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What is Political Socialization?

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  • 0:02 What Is Political…
  • 1:10 Family Influences
  • 4:02 School and Peer Influences
  • 6:06 Media Influences
  • 7:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Political socialization is the process by which people form their ideas about politics. This lesson explains political socialization and discusses the means through which Americans form their political values.

What Is Political Socialization?

How do you feel about immigration? What do you think about healthcare funding? How about gun control? When did you form these opinions, and why did you form them?

Political socialization is the process by which people form their ideas about politics. It's the lifelong development of a person's political values. Though most political socialization occurs during childhood, people continue to shape their political values throughout their lives.

A lot of different factors affect a person's political socialization. Personal factors, such as your family, social and economic classes, education and peer groups, all influence your political values. More general items, like the mass media and key world events, also affect your political values.

Let's take a look at how each of these factors plays a role in political socialization.

Family Influences

Typically, family is the most important political influence early in our lives. Have you ever heard someone refer to herself as a 'lifelong Democrat' or 'lifelong Republican'? How can that be? Can small children have a political party affiliation, an identification with a particular political party?

They can! Though most kids don't understand the intricacies of party affiliation, they can align themselves with political parties. Kids often acquire liberal or conservative beliefs based on the behaviors and attitudes of their parents, grandparents or other key adult figures in their lives. For example, my friend, Ann, grew up in a family of Democrats. Her parents and grandparents identified themselves as Democrats, so from a very young age, Ann believed she was a Democrat without really knowing what that entailed.

Even aside from party affiliation, children often take on the political culture of their older family members. This refers to the system of general political traditions, customs and beliefs of the family. Though most parents don't include their children in political discussions, kids pick up on casual remarks made between adults and acquire the same political beliefs. For Ann, she remembers watching images of the Vietnam War on television news during dinnertime and her family's comments that it was 'time to get out' and that the war 'had grown too large'. Ann says her family was largely against the Vietnam War, and so, though she was in elementary school at the time, she was too.

Similarly, a person's social and economic classes play an important role in that person's political socialization and identification. Socioeconomic status is a measure of an individual's or family's economic and social position based on education, income and occupation. Socioeconomic status shapes our political views.

For example, in the 2010 midterm elections, polls showed that 56% of those earning less than $30,000 a year voted for Democratic candidates. On the other hand, 62% of those earning more than $200,000 a year voted for Republican candidates. This is largely in keeping with Ann's family, who are mostly teachers and welders. About half are college educated, and they are largely middle class.

School and Peer Influences

Next, let's take a specific look at education. Schooling plays an important role in our early political socialization. Our history, government and social studies courses teach how government and politics work in our country. Students learn about important American values, meaning the common cultural goals of freedom, equality and liberty. Especially in upper-level high school and college courses, students also examine important political events and are encouraged to form their own opinions.

Experiences, like class elections, also help students form opinions about the fairness of the political process. For example, Ann didn't register to vote when she turned 18. She waited until she was almost 20 because she felt her vote didn't count and that most voters didn't care about the issues. She was still hurt and disappointed after losing a senior class election to another student who she felt wasn't serious about serving the school.

For college-aged students and adults, our peers greatly influence our political attitudes. This is especially true for work peers, who are simply colleagues from work or people associated with your career. For example, many teachers are united against recent implementation of Common Core State Standards in some states. These are math and English academic standards tested at the end of each school year. Many teachers find the standards and the testing to be unhelpful to student achievement and have actively protested their use.

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