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- For closely related theories in sociology, see collective 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. 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 shapes political orientation which create 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.
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 percent of their time involved in educational processes.[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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. A study at Santa Clara University also showed that 84% of students there were registered to vote. 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. Bey has argued that "socialisation is the process through which individuals acquire knowledge, habits, and value orientations that will be useful in the future." The ability to relate on this common level is where the means to shape ideological growth.
Short-term influences on political orientation
Short-term factors also affect voting behavior; the media and the impact of individual election issues are among these factors. These factors differ from the long-term factors as they are often short lived. However, they can be just as crucial in modifying political orientation. The ways in which these two sources are interpreted often relies on the individuals specific political ideology formed by the long term factors.
Most political scientists agree that the mass media have a profound impact on voting behavior. One author asserts that "few would argue with the notion that the institutions of the mass media are important to contemporary politics...in the transition to liberal democratic politics in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe the media was a key battleground."
Second, there are election issues. These include campaign issues, debates and commercials. Election years and political campaigns can shift certain political behaviors based on the candidates involved, which have different degrees of effectiveness in influencing voters.
Recently, some political scientists have been interested in many studies which aimed to analyse the relation between the behaviour of social groups and the political outcomes. Some of the social groups included in their studies have been age demographics, gender, and ethnic groups.
For example, in U.S. politics, the effect of ethnic groups and gender has a great influence on the political outcomes.
Latin Americans have a profound social impact on the political outcome of their vote and are emerging as a strong up-and-coming political force. The most noticeable increase in Latin American voting was in the 2000 presidential election, although the votes did not share a socially common political view at that time. In the 2006 election, the Latin American vote aided tremendously in the election of Florida Senator Mel Martinez, although in the 2004 presidential election, about 44% of Latin Americans voted for Republican President George W. Bush. Latin Americans have been seen to be showing an increasing trend in the issues on which they vote for, causing them to become more united when faced with political views. Currently illegal immigration has been claiming most attention and Latin Americans, although not completely unanimous, are concerned with the education, employment and deportation of illegal immigrants in the United States.
Over seven decades ago, women earned the right to vote and since then they have been making a difference in the outcomes of political election. Given that the right to be politically active has granted them the opportunity to expand their knowledge and influence in current affairs, they are now considered one of the main components in the country’s decision making in both politics and economy. According to The American Political Science Association, over the pass 2004 presidential election, the women vote may have well decided the outcome of the race. Susan Carroll, the author of Women Voters and the Gender Gap, states that the increase of women influence on political behaviors due to four main categories: women outnumber men among voters; significant efforts are underway to increase registration and turnout among women; a gender gap is evident in the 2004 election as it has been in every presidential election since 1980; and women constitute a disproportionately large share of the undecided voters who will make their decision late in the campaign.
- Dey, Eric L., Undergraduate Political Attitudes: Peer Influence in Changing Social Contexts, Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 68, 1997
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