What is Political Socialization? - Definition, Factors, Process & Examples

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Instructor
David White
Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Political socialization is the process that citizens use to develop their values and attitudes about politics and political activities, such as voting. Explore the definition, factors, process, and examples of political socialization. Recognize the influences on the political socialization process, and understand how people become politically socialized. Updated: 10/10/2021

What is Political Socialization?

In the present day, there is a serious conflict being waged by religious extremists in the Middle East. Some people see groups, like ISIS or Al Qaeda, as a terrorist threat to democracy, while others might sympathize with them or even support their cause. For most of us, it can be very hard to understand how someone could participate in a terrorist act, but it almost always has to do with a concept known as political socialization.

In the fields of the political sciences, political socialization is the process through which a person develops political beliefs and opinions that influence their behavior in social spheres. For example, if Tom was a member of the Democratic Party, he didn't just happen to join the group by accident; rather, over the course of his life, he had developed a set of political beliefs that have led him to align himself with a party whose beliefs matched his own.

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Political Socialization Influences

Like any other subject on which people develop opinions, many factors contribute to a person's political socialization. Because it is a development that occurs over the course of many years, the extent to which these factors influence a person often depends on the stage of development they are in at the time of the influence.

As is the case with many of the things that we believe, our families are the most significant influence on our political beliefs and opinions. This is often because our families are the group with whom we spend most of our time during our formative years, and in many cases, they are the group whose opinions we value the most.

Next to our families, the media is the most significant influence on our beliefs because it is often the way in which we acquire information about the world. The media has a strong ability to influence or validate our political beliefs and opinions.

Our school environments are an important influence because they are places in which we spend a considerable amount of time and where we are exposed to new ideas, different people, and belief systems.

Although it does not have a direct impact on our political beliefs, most religious groups have strong political beliefs which tend to influence the members' opinions; therefore, they can strengthen or weaken current political beliefs.

Like schools, our workplaces occupy a significant amount of time and are often the place that we are most likely to encounter new ideas as adults.

How We Become Politically Socialized

Rather than being the result of just one or two influences, our political socialization is a combination of the previous factors working together to produce our belief systems. For example, if you were raised in a politically conservative household, it is very likely that your parents' conservative beliefs would influence your early understanding of politics. When we are very young, we often have nothing to compare our parents' beliefs to and no reason to believe that they are wrong, which leads us to adopt similar opinions. Similarly, we tend to gravitate more towards media - like films, newspapers, or television - that validates or strengthens our beliefs, rather than challenges them.

As we gain more independence through our time away from our families, like we would by going to school, we are exposed to the influence of our peers or adults for whom we have respect. Because we have already developed a certain understanding of politics, we are likely to associate with those whose beliefs are similar to our own, or who validate what we already believe.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Political Socialization:

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay in which you first define political socialization and then explain how you came to your own political views. It is ok if you are not comfortable sharing your own political beliefs; you can create a fictitious example as long as it demonstrates political socialization as outlined in the lesson.

Example: You could write about which presidential candidate you plan to vote for in the next election, and then systematically explain how family, the media, your school and education, your religion, and your work experience has led you to this decision.

Writing Prompt 2:

Choosing three of the factors that contribute to political socialization, write an essay about a scenario that shows how a person's political views might evolve depending on these factors.

Example: A recent college graduate (education) who grew up in a politically conservative home (family) is re-evaluating her political beliefs and shifting to a more liberal stance, especially after working at a tutoring center for under-privileged children (workplace).

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Create a chart or other type of graphic organizer in which you list and define all of the factors that contribute to political socialization.

Example: You could draw a group of stick figures to represent a family, and then, in text next to it, note that family has the most significant influence on political socialization. Then, you could draw a TV or computer to represent the media, and note in text next to it that media represents how we acquire information about the world and that people tend to gravitate towards media that is more in line with their own belief system. Make sure you depict all the factors.

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