Lilach Nir (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2004) is assistant professor in the departments of communication and political science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research interests are in the social psychology of public opinion and political communication. Nir has published in Public Opinion Quarterly and Political Communication articles on opinion formation and expression, disagreement, and public opinion quality.
Does perceived disagreement in political discussion help or hinder citizens’ political participation? Some argue that disagreement prompts reflection, perspective-taking, and tolerance. Challengers argue that disagreement fosters ambivalence and hinders participatory activities and turnout. One seminal study that tackled this dilemma formulated the ‘cross-pressures’ hypothesis (Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1944/1968), which posited that the more individuals are betwixt and between conflicting social positions, the longer the time for their vote intention to crystallize (and the lower the likelihood they would vote). This paper offers a critique and refinement of the cross-pressures hypothesis. First, previous studies confounded intra-individual and structural sources of cross-pressures. Second, past operationalizations of exposure to disagreement focused on the sheer amount of opposition to the individual’s point of view, rather than his or her exposure to two conflicting points of view. A new measure—network ambivalence—is proposed to capture the latter dynamic. Conceptual and methodological refinements of the cross-pressures hypothesis are tested on a representative sample of voting-age respondents in the United States, interviewed on the American National Election Study 2000 panel (N=1,555). Results suggest that not only were these pressures hardly detrimental to participation, but they also facilitated the formation of considered electoral preferences.