Political Socialization
and Learning
April 8, 2011
By the end of this meeting, you should be able
a) Describe the stages of political
b) Explain how agents of socialization are
influential on individuals’ political
c) Distinguish life cycle, period effects, and
generation effects on political attitudes
What is Political Socialization?
a) There are two general ways to look at
political socialization:
The process by which people learn the
attitudes, values, and behavior to fit into
political life
The process of political learning
Describe an
experience that
influenced your
outlook on
Childhood Socialization
Pre-School Socialization
a) Before children go to school, they tend to have
only have the haziest of ideas about government
b) Most pre-school children are only able to
identify the president and policemen as
authority figures and they are more likely to
view the latter as more benevolent
c) Most pre-school children are able to identify the
US flag so there is some identification with their
country, if not necessarily with its government
Childhood Socialization
Early Childhood
a) Children begin to notice government
quickly after they enter school but the
ideas tend to be very general and positive
b) Children tend to view the president in the
same vein as the benevolent policemen.
His power is undefined but is generally a
positive and kind figure
Childhood Socialization
Late Childhood
a) By 10 or 11, children start to develop more
advanced attitudes towards government
b) A division begins to develop between and
elected officials and their positions
c) A general adult sense of citizenship begins to
develop. No longer is being a citizen confined to
not breaking the law and being nice but more
advanced concepts like voting and being
politically involved
d) Overall, in this period, children tend to be
largely uncritical of government
Young Adult Socialization
a) During this period, people begin to
develop more adult attitudes towards
b) Children begin to understand the division
between the individual and society
c) Nascent party identification and ideology
begin to develop
d) One description of this period is as one of
Childhood Socialization to
One question that political scientists ask: To what extent
does the way in which people are socialized have an
effect on their adult behavior?
b) African Americans, Mexican Americans and some poor
rural whites have more negative attitudes towards
c) Political events clearly impact the process of socialization
• Dramatic national events (9/11, Watergate, etc.) can
affect young people’s attitudes immediately.
• Elections, particularly those that are more influential,
seem to increase partisan attitudes among
Agents of Socialization
a) Politically active parents and especially
those that discuss politics with their
children are more likely to have children
that politically involved
b) There is generally a view that parents and
children have similar attitudes towards
There are clearly generational issues
Children tend to over report the level of issue
Agents of Socialization
Family (cont.)
c) The thing that is most likely to be
transferred from parents to children is
partisanship although there does seem to
be some decline of this relationship over
d) Generally when children do not absorb
their parents’ partisanship they are more
likely to move to independent rather than
the opposing party
Agents of Socialization
The process
a) Communication- children may be more
likely to absorb parents’ partisanship
because the parents are likely to most
clearly communicate that identification
with their children. When issue stances are
clear, children seem to pick them up as
readily as partisanship. The problem is
those signals are rarely as clear as
Agents of Socialization
b) Rational Adaptation- As children reach
adulthood it is rational for them to mimic
the partisanship and attitudes of more
experienced people of similar
backgrounds. Parents are an obvious
c) Genetics- Studies of identical and fraternal
twins suggest that parts of our genes may
make a person predisposed to have certain
attitudes on some issues
Agents of Socialization
a) There is some research that suggests that
marriage has a socialization effect. One
major panel study found that over time
spouses became more like each other in
terms of partisanship and issue attitudes
b) It seems like generally there is more
movement of wives towards their
husband’s positions than vice versa
c) Divorce issue
Agents of Socialization
Peer Group
a) There is conflicting evidence about the
importance of peer groups in the
development of partisanship and issue
b) The consensus is that whatever influence
peer groups have it is generally less than
that of parents
Agents of Socialization
Primary and Secondary School
a) Internationally most governments require
some political education in school
Inset 2-1: What did you find interesting?
b) There is disagreement about how effective
civic education is at imparting political
c) In the US, it does seem that early
education does tend to reinforce attitudes
of patriotism and obedience to authority
Agents of Socialization
Primary and Secondary School (cont.)
d) Despite political education in school,
adolescents tend to be very poorly
informed about political affairs
e) One thing that does have a strong effect on
political activity later in life is
extracurricular and community activities.
Those who are more involved in high
school are much more likely to be active
politically as adults
Agents of Socialization
Higher Education
a) The general finding is that young people
that go to college are more likely identify
themselves as liberals and express liberal
b) That fact is attributed to three broad ideas:
Increased awareness of multiple views
Ideological indoctrination
Agents of Socialization
Higher Education (cont.)
c) The effect of college does appear to cycle
over time. Students in the 1980s and the
1990s were more conservative than
students in the 1960s and 1970s.
d) What is clear is that college appears to
have an effect on attitudes. Young people
with a college education have more liberal
attitudes than those of the same age
without a college education
Agents of Socialization
Adult Socialization
a) Socialization does not stop when a person
reaches adulthood, however attitudes tend to be
relatively stable by the mid 30s
b) Generation effects- collective effects that occur
during the period when a cohort reaches
c) Life style effects- changes that occur due to
changes in age (i. e. conservatism and age)
d) Period effects- time dependent changes (i. e.
Great Depression, Vietnam War, etc.)
Agents of Socialization
Adult Socialization (cont. )
e) Since a partisanship and attitudes tend to
become stable (not unchanging) in early
adulthood, there can be major cohort
differences in partisanship
f) What effect do you think that the two
current wars and the Obama presidency
will have on partisanship and attitudes?
For Next Time
a) Read Clawson & Oxley, chapter 3.
b) Why might BBC news be better set-up to
serve a democracy than American news?
Why might it be a worse model? (see pp.
c) Name an advantage and a disadvantage of
the concentration of local news into a few
large companies. (see pp. 65-68)

POLI 209- Analyzing Public Opinion