Most kids either don’t know their parents’ political leanings, or reject them in favor of their own beliefs, according to a new sociological study that challenges decades of political theory.
In a state where the political lineage of Humphrey, Mondale and now even (Norm) Coleman is familiar, this might seem hard to believe. But a team of sociologists and political scientists checked two large national data sets on children’s health and parental relationships, and found in both that just over 50 percent of children misunderstood or rejected their parents’ politics.
“They are not simply carbon copies of their parents,” said Peter Hatemi, a professor of political science at Penn State University and a lead author of the study published in next month’s issue of American Sociological Review.
Amusingly, it would appear from the analysis that parents can’t influence their kids by talking. The results indicate that discussing politics does increase the share of children who can correctly identify their parents’ political views, but does nothing to align kids with their parents.
“Parent-child communication is a vehicle for delivering information, but it does not always deliver agreement,” said Christopher Ojeda, a lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University. “As we all know, political discussions can sometimes lead to consensus and they can sometimes lead to conflict.”
The warm fuzzy finding, though, is that children are more likely to align politically with parents who provide them with adequate social support. While children who receive warmth and encouragement are no more likely to correctly identify their parents’ politics, they are likely to align with whatever political beliefs they think their parents have.
“Social support … leads us to imitate those we are close with,” Hatemi said.
The findings in some ways contradict decades of research supporting the notion of “political socialization” — that immersion in a family with political views can’t help but rub off on kids.
In the end, the findings seem to say this: If you want to populate the country with little Republicans or Democrats, you’d better talk to your kids and treat them well.