Theories of political behavior

Theories of political behavior, as an aspect of political science, attempt to quantify and explain the influences that define a person's political views, ideology, and levels of political participation. Broadly speaking, behavior is political whenever individuals or groups try to influence or escape the influence of others. Political behavior is the subset of human behavior that involves politics and powers.[1] Theorists who have had an influence on this field include Karl Deutsch and Theodor Adorno.

Long-term influences on political orientation

There are three main sources of influence that shape political orientation which creates long-term effects. Generally, the primary influence originates from family. As stated previously, children will often adopt their parents' ideological values. Some theorists have argued that family tends to be the strongest, most influential force which exists over the lifetime; one essay has credited the majority of the student activism of the 1930s to the influence of parents.[2]

Secondly, teachers and other educational authority figures have a significant impact on political orientation. From as early as age 4 up until 18, children spend about 25% of their time involved in educational processes.[citation needed] Post-secondary education significantly raises the impact of political awareness and orientation; an October 2004 study of 1,202 college undergraduates across the United States showed that 87% of college students were registered to vote, compared to a national average of 64% of American adults.[3] A study at Santa Clara University also showed that 84% of students there were registered to vote.[3] Also consider that childhood and adolescent stages of personal growth have the highest level of impressionability.

Thirdly, peers also affect political orientation. Friends often, but not necessarily, have the advantage of being part of the same generation, which collectively develops a unique set of societal issues; Eric L. Dey has argued that "socialisation is the process through which individuals acquire knowledge, habits, and value orientations that will be useful in the future."[4] The ability to relate on this common level is what fuels and enables future ideological growth.

Sociologists and political scientists debate the relationship between age and the formation of political attitudes. The impressionable years hypothesis postulates that political orientation is solidified during early adulthood. By contrast, the "increasing persistence hypothesis" posits that attitudes become less likely to change as individuals become older, while the "life-long openness hypothesis" proposes that the attitudes of individuals remain flexible regardless of age.[5]

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