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“What drives the Polarization and Moderation of Opinions? Evidence from a Finnish Citizen Deliberation Experiment on Immigration

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2016
Author Lindell Marina, Bächtiger André, Grönlund Kimmo, Setälä Maija, Herne Kaisa, Wyss Dominik,
Project Deliberative Reforms in the Political System
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal European Journal of Political Research
Volume (Issue) 56(1)
Page(s) 23 - 45
Title of proceedings European Journal of Political Research
DOI 10.1111/1475-6765.12162


In the study of deliberation, a largely under-explored area is why some participants polarise their opinion after deliberation and why others moderate them. Opinion polarisation is usually considered a suspicious outcome of deliberation, while moderation is seen as a desirable one. This article takes issue with this view. Results from a Finnish deliberative experiment on immigration show that polarisers and moderators were not different in socioeconomic, cognitive or affective profiles. Moreover, both polarisation and moderation can entail deliberatively desired pathways: in the experiment, both polarisers and moderators learned during deliberation, levels of empathy were fairly high on both sides, and group pressures barely mattered. Finally, the low physical presence of immigrants in some discussion groups was associated with polarisation in the anti-immigrant direction, bolstering longstanding claims regarding the importance of presence for democratic politics.