Social conformity or attitude persistence? The bandwagon effect and the spiral of silence in a polarized context

Mike Farjam, Karl Loxbo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines whether and to what extent the bandwagon effect and the spiral of silence impact opinion formation in a polarized context, where individuals tend to be persistent in their policy attitudes. Focusing on contentious policy issues at the heart of the culture war in American politics, our aim is to study the relative importance of attitude persistence and social conformity in the opinion-formation process, and how these responses depend on individuals’ ideological commitments. We conducted an experimental study of US citizens, where participants donated money to organizations advocating opposed positions on seven of the most contentious issues in American politics. Utilizing the presentation of opinion polls as a treatment, the findings are threefold. First, we show that polls cause ideologically moderate people to abandon the minority and conform to the majority opinion regardless of the issue at stake. By contrast, we show that attitude persistence prevails among ideologically extreme people. Second, we demonstrate that seeing polls generally demobilizes people with minority views. Third, we find that opinion-conversion and demobilization jointly undermine minority opinions, while only a small minority of extremists repels both mechanisms. These findings have important implications for research on opinion formation in today's polarized political landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
  • Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)


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