Theories of political behavior

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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[edit]

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. During the 2003-2004 school year, In the United States, students spent an average of 180 days in primary and secondary education each year, with a school day being defined as approximately 6 class hours.[3] Post-secondary education appears to have an impact on both voting rates and political identification; as a study of 9,784,931 college students found that they voted at a rate of 68.5% in the 2016 Presidential Election[4] compared to the average of 46.1% for citizens aged 18-29 who voted.[5] Importantly, the childhood and adolescent stages of personal growth are considered to have the highest level of impressionability and this has led to accusations that the education system is a propaganda tool.[6]

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."[7] 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.[8]

Short-term influences on political orientation[edit]

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."[9]

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.

The influence of social groups on political outcomes[edit]

Recently, some political scientists have been interested in many studies which aimed to analyze the relation between the behavior 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 were acknowledged 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 past 2004 presidential election, the women's 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 is 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.

Biology and political science[edit]

Interdisciplinary studies in biology and political science aim to identify correlates of political behavior with biological aspects, for example the linkage of biology and political orientation, but also with other aspects like partisanship and voting behavior.[10] This field of study is sometimes called biopolitics,[11] although the term has other meanings.

The study of possible genetic bases of political behavior has grown since the 1980s. The term genopolitics was coined by political scientist James Fowler in the early-2000s to describe research into identifying specific transporter/receptor genes responsible for ideological orientation beyond the sociopsychological realm of political socialisation.

Political participation[edit]

Political scientists also aim to understand what drives individuals to participate in the democratic process, either by voting, volunteering for campaigns, signing petitions or protesting. Participation cannot always be explained by rational behavior. The voting paradox, for example, points out that it cannot be in a citizen's self-interest to vote because the effort it takes to vote will almost always outweigh the benefits of voting, particularly considering a single vote is unlikely to change an electoral outcome. Political scientists instead propose that citizens vote for psychological or social reasons. Studies show, for example, that individuals are more likely to vote if they see their friends have voted[12] or if someone in their household has received a nudge to vote.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clark, William Roberts, Matt Golder, and Sona N. Golder. 2013. “Power and politics: insights from an exit, voice, and loyalty game.”
  2. ^ Activist Impulses: Campus Radicalism in the 1930s (Cohen)
  3. ^ "Private School Universe Survey (PSS)". Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  4. ^ "2016 NSLVE National Data". Institute for Democracy & Higher Education. 2017-09-18. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  5. ^ Bureau, US Census. "Voting in America: A Look at the 2016 Presidential Election". The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  6. ^ "When propaganda rules schools". New York Post. 2013-04-04. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  7. ^ Dey, Eric L., Undergraduate Political Attitudes: Peer Influence in Changing Social Contexts, Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 68, 1997
  8. ^ Krosnick, Jon A.; Alwin, Duane F. (1989). "Aging and Susceptibility to Attitude Change" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 57 (3): 416–425.
  9. ^ "Do Mass Media Influence the Political Behavior of Citizens". The Guide to Winning Elections. 2013-11-26. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  10. ^ Albert Somit; Steven A. Peterson (2011). Biology and Political Behavior: The Brain, Genes and Politics - The Cutting Edge. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-85724-580-9.
  11. ^ Robert Blank (2001). Biology and Political Science. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-20436-1. This book demonstrates the increasing convergence of interest of some social scientists in the theories, research and findings of the life sciences in building a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of politics. It discusses the development of biopolitics as an academic perspective within political science, reviews the growing literature in biopolitics, and presents a coherent view of biopolitics as a framework for structuring inquiry across the current subfields of political science.
  12. ^ Corbyn, Zoe. "Facebook experiment boosts US voter turnout". Nature. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  13. ^ Nickerson, David (February 2008). "Is Voting Contagious? Evidence from Two Field Experiments". American Political Science Review. 102 (1). JSTOR 27644497.

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