Working Paper No. 1294

Friendship Networks and Political Opinions: A Natural Experiment among Future French Politicians

Published: July 4, 2019Pages: 53Keywords: Political opinion; Polarization; Friendship effect; Social networks; Homophily; Extremism; Learning; Natural experimentJEL-codes: C93; D72; Z13

Friendship Networks and Political Opinions: A Natural Experiment among Future French Politicians Yann Algan, Nicolò Dalvit, Quoc-Anh Do, Alexis Le Chapelain and Yves Zenou


We study how friendship shapes students' political opinions in a natural experiment. We use the indicator whether two students were exogenously assigned to a short-term \integration group", unrelated to scholar activities and dissolved before the school year, as instrumental variable for their friendship, to estimate the effect of friendship on pairwise political opinion outcomes in dyadic regressions.

After six months, friendship causes a reduction of differences in opinions by one quarter of the mean difference. It likely works through a homophily-enforced mechanism, by which friendship causes politically-similar students to join political associations together, which reinforces their political similarity.

The effect is strong among initially similar pairs, but absent in dissimilar pairs. Friendship affects opinion gaps by reducing divergence, therefore polarization and extremism, without forcing individuals' views to converge. Network characteristics also matter to the friendship effect.

Interdisciplinary European Studies

The European Union in a Changing World Order

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This book explores how the European Union responds to the ongoing challenges to the liberal international order. These challenges arise both within the EU itself and beyond its borders, and put into question the values of free trade and liberal democracy. 

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