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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Voting apple often falls far from the tree

    Intense division along party lines is not just a characteristic of swing states in the upcoming election — stark political differences sometimes occur within the same family.
    "When I was in high school I didn't agree with my parents on certain issues," sophomore Megan Dalton said. "During 2004, we had to do an assignment where we had to watch the debates and decide who you think had won. That's when I noticed my beliefs didn't correlate with my parents', especially my father."
    Dalton said that her political beliefs began to solidify during her sophomore year in high school. When she registered to vote, it became clear to her parents that she had formed opinions all her own.
    "That's when they found out I registered Democrat," Dalton said. "My dad I think at first was a little shocked."
    Despite the initial surprise, Dalton said that the diverse opinions in her family have led to increased political discourse.
    "Now [my dad] is totally fine with it," she said. "He respects my beliefs and my opinions. This summer, we debated back and forth; it opened up a lot of discussion in my house."
    Freshman Natalie Wiegand grew up in a very conservative household but has since become much more liberal than her parents.
    "My parents are really religious and we all went to church every week, so that's how we got some values. I remember really well them talking about how they hated the Clintons — even today I have this anxiety about the Clintons," Wiegand said.
    After joining her high school's debate club, Wiegand's political views shifted.
    "I grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. and it's a pretty liberal place, but the debate club was pretty split. At first I thought I was conservative, because my parents were, and I always had believed what they said. But in 10th grade I was like, ‘oh, actually I'm not.'"
    Although she disagrees with her parents on a variety of issues, Wiegand does have some allies around the dinner table.
    "I have a lot of siblings … there are six of us and all of us are Democrats," she said.
    Dalton and Wiegand's experiences are not the ones shared by the majority of college students. The past two elections in particular prove that Americans are increasingly polarized along party lines, but this division typically does not extend to parents and their children.
    Associate Professor of Political Science Deborah Schildkraut explained that political views are usually inherited, and that it is rare for families to belong to different parties.
    "It's not that common. People like to think that when they're coming of age, that they're independent and that their parents are square," Schildkraut said. "But when I teach Intro to American Politics and we talk about partisanship, I ask students to raise their hands if they know their party, and then raise their hand if it's the same as their parents. People look around and are surprised by how many hands stay up."
    Dalton agreed that her experience is uncommon.
     "When I introduce myself I usually throw in the fact that my dad's a Republican," she said, because of the surprised reactions she often receives.
       Donald Green, a professor of political science at Yale University and co-author of the book "Partisan Hearts and Minds," (2002) said that early influences are what often form the political views of children and teenagers.
    "It's especially rare to see a staunch conservative coming out of a staunch liberal household. Part of the reason it's rare is the people who are raised in liberal households or conservative households are subject to the socializing forces that bear conservative or liberal imprints on people," Green said.
    For example, Wiegand attributes many of her views to her upbringing and attending church with her family.
    "I'm not very religious now but my morals are pretty well set because of religion and growing up in a religious place," she said. "There [are] definitely a few conservative ideas that I still have."
    Senior Shiva Riahi often votes for a different candidate than her parents, but still said that her family influenced her beliefs.
    "I grew up with the political beliefs of my family and I can see it sort of reflected in my beliefs. I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but I didn't get the social liberal policies from my parents," she said.
    According to Green, those who do diverge from their parents are often influenced by others of their own age.            "Peers tend to have a big influence on one's views. That's especially true in college," he said. "People who go to college are often exposed for the first time to ideas that are different from ideas that they've been hearing at home."
    Contrasting views among family members can cause conflict at times, he added.
    "It can be a source of distance," Green said. "When you have family members pulling the same direction politically, there's a certain camaraderie built up. But when you view each other as canceling each other's votes and correcting each other's partisan indiscretions, it can be hard."
    Though Wiegand said that her parents respect her decisions, there have been some heated arguments in her home.
    "[My dad] is actually open-minded about things. My parents made sure [my siblings and I] were all registered to vote. We don't talk about politics all that much, but my entire family once got into this huge brawl about gay marriage," she said. "Occasionally something will come up and we'll get into a big fight. When that happens I feel bad for my parents, because it's like six against one."
    Despite the obvious challenges, Political Science Professor Jeff Berry said that parents and children having to defend their political views can be beneficial.
    "The positive is that you hear different points of view and you're taught to make up your own mind," he said.
    This sense of independence was evident for Riahi.
    "A lot of the kids in my town definitely grew up with the political values of their parents. I often found myself defending what I thought. They were a lot of times spoon-fed what their beliefs should be," Riahi said.
    A difference in political views can be a very clear indication of a child's steps toward adulthood and decision-making.
    "For a child it might be empowering individualism," Schildkraut said. "You might feel more committed if you have to stand up for your views. It might lead to maturity for children to disagree with their parents over deep ideas."
    Defending her political views has made Dalton even more ardent about them.
    "It opened up more dialogue between us, specifically with my father. When he calls me to check up, we always have to have a conversation about the latest political happenings," Dalton said. "I want to build on my argument because I don't want to be the one to lose. I understand where my parents come from, but my views personally haven't been affected. I know what I'm passionate about and I know what I stand for, so I'm not easily persuaded."
    Some, like Wiegand, see their set of views as less of a permanent fixture and instead as something that is constantly shifting and evolving.
    "I hate to think of it this way, but it is kind of like a rebellion. When I get older, maybe I'll be a little bit less liberal or less radical, and less extreme," Wiegand said.
    But for those parents who hope that their kids' beliefs are only a phase, they can only cross their fingers for a little longer.
    "You see a lot of flux during the ages of 18-29, but by the time you reach 30, views are generally pretty stable from that time on. If you had a 30-year-old write a letter to themself, they would find their 80-year-old self would agree with their views from age 30," Green said.

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