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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 11/06/2012

The Alex P. Keaton myth

Is there an Alex P. Keaton effect?

That would be the tendency for children to reject their parent’s politics, thus negating (or if there are multiple political rebels, worse) the older generation’s vote on a day like today.

(For anyone under thirty who needs a primer on Mr. Keaton or thinks Michael J. Fox’s best acting is in “The Good Wife,” see here.)

Parents may consider intellectual or ideological rebellion as inevitable. I already see it as my girls taunt their adoration of princesses and “models.” This might be deserved as I have, as of today, canceled out my father’s vote in the sixth straight presidential election.

It turns out, however, that Alex P. and I are the anomaly. Most political views of parents are transmitted pretty well intact to their children.

That’s according to a long-term study of the political influence of parents that I wrote about yesterday. In that previous post, Laura Stoker, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-director of the study, discussed how a parent’s voting habits affect a child’s later political engagement.

The study has also yielded insight into how political leanings and ideologies are transmitted.

According to several interviews with subjects between 1965 and 1997, “there is remarkable consistency for parents to produce children who look like them” politically, Stoker said.

The study did not investigate how much parents tried to influence their child’s point of view, though the results suggest it might not matter.

Children across the nation were likely to embrace the same party affiliation and ideological labels (liberal v. conservative, for instance) as their parents.

The areas where agreement tended to be strongest was on issues related to religious outlook, such as abortion. She said this may be because a child had grown up around similar “messaging” at home, church and possibly school on these issues.

There was a greater variation when it came to individual issues and local politics. The adult child and parent may disagree on defense spending or environmental conservation, Stoker said, because life experiences become more influential than parents once a child leaves the home.

Patterns still held in households where parents did not hold consistent or deep-rooted political views through the course of a kid’s childhood.

In less engaged or “politically stable” households, which was most, she said, the agreement focused on the broadest issues, like the ones that emerge in presidential campaigns. The theory here is that household interest was episodic and so too was the family’s political communication.

When parents in a two-parent household disagreed, children tended to side ideologically with the mother. Stoker suspects that’s because children might have spent more time with their mothers and know and understand her political views.

Researchers last interviewed subjects in 1997. As fathers and mothers share more child-care, the mother’s influence may be waning in this area.

Then again, parental influence as a whole may have increased thanks to the boomerang phenomenon.

Researchers noted that most young adults developed their political identity in their 18-to-early-20s years, as they developed independent lives as well.

“There’s no question when the child leaves home, the correlates between the parent’s and child’s view drops,” Stoker said.

If that move is delayed, especially during those crucial self-identity development young adult years, Stoker said, “then those kids are going to be closer to their parents. It’s leaving the house that makes the difference.”

How much political influence do you hope to have over your child? Do you expect they will vote like you in the future or not?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 11/06/2012

Tags:  Politics

 
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