Social influence plays an important role in human behavior and decisions. Sources of influence can be divided as external, which are independent of social context, or as originating from peers, such as family and friends. An important question is how to disentangle the social contagion by peers from external influences. While a variety of experimental and observational studies provided insight into this problem, identifying the extent of contagion based on large-scale observational data with an unknown network structure remains largely unexplored. By bridging the gap between the large-scale complex systems perspective of collective human dynamics and the detailed approach of social sciences, we present a parsimonious model of social influence, and apply it to a central topic in political science - elections and voting behavior. We provide an analytical expression of the county vote-share distribution, which is in excellent agreement with almost a century of observed U.S. presidential election data. Analyzing the social influence topography over this period reveals an abrupt phase transition from low to high levels of social contagion, and robust differences among regions. These results suggest that social contagion effects are becoming more instrumental in shaping large-scale collective political behavior, with implications on democratic electoral processes and policies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)