Political Socialization

Political socialization is a lifelong process by which people form their ideas about politics and acquire political values. The family, educational system, peer groups, and the mass media all play a role. While family and school are important early in life, what our peers think and what we read in the newspaper and see on television have more influence on our political attitudes as adults.

Family

Our first political ideas are shaped within the family. Parents seldom "talk politics" with their young children directly, but casual remarks made around the dinner table or while helping with homework can have an impact. Family tradition is particularly a factor in party identification, as indicated by the phrases lifelong Republican and lifelong Democrat. The family may be losing its power as an agent of socialization, however, as institutions take over more of child care and parents perform less of it.

Schools

Children are introduced to elections and voting when they choose class officers, and the more sophisticated elections in high school and college teach the rudiments of campaigning. Political facts are learned through courses in American history and government, and schools, at their best, encourage students to critically examine government institutions. Schools themselves are involved in politics; issues such as curriculum reform, funding, and government support for private schools often spark a debate that involves students, teachers, parents, and the larger community.

Peer groups

Although peer pressure certainly affects teenagers' lifestyles, it is less evident in developing their political values. Exceptions are issues that directly affect them, such as the Vietnam War during the 1960s. Later, if peers are defined in terms of occupation, then the group does exert an influence on how its members think politically. For example, professionals such as teachers or bankers often have similar political opinions, particularly on matters related to their careers.

Mass media

Much of our political information comes from the mass media: newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and the Internet. The amount of time the average American family watches TV makes it the dominant information source, particularly with the expansion of 24-hour all-news cable channels. Not only does television help shape public opinion by providing news and analysis, but its entertainment programming addresses important contemporary issues that are in the political arena, such as drug use, abortion, and crime. The growth of the Internet is also significant; not only do essentially all-news outlets have their own Web sites, but online bloggers present a broad range of political opinion, information, and analysis.