age vs environment influencing political stance.

October 24, 2011

Political Theory


My friend’s dad always told me, “if you are under thirty and you’re not a liberal, you have no heart. If you are over thirty and you’re not a conservative, you have no brain.” It was his justification of why I was liberal, and why he was a conservative. Every time I was over at my friend’s house we would get into friendly political debates, and I wondered if he was right. What if the only reason I was liberal was because I was a college kid? What if when I grow up my political views change into something I am currently very against?

In fact in 2008, 66% of people between the ages of 18-29 were Democratic (Pew Research Center). In class we have recently been discussing the topic of “who are we.” What if who we are politically is based on of age? I  wonder why the stats are this way in the first place. One could argue that young people are rebellious and love change in their lives. In other words, change is part of their process of growing up and forming their own identities and not becoming their parents. It may be assumed that most teenagers’ parents are republicans, so to become different from their parents, young voters tend to grasp the opposite ideology. It can also be argued that as younger voters they don’t have to pay taxes. It doesn’t affect their daily lives, so there is no reason for them to feel empathetic to those who have to pay them, like their parents. If anything they vote for high taxes out of spite. The last theory is that younger people tend to be more empathetic to those in need, and so they think with their heart and act rashly, rather than using their frontal lobe to think logically.

From the age of 30 to 65, conservatism rises from 41 to 48% (Gallop Poll). Because taxes are negative stressors on adults, and that forces them to be conservative. It should also be considered that as people become older, they sometimes become increasingly religious based on fear of death, and these ideologies influence their social political ideologies. Economically, they logically think about money issues rather that thinking sympathetically about how that money they pay will, in theory, help others.

Is it solely biological factors that influence political stance, or does the environment amplify the biological factors? There is a theory that every thirty years, when there is a generational change, young people become increasingly liberal. This is because during the generational change there is often a specific movement. The movement is caused by previous unhappiness, usually caused by conservative policies. For example, during the “roaring twenties,” there was an increase in drinking, gambling, and flappers.  This was caused by the economic boom after World War One conflicting with the conservative policies of prohibition and of  women’s suffrage movement. The attitudes of the youth conflicting with  the public policies caused a lot of conflict. As a result, each side affirmed its stance.

During the fifties the policies of Eisenhower, Jim Crow Laws, and the suburban confinement of housewives and their children were the cause of a social movement. This formed a lot of angst that fueled the youth. The  students  became increasingly liberal by supporting the civil rights movement and by protesting the Vietnam War. An example of this is the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which was founded  by Tom Hayden in Ann Arbor. SDS is a major symbol for how college students wanted change. College campuses like the University of Michigan were major sites for the Free Speech Movement. The Civil Rights Movement was also supported by college kids. Groups like SNCC were key in southern Freedom bus rides, sit-ins, voter registration. These events were key to gaining National attention which forced the Kennedy Administration to make the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In between these generational changes young people are less likely to become politically active, for example in the eighties there was economic and social security. After the movements of the sixties and seventies, society felt at ease. As a result the extreme nature of young students was absent. This was caused by the security that Reaganomics gave society, and the creation of the Yuppies. People were living in economic prosperity, until the recession in the nineties. People became more and more anxious until the major recession in 2008, which is argued to be caused by the housing market policies. Today’s society is the next generational change. The youth are starting to want change in the economic situation that face the US. Take a look at Occupy Wall Street, you will see that the majority of people there are college students. Although these social changes can amplify liberalism among the young generation, it can also affirm the stance of conservatism among the older generation.

Environment can also make people more conservative. For example, it can also be argued that older citizens don’t become conservative because they become older, but rather because government puts taxes upon them. Working Americans not only have to pay for taxes, but on top of that there are expenses for kids, health insurance, and food. Older citizens talk and share their burdens with their friends and peers. Their discussion of politics caused them to spread their conservative beliefs. Same can be said for the younger generation. They don’t have the burden of taxes, so they turn their interests on things that do affect them, such as social issues. They discuss  and spread their beliefs onto their friends and peers, causing the youth to be liberal.

So my question is: Which influences one’s political stance more, biological age or environment? Personally, I find that age is the main factor, and environment just amplifies the previous attitudes that were already there.

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5 Comments on “age vs environment influencing political stance.”

  1. clawren Says:

    I think that one’s political stance is mainly influenced by environmental factors. I believe that political views vary based on different circumstances in different people’s lives. Conservatism rises by too small of a percent as people get older to say that age really is the main influence on a person’s political stance. It is commonly known that wealthier people, not just older people in general, tend to be more conservative because they are opposed to progressive taxes that liberals support. I also think that parents tend to have a large influence on a person’s political standing. Kids born into wealthier families tend to be more conservative, because that is what they have been raised to believe. Also so many college age students are liberals, because almost all college campuses are very liberal places. These and other environmental factors all influence a person’s political stance.

