Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck, Christian Schnaudt
Everyday Political Talk with Strangers: Evidence on a Neglected Arena of the Deliberative System

Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 2023: 64, Heft 3, S. 499–523
ISSN: 0032-3470 (print), 1862-2860 (online)

According to normative theorists, informal conversations between strangers are the most basic manifestation of the political public sphere and truest to the deliberative democratic ideal. Yet systematic empirical evidence on citizens’ everyday political talk outside their social networks is largely missing. Using a unique survey, we examine citizens’ access to the public discursive sphere of political talk with strangers, as well as the frequency and disagreeableness of the conversations held in this arena of the deliberative system. Although widespread and frequent engagement is desirable from a normative point of view, we find this discursive sphere to be considerably smaller in scope and less vibrant than the private and semi-public discursive spheres of political talk within strong and weak network ties. Contrary to theorists’ equation of strangeness with difference, political conversations between strangers also appear rather harmonious. Furthermore, our findings show that psychological dispositions, most notably social trust and conflict orientations, are important drivers of individuals’ involvement in political conversations with strangers. Their impact exceeds the influence of political dispositions, opportunities, and skills. Some aspects of our results raise doubts about the deliberative quality of these conversations.