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When We Stop Talking Politics: The Maintenance and Closing of Conversation in Contentious Times

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Journal of Communication

Published online on


Despite the democratic significance of citizen talk about politics, the field of communication has not considered how that talk is weathering stresses facing our civic culture. We examine political talk during an archetypal case of political contentiousness: the recall of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin in 2012. Pairing qualitative and quantitative methods, we show that a fracturing of civic culture took place in which many citizens found it impossible to continue political discussion. Individuals at fault lines of contention, by nature of occupation, geographic location, or other personal circumstance, were most prone to this breakdown. Our results call into question the ability of talk to bridge political and social differences in periods of polarization and fragmentation, with implications for democratic functioning.