Who can push me hardest?
December 17, 2009 11:24 PM   Subscribe

Is there any research that says who or what influences one's political beliefs more than any other?

1) I'm not really looking for anything in particular, just want to know what past research has said influences one's leanings.

I was just thinking about it, and I assume there must be several but my (admittedly quick) search yielded nothing.

Some possible ideas: income, type or possession of employment, religion, family members' views, friends/specific relatives' views, major catastrophes, feelings of faith or fear, what have you.

2) For a bonus, I'd like the widest variety of things or people that can influence you, by how much sway they have.

3) I'm looking primarily for some kind of research or polling, but after that I'd like to hear what MeFites have seen (can you can back it up with examples of people you know?), just out of curiosity.
posted by aiificionado to Law & Government (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1) Fast and dirty answer is that influence goes family, then friends, then social sphere (co-workers, etc.), then media. Influence isn't always in the direction of agreement; force of opinion influences force of opinion rather than direction of opinion. There's actually an assload of research on this, and I can't seem to find my notebook from the poli sci class where we talked about this. If no one else posts links, I'll do it tomorrow night or the weekend.

2&3) That's kind of chatfilter—do you have something in specific that you're looking for?
posted by klangklangston at 11:30 PM on December 17, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry-- for 2 I meant to say the widest variety of things that can influence a person, not you the reader. That's kind of a stupid question, because it could basically be anything, so go ahead and disregard it-- mostly just looking for any surprise "Oh, I never thought that would have any impact" kinds of things. And 3 was just a backup in case there somehow wasn't any research on it, but I'm glad to hear there is! So basically, my real question is still just #1.
posted by aiificionado at 11:38 PM on December 17, 2009

Genetics matters too.
posted by lunchbox at 12:56 AM on December 18, 2009

I found this survey very interesting when it first came out. The 78% support of evangelicals for Bush was an eye-opener for me, though later I learned he got the same level of support from Walmart shoppers and Hassidic jews, so go figure.
posted by tad at 1:47 AM on December 18, 2009

The economic climate in your youth can have an effect:
Individuals growing up during recessions tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort and support more government redistribution, but they are less confident in public institutions. The current severe recession may be forming a generation that is more risk-averse and believes more in redistribution...

...the effects of a severe recession experienced are large when the individual is between the ages of 18 and 24 – the so-called formative age – during which social psychologists think most of social beliefs are formed; the effects are not so strong when the recession is experienced later in life.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:41 AM on December 18, 2009

It's important to realize that this will change based on the country in question. Going on half-remembered questions I asked a polisci prof in the summer, here in Canada one's religion is either:
a) not determinative of voting in the same way that one's region is.
b) contrary to expected vote based on the States and other polling.
c) a reasonably strong influence which push for different parties based on the region.

So be careful.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:58 AM on December 18, 2009

Do you want real academic works? If so, you could start here with some summaries of classic works.
posted by quodlibet at 6:08 AM on December 18, 2009

It looks like even the first page of the search for "political preference" on Google Scholar has a number of papers worth looking at.

Also, since you asked (sorta . . . ) here are some references I dug up a few years ago. The question is: Is there a period of "impressionable years" where political attitudes are set, and after that change either dramatically less or gradually less as the person ages.

The answer seems to be at least a qualified yes--people do tend to stick with the political attitudes they developed in late teens and early adulthood, and the likelihood of people changing their political views grows increasingly smaller as they grow older.

To me the most interesting result, though: When people do change their political attitudes, they simply forget they ever held the previous attitude--they basically rewrite their own personal history and memories. To them, it's as though they have held that same position all along!

So, to directly address your question: "Who or what influences one's political beliefs more than any other?" One answer is, whatever circumstances, information, beliefs, or social relationships affect the creation of your political beliefs during the "impressionable years" of late adolescence and early adulthood.

Details about these research papers follow; feel free to skip if you're not interested.

Krosnick, Jon A, Alwin, Duane F., Aging and susceptibility to attitude change, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. Vol 57(3), Sep 1989, 416-425.

Two hypotheses about the relation between age and susceptibility to attitude change were tested. The impressionable years hypothesis proposes that individuals are highly susceptible to attitude change during late adolescence and early adulthood and that susceptibility drops precipitously immediately thereafter and remains low throughout the rest of the life cycle. The increasing persistence hypothesis proposes that people become gradually more resistant to change throughout their lives. Structural equation models were applied to data from the 1956-2960, 1972-2976, and 1980 National Election Panel Studies in order to estimate the stability of political attitudes and unreliability in measures of them. The results support the impressionable years hypothesis and disconfirm the increasing persistence hypothesis

Cutler, Stephen J., Aging and changes in attitudes about the women's liberation movement, International Journal of Aging & Human Development. Vol 16(1), 1983, 43-51.

Examined changes in attitudinal support for the women's liberation movement over the period 1972-2976, using data from a 4-yr national panel study of 2,705 adults. Results show that all age groups became more favorable, but the extent of these shifts was greater among the older members of the panel than among the younger members. Findings provide no support for the notions that social and political attitudes become more conservative with aging or that they become rigid and fixed.

Alwin, Duane F; Krosnick, Jon A., Aging, cohorts, and the stability of sociopolitical orientations over the life span, American Journal of Sociology. Vol 97(1), Jul 1991, 169-195.

