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Are we our Parents’ Political Offspring?

August 20, 2020

I mentioned in a previous post (http://thepoliticsdr.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1610&action=edit) how our parents shape our political beliefs. This process is part of the socialization process where children learn acceptable ways to function in society. Partisan behavior is part of this process for most children. It is a predominant factor in how adults develop partisan beliefs and loyalties.

I was reviewing a dataset from the American National Election Studies (ANES), which is a time series of surveys conducted since 1948. This file contains over 48,000 interviews with hundreds of questions on political subjects and candidates. In reviewing the data I discovered that this file contains questions about the respondent’s party id and the party id of their parents.

I realized that such a large survey could shed light on the respondents’ party id with both of their parents. If the theory of partisan socialization is correct, we would expect a high correlation of party identification between the child and parents. Below is a basic table that shows the party identification of both Father and Mother, and the corresponding party id of their child.

FATHER PARTY IDFATHER PARTY IDMOTHER PARTY IDREPONDENT PARTY ID
1. Democrat55.2%53.3%52.2%
2. Independent (some years also: shifted around)7.7%8.1%12.0%
3. Republican30.3%28.9%35.8%
OTHER PARTY OR DON’T KNOW NOT INCLUDED / N = 17756\


As we can see, the party id percentages of Father, Mother and respondent (child) are very similar, which suggests that there is a correlation between parents’ and their offspring’s party id.

With over 17,000 interviews, the correlation between a father and the respondent is .480 (sig <.001)) and his or her mother is .439 (sig, <.001). These correlations are both strong and significant, but not perfect.

Regression analysis confirms this observation. Although the coefficients are significant at the <.001 level, the Rsq is only .258., which means that both mother and father party id only explains 26% of the variance.

This suggests that it does not completely describe why the respondent chose their party id alone. Simply put, the parents party choice does impact their child’s partisan choice significantly, but there are other influences as well.

This brief analysis does confirm the importance of our parents influence on our partisan beliefs, but other life experiences also play a role as well. It is perhaps better to look at it as a foundation that helps shapes our future experiences.

When my youngest children were pre-teens and riding in my car, my son, who was a couple of years older than his sister, said he had something very important to tell me that I might be upset about. At first I was concerned, but I assured him that whatever it was, he could tell me without worrying about how I might feel.

Hesitantly, he said, “Dad I think I’m a Republican….” At that point, his younger sister almost jumped over the front seat and shouted “See, I told you he was different from us….” Be safe…

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