Great Post on Political Ideology from a Student of Mine

Here’s a link to a great blog post from a POLI 1100 student of mine about political ideology and the role of the family as an agent of political socialization. Here’s an excerpt:

When I got my mother to take the political compass test I was sure her result was going to show that she was much more conservative that I was. I believe I thought this because whenever my older coworkers and I discuss issues that are being highlighted in the media, most of their views on those issues seem extremely conservative to me. Or at least, more conservative than that of my own…

…My mother’s ranking on the political compass, and my ranking on the political compass turned out to be almost the same. This was interesting to me because for the 18 years of my life I spent living with her, we barely said three words to each other everyday, much less discuss politics. So my political opinions were formed from other adults around me, such as teachers and my friends parents.

This is a very interesting observation. In a book I co-authored with Alan Zuckerman and Jennifer Fitzgerald, data analysis of panel surveys in Great Britain and Germany, led to some intriguing results. One of the more interesting was the role of the family matriarch–the mother–as the lynchpin in the familial political socialization process. While it is conventionally believed that the patriarch is more influential in a child’s political socialization, this was not true in our study. Mothers spent much more time with their children than did fathers (the data sets tracked this phenomenon), and it should not be surprising that, while often mothers don’t talk about politics with their children explicitly, their quotidian interactions with their children leave the latter with all sorts of clues and cues about the way to think and act about issues that are foundationally political. For example, where to school one’s child–public secular versus private parochial school–is a fundamentally political decision, yet parents may not express their reasoning for this in explicitly political terms.

Go read the rest of the blog post, and check out our book as well.

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Comparing My Political Ideology to that of an Elderly Couple

I recently blogged about research that does not support the conventional wisdom that individuals get more conservative as they age. What kind of research design would help us determine, with a high degree of certainty, whether individuals do, in fact, become more conservative (politically) as they age? The best would be a panel study, which interviews the same individuals over time. Ideally, it would be great if we had data on an individual’s political ideology at various stages of her lifetime.

What about comparing young people today to old people today? That, unfortunately, is not ideal since  we would have to know the average political ideology of today’s elderly against their young selves. Nonetheless, I found it interesting to compare my political ideology–using the political compass test–to an individual who is a generation older than am I.

What were the results? Well, first here’s an informative chart produced by Political Compass.org.

Which one of these political leaders is the closes to you in political ideology? For me, it is the Dalai Lama. Here is my personal political ideology:

Here is the political ideology of somebody who is one generation older than I am.

Does Political Ideology Change as we Age?

It has long been accepted conventional wisdom that as we age we become more conservative in our political views. Remember the quote that has been (allegedly) wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill:

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

But as with many things, conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to be very wise. According to recent research, individuals do not become more conservative as they age. In fact, just the opposite may be true. From an article on the Discovery magazine website, we learn:

Ongoing research, however, fails to back up the stereotype [about age and conservatism]. While there is some evidence that today’s seniors may be more conservative than today’s youth, that’s not because older folks are more conservative than they use to be. Instead, our modern elders likely came of age at a time when the political situation favored more conservative views.

In fact, studies show that people may actually get more liberal over time when it comes to certain kinds of beliefs. That suggests that we are not pre-determined to get stodgy, set in our ways or otherwise more inflexible in our retirement years. [emphasis added]

The studies do reference data collected in the United States, but there’s no reason to think that the same phenomenon wouldn’t apply in other advanced capitalist democracies.

How do your political beliefs compare to those of your parents? What was the political climate like at the time your parents were becoming politically aware? In which country (if it wasn’t Canada) did your parents come of political age?

Are your Political Attitudes and Ideologies Biologically Determined?

Next week (January 31) in POLI 1100, we’ll be discussing political attitudes and political ideologies. The conclusion of Chapter 5 in Dyck summarizes political ideologies nicely:

Conflicting ideologies offer us a means of understanding our society, situating ourselves in the political world, and participating in actions intended to advance our interests and those of our communities.

What is the source of any individual’s political ideological leanings? A common answer is that we are politically socialized into our ideologies. Agents of political socialization such as families, churches, educational institutions, and the media play prominent roles in the process of an individual’s ideological development. But what if we were biologically pre-disposed to our ideological views. Is there a chance that some of us are more conservative, and others more liberal, from birth, and the role that agents of political socialization is negligible? According to recent research, the answer to that question may be ‘yes’. How much of the developmental process of political ideology is nature and how much is nurture?

As much as we stake our identity on such core beliefs, it’s unlikely we emerged from the womb as little liberals or libertarians. This raises a fundamental question: At what point in our development did such predispositions begin to form, to coalesce and to harden? What is it about our biology and/or psychology that propels us toward a liberal or conservative mindset?

The question has long intrigued social psychologists such as John Jost of New York University. In a 2003 meta-analysis of 50 years of research, he summarizes the overwhelming evidence that political ideologies, “like virtually all other belief systems, are adopted in part because they satisfy various psychological needs.” Jost quickly adds that this “is not to say they are unprincipled, unwarranted, or unresponsive to reason or evidence” — only that the underlying motivation to believe in them emerges from somewhere other than the rational, conscious mind.

According to Jost, political ideologies derive from our effort to “satisfy…psychological needs.” What, though, gives rise to these psychological needs? It could very well be our biology/physiology:

Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln showed people a series of photos — some endearing, some disgusting — and then measured their physiological and cognitive reactions. Conservatives, in keeping with past literature, reacted more strongly to the negative images, and liberals strongly to the positive ones…

…“I figured because conservatives reacted more strongly to negative things, they’d be more likely to avoid them,” said Mike Dodd, an assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author. “That ended up not being the case. They ended up locking onto them quicker and taking more time on them, which makes sense from a policy perspective. Oftentimes they end up confronting things that they think of as threats.” [emphasis added]

Are these findings consistent with your personal experience? Are they plausible explanations for the political ideological leanings of your friends and family?

Do you even know your political ideology? Here’s a relatively painless online test you can take that summarizes political ideologies in a two-dimensional (left-right; authoritarian-libertarian) scale.