  2. blogger32 Says:

    I think this is a really cool post that forces readers to think about questions that they have probably never tried to answer. Something that you mention in this post that I think is very interesting, is the relationship between our parents’ political views and ours. Both of my parents are liberals, and even though I was raised not only in a liberal household but in a very liberal town, I still maintain those views not because they were pushed in front of me, but because I believe in them. As a college student who tries to stay up to date on important economic and political issues in our world, I have chosen to be a democrat not because anyone tells me that is what I should be, but simply because I agree with most of their views.

    Another interesting point having to do with politics, is examining how a person’s background may impact which views they adapt. I come from an upscale suburb of New York City, and although many people may assume that the wealthy would be republicans because they do not like tax increases and other things that cut into their paychecks, my town is very overwhelmingly democratic. I think that part of the reason we find many upscale communities to actually be democratic is because of the last theory you discussed. You mentioned how many times young people may have sympathy for those who are not well off, but in my situation, I think most of the adults who have been able to provide their families with a comfortable lifestyle are actually the voters who support increased taxes among other things.

    Lastly, I thought it was very interesting how you drew a connection between political change with social activism. I think that the connection you made is extremely valid, because when issues such as civil rights or the Vietnam War were being debated, people are forced to take a stance on one side of the spectrum. You could even make the point that at this very moment people are being forced to take sides as the occupy Wall Street campaign takes our world by storm. It will be interesting to see during the upcoming elections if current movements impact voters.

  3. sbsmoler92692 Says:

    While I agree with your argument that there are social factors that help to establish a persons political identity, I also feel that biological age is not a definite factor or indicator of where a persons’ beliefs fall on the political spectrum. For example, I tend to express more conservative and republican beliefs, as I support those candidates arguments during presidential debates and primaries. I can agree more with the Republican politicians than I can relate to the Democratic ones. Just because in the media you see celebrities, and famous fixtures and teen idols supporting a certain political party over another, does not mean it is a good reason to support that. If I have learned anything, I have learned that it is best to weigh the pros and cons and really think about what each party supports and opposes. While sometimes they agree on certain issues, other issues hold dissenting opinions. While this holds true, I also do not agree with every Republican out there, on issues that are more personal. One of the most common ways children and young adults formulate their own political identity is simply following in the footsteps of their parents. Many times, teenagers grow up supporting the same beliefs that their parents do. This has not always been the case in my house, where one side of my family is extremely liberal, and the other, very republican and conservative. If anything, I have found this to be beneficial in hearing both sides, arguments, and have had interesting conversation pertaining to various political issues. Being exposed to many different types of political opinions has helped me curate my own views. However, I can understand why many young people might hold Democratic political opinions in today’s world, because of the economic factors that have been occurring within the past decade. The fall of the markets, and economic recession has taken a toll on many families, and started to harm the open market and job availability for many recent college graduates. It’s a tough market out there, and this can only help to explain why much of the youth considers themselves to be democrats. Therefore, I can understand that environment is a strong contributing factor to determining and influencing people’s political identity.

  4. mrau188 Says:

    I believe that environment is the key factor that influences our political stance. Everyone comes from a different background and goes through different things while growing up and mostly these are what shapes their political views. for example, a student that lives in south central LA and goes to a high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District is probably going to be liberal because they do not have the benefit of a really good school and they want the government to fix their problems, they also probably collect from some sort of welfare because of the community that they live in and feel without this financial assistance from the government they wont be able to survive. On the other hand people that come from wealthy districts that have great public school systems, still receive the same funding that the poorer school districts receive from the government but it is what the parents of the kids are donating that makes the difference. In my hometown the parents had to raise something like 6 million dollars to save the teachers that would be let off if we just went along with what they government have us. So these people tend to be conservative because they are already having to donate to send their kids to a good school so why should it go through a middle-man aka the government.

  5. roshray Says:

    There is a lot more than just age, I feel, that sways your political beliefs. Your upraising, for one, does a lot, especially if you live in an entire culture that is very politically swayed. Your parents are a huge part of this, obviously, as you grow up hearing their opinions and think they’re just right because at that age you don’t know any better. What news channel you watch, your teachers starting from elementary school, what your friends believe… there is so much that is put into your political socialization that has nothing to do with you. Then there’s the actual objective stuff, things that you personally are passionate about, things that would benefit you politically… the list goes on and on. It’s this last thing where age comes into play. With age comes different desires. In college, things like paying taxes and the economy are not huge concerns. Social things, like health care, gay marriage, and abortion are, and that is why liberalism sounds so enticing. As we grow older, we become more conservative because of more economic reasons such as lower taxes. Additionally, it’s important to remember our definition of what conservative means – resisting change. The change we desire when we are in our late teens, twenties, and thirties becomes the norm by the time we are older. This is the limit to what we want changed. We now want to conserve what we have put into action and keep our status quo the same.

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