Social penumbras predict political attitudes

Andrew Gelman, Yotam Margalit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To explain the political clout of different social groups, traditional accounts typically focus on the group's size, resources, or commonality and intensity of its members' interests. We contend that a group's penumbra-the set of individuals who are personally familiar with people in that group-is another important explanatory factor that merits systematic analysis. To this end, we designed a panel study that allows us to learn about the characteristics of the penumbras of politically relevant groups such as gay people, the unemployed, or recent immigrants. Our study reveals major and systematic differences in the penumbras of various social groups, even ones of similar size. Moreover, we find evidence that entering a group's penumbra is associated with a change in attitude on group-related policy questions. Taken together, our findings suggest that penumbras are pertinent for understanding variation in the political standing of different groups in society.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019375118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number6
StatePublished - 9 Feb 2021


  • Interest groups
  • Political attitudes
  • Social networks


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