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Political Socialization

Political Socialization

Political socialization is the “process by which individuals learn and frequently internalize a political lens framing their perceptions of how power is arranged and how the world around them is (and should be) organized; those perceptions, in turn, shape and define individuals’ definitions of who they are and how they should behave in the political and economic institutions in which they live.”

Political socialization also encompasses the way in which people acquire values and opinions that shape their political stance and ideology: it is a “study of the developmental processes by which people of all ages and adolescents acquire political cognition, attitudes, and behaviors.”

It refers to a learning process by which norms and behaviors acceptable to a well running political system are transmitted from one generation to another. It is through the performance of this function that individuals are inducted into the political culture and their orientations towards political objects are formed. Schools, media, and the state have a major influence in this process.

Agents of Socialization

Agents of socialization, sometimes referred to as institutions, work together to influence and shape people’s political and economic norms and values. Such institutions include, but are not limited to: families, media, peers, schools, religions, work and legal systems.

1. Family:

Families perpetuate values that support political authorities and can heavily contribute to children’s initial political ideological views, or party affiliations. Families have an effect on “political knowledge, identification, efficacy, and participation”, depending on variables such as “family demographics, life cycle, parenting style, parental level of political cynicism and frequency of political discussions.”

2. Schools:

Spending numerous years in school, children in countries like the United States are taught and reinforced a view of the world that “privileges capitalism and ownership, competitive individualism, and democracy.” Through primary, secondary and high schools, students are taught key principles such as individual rights and property, personal responsibility and duty to their nation.

3. Media: 

Mass media is not only a source of political information; it is an influence on political values and beliefs. Various media outlets, through news coverage and late-night programs, provide different partisan policy stances that are associated with political participation.

4. Religion:

Religions beliefs and practices play a role in political opinion formation and political participation. The theological and moral perspectives offered by religious institutions shape judgement regarding public policy, and ultimately, translates to direct “political decision making on governmental matters such as the redistribution of wealth, equality, tolerance for deviance and the limits on individual freedom, the severity of criminal punishment, policies relating to family structure, gender roles, and the value of human life.”

5. Political parties:

Scholars such as Campbell (1960) note that political parties have very little direct influence on a child due to a contrast of social factors such as age, context, power, etc.

6. The state:

The state is a key source of information for media outlets, and has the ability to “inform, misinform, or disinform the press and thus the public”, a strategy which may be referred to as propaganda, in order to serve a political or economic agenda.

The Effect of Media

Political socialization begins in childhood. Some research suggests that family and school teachers are the most influential factors in socializing children, but recent research designs have more accurately estimated the high influence of the media in the process of political socialization.

Media’s role into political socialization continues in adulthood through both fictional and factual media sources. Adults have increased exposure to news and political information embedded in entertainment; fictional entertainment (mostly television) is the most common source for political information. The culmination of information gained from entertainment becomes the values and standards by which people judge.

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