Political socialization begins early on in life and is an ongoing process affecting individuals throughout. It is how people eventually identify personal beliefs and expectations in American politics. These political views can include our level of patriotism, faith in the democratic system, standards by which we hold governing bodies, and opinions regarding public policies. From the playground to the classroom, the office to the dinner table, much of our lives affect our political opinions. The most easily identified agents of this are family, schooling, peers, mass media, political parties and religious influences. Furthermore, these means indoctrinate us in the political society through four basic methods: latent, manifest, affective, and instrumental socialization.
The family influences children at a young age when parent’s political viewpoints are unconditionally and naturally accepted. This information guides our first political preferences and opinions and statistically is the majority of the ideals we retain. Later on in life, as children mature and are able to make their own rational decisions, most retain the political values instilled in them at a young age and over time may relate them to peers. Varying agents of socialization, like education and media influence our political opinions as adults. While some of the tactics used by these modes are obvious, others are less direct. Supplementary information can be gained from methods appealing to long-
instilled morals and values, stemming from religion. Less basic political socialization is gained from clear and rational thought indicated by political doctrines.
Affective socialization appeals one’s feelings and emotional expressions. Peer relationships and religion play an important role in this. To avoid separation from the group, individuals place in high esteem opinions held by those they respect in an attempt to gain approval. As one matures, a certain peer groups reinforce beliefs. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, in her book Spiral of Silence, explains individuals inherently fear social isolation from peers and are apprehensive of speaking out against group ideas (Patterson 161).
Religion appeals to one’s sense of affective socialization by encouraging puritan values and morals supported by the church. The highly inviolable issue of abortion parleys condemnation by the Catholic Church against the advocating for women’s rights by pro-choice groups. Catholics, while the strongest advocates, do not stand alone on this issue, as many religions preach abortion is the murder of a child. By relating a medical procedure to murder, people are emotionally affected, and instead of thinking rationally, resort to emotions to defend their stance.
Schools are another important faction in delivering affective socialization, but also deliver instrumental socialization to America’s youth. Elementary classroom instruction is generally where children receive their first concrete lessons on the American political system. Teachers perform the important civic duty of instructing young Americans in political history, general laws and rights, and patriotism. Take for example the Pledge of Allegiance, recited across the nation in elementary classrooms.
Day-in and day-out, children are ingrained with a patriotic message of love and respect for the United States of America.
Manifest socialization is direct and clearly demonstrated. Media plays a key role here, with straightforward ads and commercials. These ads state specific things and leave little open to interpretation. For example, commercials for the National Rifle Association stress owning a gun is a fundamental right guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution of the United States. Thousands of newspapers, television news, advertisements, and Internet access all bombard people with messages daily. Generally, mainstream media like Time and Newsweek, major network nightly news (NBC, CBS), and widely read newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, tend to be more liberal in voice, often reporting information in a tilted fashion to a general audience. Other sources, more attuned to serious news viewers usually receive less attention and are likely to report in a conservative manner. Some of these modes include CNN and C-SPAN, for the television networks, The American Spectator, a right leaning magazine, and The Washington Times and The New York Post, daily newspapers. Furthermore, there is heightened political awareness and available information during campaigning seasons when every hopeful politician has a Web site touting accomplishments and goals, while conversely; anti-candidate pages fill search engines as well. Even more obvious is television advertisements, political mailings, and yard signs that consciously target voters.
Latent socialization is the information individuals get less directly. Often times it is disguised, or present in the unconscious but not consciously expressed. Family values
instilled during childhood are a prime example of latent socialization. At an early age we learn our parent’s political attitude and support them throughout our lives. “Individuals have psychological defense mechanisms that protect their ingrained beliefs. When faced with situations that might challenge their original views, they can readily muster reasons for clinging to them because these views are deeply ingrained” (Patterson 159). These standards affect our everyday thinking and political processing because they are ingrained in our ideals. However, “most Americans are relatively pragmatic in their political judgments. Rather than applying an ideological framework, they tend to judge policies by whether they appear to be working or seem likely to work (Patterson 164).
Therefore, instrumental socialization comes into play as an important part in achieving a certain political result through rational thinking. Instrumental socialization is a product of education and political institutions. Learning about politics early on and throughout our life teaches us to differentiate between fundamental and misconstrued information. Established political parties offer obvious political socialization with their political propaganda. The two main political parties in the United States, Democrats and Republicans vary on a number of issues, and individuals look to these parties for guidance and support of their views. For example, people align themselves to Republicans through views of smaller government and fewer taxes. The Democratic Party generally supports expanded government programs for working-class Americans.
Political parties deliver information to citizens portraying superior goals. For example, as reported in the October 16, 2000 issue of Time magazine, United States unemployment tied a 30-year low in September; 3.9%, while the unemployment rate in
September 1992, when Bill Clinton was challenging President Bush, was 7.5%. This statistic, while liberally skewed, wants voters to logically compare the figures and vote on the Democratic ticket in the presidential race this year.
Each realm of political socialization; latent, manifest, affective, and instrumental, stimulates our political attitudes toward relationships, environmental influences, and observed issues. These areas inoculate us in our views through various agents and mediums. These views are advanced and reinforced throughout our lives. Therefore, our political socialization is learning to be a part of our governance and the role we expect to play in a political society.
Patterson, Thomas E. We the People. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2000.
August, Melissa. “Numbers.” Time 16 Oct. 2000 43.