KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 5, 2021
The old adage posits that polite conversation does not include politics or religion.
Kennesaw State assistant professor of political science J. Benjamin Taylor asks, “Why not?”
Taylor has co-authored a book called Political Advocacy and American Politics: Why People Fight So Often About Politics, in which he and Georgia State University associate professor of political science Sean Richey argue that political advocacy—trying to persuade someone of your viewpoint while remaining civil and recognizing their humanity—is part and parcel of a functioning democracy.
“Political advocacy is an important component of democratic citizenship,” Taylor said. “Despite the fact that it could result in conflict, it should be seen as a net positive.”
The research that led to the book started with a question that appears on a post-election survey from the American National Election Study, which has been conducted after every national election since the 1950s. That question asks respondents if they’ve tried to persuade another person toward their point of view. Taylor said positive responses to the question remained low until the early 2000s. In 2016, nearly 40 percent of respondents said yes, they had indeed engaged in political advocacy. Taylor chalked it up to the increasing polarization in American society.
“Advocating for someone is a potentially contentious type of political talk, and not something a lot of people engage in,” Taylor said. “If you look at the literature in communications and political science, study after study shows that conflictual talk is generally not something people want to do. We thought it was fascinating that you see more and more of this in recent years.
“As America becomes more polarized, people are more willing to engage in this type of discussion even though it’s more contentious.”
Taylor said the main driver of political advocacy is competitive elections at the national level. With national interest in elections comes local interest, and then advocacy becomes a factor.
“Competitive political processes generate normatively beneficial political values,” Taylor said. “Competition is good. That’s the most American thing you can say. It’s certainly true in politics. We can see positive democratic behaviors that happen in competitive environments. When things become competitive electorally, that’s good for all of us because then we can hold our leaders accountable and citizens will be more engaged in politics.”
Taylor and Richey have now written two books, along with several research papers. In 2018, the two co-authored Google and Democracy: Politics and the Power of the Internet, which covered the role of Google searches in citizens acquiring information on politics. Their association goes back more than a decade, as Richey advised Taylor on his doctoral dissertation at Georgia State. Taylor then taught at colleges in Massachusetts and North Carolina before hiring on at Kennesaw State in 2018 and getting back in touch with Richey. Taylor said he and Richey have another project in the works, this one specifically devoted to online political advocacy.
– Dave Shelles
Photos by David Caselli
Video by Miles McCray
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