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The structure of people's social networks predicts democratic engagement. However, the relative contribution of different types of social ties to civic and civil behaviors is unclear. This paper explores the role of core networks – bonding social capital – to the role of overall network diversity – bridging social capital – for participation in formal civic institutions and informal civil behaviors. Emphasis is placed on the possible role of heterogeneity within core networks – political disagreement and the presence of nonkin ties – and on frequency of interaction, in-person and mediated: mobile phone and the Internet. This study finds that overall network diversity is a more consistent and substantive predictor of civic and civil behaviors than the size or heterogeneity of the small number of ties that make up the core network of most people. The two dominant new media used to interact with core network members – email and mobile phones – are unrelated to any of the behaviors measured. Some other media – contact in-person, postal mail, texting, instant messaging, and social network services – have an inconsistent and modest relationship to civic and civil behaviors. Findings lead to speculation that political disagreement within core networks, typically associated with lower levels of political participation, has a spillover effect that results in other forms of democratic engagement. There is evidence of glocalization; contact with core ties using new media supports local civil and civic behaviors. Internet use largely supports democratic engagement through interaction with bridging, but not bonding ties.
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Keywords: cross-cutting; deliberation; neighborhood; political participation; social capital; social networks

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Annenberg School for Communication,University of Pennsylvania, 3620 Walnut StreetPhiladelphiaPA19104-6220, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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