A House Divided: How to Talk about Politics like Grown-ups Again.

Book proposal and sample chapter currently under review.

Get your head out of your @*&. Snowflake. You’re an idiot. Stupid liberal. Ignorant conservative. It’s easy to use a disparaging name to dismiss a divergent belief or opinion as naïve and ill-formed. It might even feel good for a moment but it simply doesn’t do anyone any good because it turns people off from genuine engagement. We speak to, interact with, and even live near people who share our beliefs. It has become so easy to live a life blissfully devoid of any political contradiction because we simply like, Tweet, and share what we find agreeable while we hide, unfollow, and block what we don’t. Political attitudes seem to be hardening, with little to no room for discussion or dissent. Insults are thrown, feelings are hurt, and family and friends, at best, decide to avoid political discussions altogether. At worst, arguments cause social groups to break apart. How can deliberative democracy survive if we can’t even speak to people with whom we disagree?

Grandma told us to avoid talking about politics in polite company. Respectfully, her wisdom no longer applies: something has to change and we need to find a way to talk.

One of the most contentious set of political and social issues in contemporary America surrounds the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. It is also one of most perplexing. Public opinion doesn’t usually move quickly on average, even on prickly political issues of the day, but we have seen unprecedented change on issues like same-sex marriage in a short period of time. One of the most powerful reasons is probably the most simple: supportive people from many different social and identity groups were willing to talk about their contentious and sometimes uncomfortable opinions. These were everyday conversations that got people who may not have thought about LGBT rights out of their echo chambers to get them to start listening and thinking. The unprecedented attitude change toward marriage equality and LGBT rights is not only a compelling public opinion phenomenon, it’s a potential roadmap for how to talk about other contentious political and social issues.

Drawing from a mix of empirical research from social psychology, communication studies, and political science as well as personal narratives and interviews, A House Divided reflects on the last 15 years of LGBT struggles and successes to answer the seemingly simple question: How can we be politically civil to each other again?

Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes Toward LGBT Rights. 2017. Oxford University Press.
With Melissa Michelson, Menlo College.

American public opinion tends to be sticky. Although the news cycle might temporarily affect the public’s mood on contentious issues like abortion, the death penalty, or gun control, public opinion toward these issues has remained remarkably constant over decades. There are notable exceptions, however, particularly with regard to divisive issues that highlight identity politics. For example, over the past three decades, public support for same-sex marriage has risen from scarcely more than a tenth to a majority of the population. Why have people’s minds changed so dramatically on this issue, and why so quickly? It wasn’t just that older, more conservative people were dying and being replaced in the population by younger, more progressive people; people were changing their minds. Was this due to the influence of elite leaders like President Obama? Or advocacy campaigns by organizations pushing for greater recognition of the equal rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people?

Listen, We Need to Talk tests a new theory, what Brian Harrison and Melissa Michelson call The Theory of Dissonant Identity Priming, about how to change people’s attitudes on controversial topics. Harrison and Michelson conducted randomized experiments all over the United States…

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Publications/Forthcoming Work

  • Harrison, Brian F. & Melissa R. Michelson. 2017. Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes Toward LGBT Rights. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Harrison, Brian & Melissa R. Michelson. 2017. “What’s Love Got to Do With It?: Emotion, Rationality, and Framing LGBT Rights.” New Political Science: A Journal of Politics and Culture.
  • Harrison, Brian F. & Melissa R. Michelson. 2017. “Using Experiments to Understand Public Attitudes towards Transgender Rights.” Politics, Groups, & Identities.
  • Harrison, Brian F. & Melissa R. Michelson. 2016. “More than a Game: Football Fans and Marriage Equality.” PS: Political Science and Politics.
  • Harrison, Brian. 2016. “The Partisan Pulpit: Partisanship, Elite Polarization and U.S. Presidential Communication.” Social Science Quarterly.
  • Panagopoulos, Costas & Brian F. Harrison. 2016. “Consensus Cues, Issue Salience, and Policy Preferences.” North American Journal of Psychology.
  • Harrison, Brian F. & Melissa R. Michelson. 2015. “God and Marriage: The Impact of Religious Identity Priming on Attitudes toward Same-Sex Marriage.” Social Science Quarterly. doi: 10.1111/ssqu.12169
  • Harbridge, Laurel, Neil Malhotra, and Brian F. Harrison. 2014.Public Preferences for Bipartisanship in the Policymaking Process.” Legislative Studies Quarterly, 39(3): 327-355.
  • Harrison, Brian F. & Melissa R. Michelson. 2012. “Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That: The Effect of Personalized Appeals on Marriage Equality Campaigns.Political Behavior, 34(2): 325-344.

    Opinion pieces:


Under Review/Working Papers:

  1. Book manuscript #2 (proposal and sample chapter under review): Strategies and tactics to increase political engagement and civil political discussion
  2. Book manuscript #3 (with Melissa Michelson): Analysis of attitudes toward transgender rights and strategies and tactics to increase support.
  3.  Article on strength of gender identity and attitudes toward transgender individuals. Revise and Re-submit with Melissa Michelson.
  4. Book chapter on the proliferation of right-wing populism and its implications for LGBT rights.
  5.  “Think Outside Your Political Box: Using the Classroom to Reduce the Effects of Motivated Reasoning and Elite Political Polarization.” Working paper for teaching and learning journal.

**I’m more than happy to discuss any current projects or talk about new ones! Please feel free to contact me at brfharrison@gmail.com.