The development of political attitudes among children :an empirical test of a genetic maturation model


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Purpose: The objectives of this study were: (1) to determine patterns in the development of attitudes and orientations toward figures of political authority; (2) to determine which variables affect the development of political attitudes and orientations; and (3) to analyze the impact of various stages of childhood and adolescent cognitive development upon those attitudes. Methods: The methods employed in this study were (1) a review of the literature on political socialization; (2) the administration of a questionnaire in order to secure data on the development of political attitudes and orientations; and (3) the use of statistical techniques to determine the effect of the independent variables upon childhood political development. Findings: An analysis of the data revealed that: (1) There is a move from "personalization" of political authority (reverence for the President) on the part of younger students, toward an "institutionalization" of authority (favorable evaluations of the Congress and Supreme Court) on the part of older students, (2) The President is not as highly regarded by the respondents in this study as was the case in other socialization research. The President's position is usurped by the policeman. This finding holds when controls are made for party identification. (3) The Supreme Court receives a uniformly favorable evaluation. (4) The development of political attitudes and orientations is not largely complete by the eighth grade. There are significant differences between junior high and high school students. This finding challenges the conclusions reported in most socialization research. (5) The variables of race, religion, sex, political party preference, and SES have little effect, either within or across grades, on political attitudes and orientations. (6) Blacks and Mexican-Americans are not more cynical toward, and less supportive of, the political system than are whites. (7) Age is the only variable that significantly influences political attitudes and orientations. (8) The evidence supports a cognitive development model since students of the same age group are highly similar in their response to figures of political authority. Our data on the development of political attitudes fit the stages of childhood and adolescent cognitive and moral development suggested in the field of social learning theory. (9) Political scientists specializing in socialization have largely emphasized an environmental approach. Our evidence indicates that environmental variables (race, sex, religion, SES, and party identification) are less important than was previously thought to be the case.



Children and politics., Socialization.