Examined 3 hypotheses about the relation between age and the stability of sociopolitical attitudes: (1) the "impressionable years" hypothesis, which states that the youngest adults have the least stable attitudes; (2) the "aging stability" hypothesis that attitude stability increases with age; and (3) the hypothesis that symbolic attitudes are more likely to show distinctive life cycle patterns of attitude stability than less symbolic ones. The hypotheses were tested using data from the National Election Study (A. Campbell et al, 1971; Center for Political Studies, 1979). Intracohort patterns of change in stability, using a comparison of stabilities in political party identification, revealed systematic differences that support the impressionable-years and aging-stability hypotheses.

Markus, Gregory B., Stability and change in political attitudes: Observed, recalled, and "explained", Political Behavior. Vol 8(1), 1986, 21-44.

Studied the change in policy opinions across a 9-yr span and reviewed recollections and explanations of self-perceived attitude shifts, using 898 parents and 1,135 offspring in a panel survey. Remembrances corresponded poorly with opinions as originally expressed: Ss perceived that they were more attitudinally stable than was actually observed. When attempting to reconstruct past political attitudes, Ss appeared to rely on simple rules of thumb to account for another's behavior. Ss readily supplied explanations for their self-perceived attitude history, even when those perceptions directly contradicted observed opinion change. It is argued that policy attitudes generally do not have strong cognitive representations and are eminently changeable; once they are changed, an individual's cognitive autobiography is revised so as to render the changes invisible.

posted by flug at 8:34 AM on December 18, 2009

My interest in development of preferences and attitudes comes from studying musical preferences (I summarized a key point of that research here).

Here are a couple of basic concepts that will affect development of any kind of preference or attitude:

* Exposure and over-exposure. This is really basic, obviously, but people develop beliefs or attitudes about and written about in their social group and environment. Plenty of really good ideas don't have any political support simply because they are not talked about and written about. Conversely, some really dumb ideas develop huge numbers of supporters just because they become current in media, talk shows, with popular politicians or entertainers, etc.

And over-exposure counts quite a lot--more than we usually acknowledge, I think. For example I really personally strongly support health care reform, the public option, and so on. But right now I am just so sick of hearing about the whole topic I could scream. So you just start to tune it out.

You see politicians and (particularly powerful, well-funded) interest groups riding that dynamic all the time. If a proposal comes forward that has huge public support but goes against their interests, they simply delay and wait it out. After a time the public just gets tired of hearing about the issue and that's when they move it forward.

A lot of the ideas and strategy of political campaigns is designed around this whole dynamic of exposure & over-exposure.

* Political ideas tend to come in packages--even ideas that are logically not very strongly related. If you subscribe to some of the ideas in the package you are more likely to also believe in the rest.

This is most evident in the system of political parties.

* Polarization. Partly because of the factors mentioned above and social factors, maintaining a belief on a particular issue that is (say) midway between that of existing major belief groups (ie, political parties), or a belief system that consists of some attitudes supported by one group and some by another, is fairly difficult. Not that it can't be done, but there is a definite tendency towards clumping of attitudes around a few points rather than a very even distribution of political attitudes.
posted by flug at 9:12 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, that should be: "people develop beliefs or attitudes talked about and written about in their social group and environment"

More to the point, we develop attitudes towards issues that are being talked/written about--ie, if everyone is talking about abortion you are likely to develop an attitude about that issue, either for or against. If no one is even talking about it, you most likely don't have an attitude at all.

But even inside a particular issue, typically only a small number of options for opinions on that issue--often just two--make it into mainstream discourse. And since those are the options we are exposed to, people more often than not pick one of them rather than one of the (usually numerous) other stances possible on that issue but rarely written or spoken about.

For instance, on that topic of abortion: the talk is almost always in terms of "pro-life" or "pro-choice", and that means most people are very likely to adopt one of those two positions.

If no one is talking much about, or developing handy marketing-speak monikers for, other options (like being strongly against laws regulating abortion or other medical procedures on the grounds that isn't the business of government to regulate, but also strongly against participating in abortion personally because that is against your own person moral or religious code; or opposition government regulation but also feeling the need to speak out and convince--but not coerce--others against the practice; etc etc) then people are unlikely to develop a preference for that position--or any other position that does not line up with the two existing, very polarized, and commonly held positions.
posted by flug at 9:28 AM on December 18, 2009

The 78% support of evangelicals for Bush was an eye-opener for me, though later I learned he got the same level of support from Walmart shoppers and Hassidic jews, so go figure.

However, this appears to be something specific to the US. The voting pattern of evangicals in Canada mostly mirrors that of the general population. I actually think that religion is a strong factor, but it won't necessarily push you right or left. In social democratic parties like the NDP, there's a significant Christian presence, despite that party's unequivocal support for same-sex marriage (even expelling a caucus member who voted against it in Parliament), which would appear to be a deal-breaker for a lot of evangelicals in the US.

Class (whether you want to call it class or 'economic circumstances' or whatever) is also a really strong factor, although again, not clearly in a straight-forward manner.

The urban/rural split is a huge determining factor in Canada as well, but not so much in Europe for rather obvious reasons.
posted by Kurichina at 9:30 AM on December 18, 2009

It would certainly be interesting to see how this plays out in North Korea.
posted by mattholomew at 12:31 PM on December 18, 2009

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