New Democracy & Information Group Studies Political Communication

How do political communication and other forms of information affect a civil society? How does political polarization impact information sharing, voting, and other parts of American democracy?

The Democracy & Information Group (DIG), a newly established working group led by Professor Yphtach Lelkes, aims to answer these questions. The group brings together graduate students interested in researching topics related to political communication, particularly how new media impact polarization and incivility.

“DIG’s primary purpose is to be a place for brainstorming and workshopping ideas,” says Lelkes. “It is a rigorous, yet understanding, environment for students to receive feedback on their research.”

Lelkes hopes DIG will help students refine their research projects and eventually produce publishable papers. In a recent group meeting, Annenberg doctoral student Sean Fischer presented a project he’s been working on, and the group’s feedback helped him conceive of several extensions of his current research.

“DIG brings together people at Annenberg who are thinking about class political communication problems in our contemporary information environments,” says Fischer. “It has been helpful to have a working group to discuss ideas with because these questions sometimes require us to get more creative with how we collect data or even what we consider to be useful data.”

Lelkes also envisions DIG as a source of professional development for the students involved. Giving students’ the opportunity to present their work and receive feedback, he says, will help prepare them for the academic job market. He plans to use the group to help students when they receive reviews on papers they’ve submitted for publication. The group will address things like how to make sense of a reviewer’s feedback, how to respond to reviewers, and how to use reviewer feedback to improve a paper.

“Academics often work in isolation, and don’t receive feedback on their work until it’s too late,” Lelkes says. “We’re trying to preempt that with DIG, by offering a safe space to discuss ideas earlier in the research process.”

Lelkes, who is in his third year as an assistant professor at the Annenberg School, studies the role of political information in structuring attitudes. He has written about affective polarization — the increasing hostility between Democrats and Republicans — and how the media has contributed to interparty animosity. He has also extensively researched political ideology and identities.