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7.2 Political Socialization

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.

7.2a Family

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 Democrat.

7.2b Schools

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.

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7.0 - Introduction
7.1 - How Public Opinion Is Measured
7.2 - Political Socialization
7.3 - Social Background And Political Values
7.4 - Political Ideology
7.5 - How Public Opinion Is Formed

Chapter 8

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