By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
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The U.S. Senate has accomplished something at long last: a rules change. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the so-called "nuclear option" of allowing filibusters to be ended with a majority vote. As Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laments the change, some will say the minority had it coming by overplaying its hand in blocking a high volume of President Obama's judicial nominees, among other things. Others will say that as the parties' fortunes shift, the now-majority of Democrats in the Senate might come to regret the decision to limit this powerful tool of the minority. The tension will likely continue, and it reflects a larger concern in group dynamics: How does the minority exert influence over a majority? While the parliamentary procedure politics might seem remote from the concerns of those trying to sway jury deliberations, the broader point of small group process matters. After all, jurors don't simply vote; they argue. And we all learned from 12 Angry Men that one does not need to be in the majority in order to exert influence. Experienced jury watchers will say this real-life Henry Fonda character is rare, but also will say that the numerical minority is rarely passive, often contributing substantively to the final verdict.
Let's say you're conducting a mock trial, peering through the one-way mirror or the closed-circuit video, watching the back and forth of the deliberations. One crucial question is, What is the minority doing? How strong is it? What tools is it using? How does the majority answer or incorporate them? Watching this play out in the dispute over the Senate's "nuclear option," I am reminded of a line of research in group dynamics called "minority influence." It refers to a social science perspective on the demonstrated ways a minority is able to exert influence over a majority. One of the most-referenced works (Moscovici, 1980) distills a number of experimental studies down to a list of principles (simply summarized here) that apply well to small group deliberation settings. Drawing from that work, this post takes a look at how you should learn from minority influence in jury deliberations when testing, assessing, and preparing your own case.