reading habits. The majority are what the authors call ‘carnivores’ – they read blogs that agree with their own political orientation. There are conspicuously few ‘omnivores’ – those who read across the political spectrum. Why? It may be that there is strong a tendency to read what agrees with the reader. Alternatively it may be that the ‘fair and balanced coverage’ is already perceived to be covered by the traditional media (especially TV and newspapers), so political blogs may be filling a niche that is more polemical. Indeed evidence is presented to suggest that the mainstream TV news offerings, left (most of them) and right (FOX), are less polemical than the top news blogs.

2. The paper relies on survey data that assumed a left (liberal) -right (conservative) scale to operate. It appears respondents had no choice but to locate themselves on this scale, with moderate (independent) in the middle. According to Grid-group cultural theory this is a partial and possibly inadequate approach to political values. It would be interesting to rework the survey to at least allow for a grid-group typology.

3. This may well affect the conclusions that can be drawn. One conclusion of the authors is:

‘we find that cross-cutting blog readers are about as likely as left wing blog readers to participate in politics, and that both are significantly more likely than right wing blog readers to participate. We suggest that this may reflect social movement building efforts by left wing bloggers’.

However, political non-participation is quite possibly a feature of Fatalism, which is not accounted for in the left-right, liberal-conservative scale.

4. is it possible that one of the reasons grid-group cultural theory has not taken off as strongly as it might that it isn’t polarised enough? Might it gain more ground if it adopted an approach more akin, say, to Aaron Wildavsky’s in promoting an Individualist vs Egalitarian argument, rather than the relatively non-partisan approach of figures such as Thompson and Verweij?

5. Or is it rather that in claiming there are actually four cultural biases, grid group cultural theory is already ‘on the left’ by dint of appearing to support a (constrained) relativism?

The paper is:

Self-Segregation or Deliberation? Blog Readership, Participation, and Polarization in American Politics, Farrell, Lawrence and Sides 2008


See also:

Grid-Group Theory and Political Ideology, Coughlin and Lockhart 1998

Individualism and Hierarchy: A Grid/Group Analysis of American Political Culture, Lewellen 1993

2 thoughts on “Political blogs – the curious case of the missing centre

  1. Of course they do! Virginie Mamadouh’s grid-group site takes an interesting approach to this matter. You click on the cultural solidarity you like the sound of and it gives you four different ways of learning about the theory, each suited to the particular choice.
    Another way of doing it might be to have four different sites which focus on different aspects of cultural theory. But my concern would be that a theory that refuses to be either ‘left’ or ‘right’ (or indeed ‘centrist’) would appear to be at a disadvantage compared with approaches that are more easily labelled.

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