The Social Citizen Peer Networks and Political Behavior
by Betsy Sinclair
University of Chicago Press, 2012
Cloth: 978-0-226-92281-2 | Paper: 978-0-226-92282-9 | Electronic: 978-0-226-92283-6
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226922836.001.0001


Human beings are social animals. Yet despite vast amounts of research into political decision making, very little attention has been devoted to its social dimensions. In political science, social relationships are generally thought of as mere sources of information, rather than active influences on one’s political decisions.
Drawing upon data from settings as diverse as South Los Angeles and Chicago’s wealthy North Shore, Betsy Sinclair shows that social networks do not merely inform citizen’s behavior, they can—and do—have the power to change it. From the decision to donate money to a campaign or vote for a particular candidate to declaring oneself a Democrat or Republican, basic political acts are surprisingly subject to social pressures. When members of a social network express a particular political opinion or belief, Sinclair shows, others notice and conform, particularly if their conformity is likely to be highly visible.
We are not just social animals, but social citizens whose political choices are significantly shaped by peer influence. The Social Citizen has important implications for our concept of democratic participation and will force political scientists to revise their notion of voters as socially isolated decision makers.


Betsy Sinclair is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago.


The Social Citizen is the best, most thorough, and most methodologically sophisticated treatment of the role of social networks in political behavior that I have ever read. Betsy Sinclair shows just how strongly we are influenced to express ourselves politically by our family, neighbors, and friends. We are on the verge of a sea change in political science, and this will be one of the most important books we refer to when we describe what happened to the discipline in the twenty-first century.”
— James H. Fowler, University of California, San Diego

“A bold and brilliant piece of political science. Betsy Sinclair presents clear evidence of social influence in American political behavior while advancing the novel theoretical argument that the effect is driven by social norms.”
— Scott McClurg, Southern Illinois University

"Bringing together field experiments, original survey data, and careful analytic techniques, Betsy Sinclair demonstrates that social factors sway turnout, participation, candidate choice, and even party identification. . . . The Social Citizen emerges as a thorough and thoughtful effort, simultaneously accessible and technical, that responds to an established literature at the same time that it leads it in new directions."
— Anand Edward Sokhey, University of Colorado at Boulder, Newsletter of the APSA Experimental Section

The Social Citizen provides substantial evidence that our social networks play an important role in shaping our political actions. For many years, political scholars have focused on individual factors, like income and race, and how those affect citizens’ choices. . . . Social network researchers instead look at how social ties can influence political behavior. In The Social Citizen, Sinclair takes up the debate over individual and social factors and studies these variables, with a variety of research methods.”
— Political Communication




1. Introduction: Social Pressure and Participatory Democracy

2. Voting Together: Do the Neighbors Know We Voted?

3. Social Campaign Giving: Could You Please Take Out Your Checkbook?

4. Candidate Choice: What Makes a Democrat Vote like a Republican?

5. Peer-Pressured Party Identification: The Elephant in the Room

6. Conclusion: Social Pressure and the Democratic Experiment


Works Cited