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

Chris Wells*, Katherine J. Cramer, Michael W. Wagner, German Alvarez, Lewis A. Friedland, Dhavan V. Shah, Leticia Bode, Stephanie Edgerly, Itay Gabay, Charles Franklin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-157
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Civic Culture
  • Contentiousness
  • Incivility
  • Inequality
  • Integration
  • Occupation
  • Partisanship
  • Polarization
  • Political Culture
  • Political Talk
  • Recall
  • Recall Election
  • Resentment
  • Rural
  • Scott Walker
  • Social Media
  • Social Structure
  • Spiral of Silence
  • Tolerance
  • Wisconsin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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