Every society has means by which it socializes
the young and inculcates basic values in them. Our opinions are
generally molded by our culture, that is by the over-all beliefs
of American society. Thus political socialization is the process
by which people form their ideas about political issues and absorb
political values. In early life, we are strongly influenced by the
family and the educational system. As we grow up, however the influence
of our peer groups and of the mass media including television and
the newspapers, is stronger.
Our parents are the most important opinion-molders.
As Herbert Hyman rightly points out in Political Socialization:
"Foremost among agencies of socialization
into politics is the family."
By listening to our parents talk at the breakfast
table, we begin to form our ideas of the world. In the family we
acquire the basic attitudes that will shape our future opinions.
We form opinions towards our neighbors, other types of people, as
well as towards local rules and society in general. R.M. MacIver
also admits that the family is "the primary agent in molding
of the life habits most of human beings." Most of us conform
to our family’s choice of political party, whether Republican or
Schools are also powerful opinion shapers, where
students are given an introduction to democratic practices such
as elections, voting and even campaigning. American history and
government are topics included as part of the courses teaching the
basic concepts of government institutions. Even young schoolchildren
know the name of the President and his party affiliation. They have
strong attitudes towards him and what he stands for. For example,
President Kennedy was well remembered for his work in the fields
of peace and civil rights. Issues like curriculum reform, funding
and government support for private schools, often involve schools
into politics. Thus Hess and Torney in their "The Development
of Basic Attitudes and Values toward Government and Citizenship
during the Elementary School Years" have rightly concluded
that the "public school is the most important and effective
instrument of political socialization in the United States."
7.2c Peer Groups
Generally political values are not affected by
the opinion of one’s peer group, unless the issue directly affects
the youth, as for example, the Vietnam War during the 1960s. If
members of a peer group follow the same profession, they may share
the same political views, as for example, teachers belonging to
a union sharing similar views on matters affecting their profession.
7.2d Mass Media
In a modern democracy, there are numerous ways
of communicating ideas. Thus newspapers, magazines, books, the radio,
television and films play an important role in creating intelligent
public opinion. Walter Lippmann aptly calls the newspaper the "bible
of democracy" as it is a vital source of political views. The
press gives us a conception of the world around us, thus indirectly
influencing our political behavior. Thus the Press has a long-term
continuous influence on our opinions. The radio, television and
films also mold our attitudes and thereby our decisions at the polls.
Thus our opinions on the United States’ foreign policy may be affected
more by a film dramatically depicting American bombing or Communist
brutality, than by a speech given by the Secretary of State.