Sample Research Paper on the study of political socialization of College Students


The study of political socialization investigates how people’s attitudes and cultures towards
politics are formed and how they evolve over time. Political socialization is the process through
which an individual acquires his or her own political orientations and beliefs. This process
incorporates a number of important socializing agents including family, religion, education, race,
ethnicity, social class, gender, geography, and influence of mass media. Family, religion and
education are considered to be the most important agents. Family is considered very important
because of the closely knit relationship of family members and especially children and their
parents. This makes them sensitive to each other’s opinions and affiliations, relating to them
with ease. Religion also plays a big role in molding an individual’s character and hence
determines what stands to take even on political issues. The reason education could be
considered the most important of these agents is because it provides enlightenment to the
individual. With the newly gained knowledge and the exposure provided by learning institutions
and especially in colleges and universities one begins identifying with certain political
According to the early literature on political socialization, the political attitudes and values of
college students are linked directly to their college experience. Moreover, that experience was
thought to have a more potent influence on the students than did their background and initial
political orientation. One of the classic studies in the literature of political socialization is the
Bennington study. A major finding that emerged from that study was that peer groups and
professors are able to influence students’ attitudes in a very different way from their parents. For
the most part, the women attending Bennington came from wealthy, conservative families from
the northeastern United States. By contrast, the Bennington faculty was decidedly liberal, even

leftist, in its political orientation. What social scientist Theodore Newcomb found in his initial
1943 study was that a politically conservative group of female students had changed their
political beliefs and had become more liberal. An orientation that was consistent with the rather
homogenous political atmosphere that existed at Bennington during the 1930s. Interestingly,
Newcomb and his colleagues interviewed the original sample of hive hundred in two follow-up
studies: one in 1959-1960 and the second in the mid-1980s. Both of the later studies suggest that
the liberal politics adopted by the female students in the 1930s persisted for about five decades.



Amit B. Patel (2011) viewed a 2006 paper, Another and Longer Look at the Impact of
Higher Education on Political Involvement and Attitudes delivered at the Midwest Political
Science Association Convention by M. Kent Jennings and Laura Stoker. He expands the
absolute education model and presents the most holistic of recent studies on political
socialization in colleges and universities. By analyzing four explanations for the increasing
influence of higher education on civic participation, he highlights the importance of higher
education in encouraging political participation. He concludes, based on the research, that
educational attainment increases social capital and prove to be a key factor in determining
political knowledge, political efficacy, and political participation. According to Jennings and
Stoker, despite periods of ambiguity regarding the role of education, there are strong indications,
based on research findings that control for a number of possible variables, that education remains
a critical factor in determining future political activism.

The simplest of their four explanations establishes collegiate learning—namely
citizenship education through both formal and informal means—as a direct cause for inciting
future political participation. As students become members of an academic and social
community that values civic responsibility and political participation, they eliminate the barriers
to political engagement. As a result, they gain the key skills and values necessary to suitably
participate as a citizen in a liberal democracy (Jennings, and Stoker, 2006).

Jennings and Stoker (2006) give the second explanation that also relates to increased
levels of engagement through education; however, this explanation refers to general, not
necessarily civically oriented, learning. By studying an advanced body of knowledge, students
increase their cognitive faculty, which produces “higher levels of information seeking,
processing, and organization”. Individuals with greater proficiency, which is strongly associated
with more education, have more cognitive skills conducive for political understanding and
engagement. This explanation relates to the fundamental understanding of the absolute
education model.

Jennings and Stoker (2008) proceed to the third explanatory factor which differs from the
previous two by shifting the focus from academic learning to social learning. This explanation
associates increased political engagement with a sudden increase in social and professional
engagement: “The social allocation hypothesis rests on the indisputable fact that educational
attainments lead to a host of subsequent status …differences [, which] in turn, mean that better
educated individuals more often wind up in social networks that are… targets of political
mobilization efforts. Through the opportunities available on a college or university campus for
networking, students connect with a community of professionals that values, and is compelled to
value, increased democratic engagement.
The final explanation Jennings and Stoker (2006) give is called the pre-collegiate
socialization argument. It is defined as the “product of cognitive developments, social learning
within the family, and exposure to the larger social milieu provided in substantial part by the
family’s socioeconomic status”. According to this explanation, adults face drastic status
differences due to varying economic capabilities, which afford different opportunities in

adulthood. As a result, higher education serves to buttress and stimulate learned citizenship
behaviors by connecting with a similar community. While this final explanation is least
commonly applied, it provides insight into a possible explanatory factor that may play a role
after controlling for the previous three variables. Expanding on the early understandings of
political socialization, post-1960s research establishes the salience of higher education in
formation of more complex political values.

Having considered these factors, we can now look at how the different backgrounds of
the students plays its role in the political socialization of college and university students. In most
cases we usually have people from very different backgrounds joining the same institutions of
higher learning. It is in very few cases where we have institutions designated for students from a
particular background. David Farum (2011) concluded that students from poor backgrounds will
tend to be a bit slow in gaining interest in politics. This is mostly attributed to the fact that they
usually don’t actively participate in politics back at home for several factors such as lack of
financing. To the contrary students from wealthier backgrounds gain an interest in politics faster.
This is because they probably personally know or are related to someone who is directly
involved in politics. Another reason for this is that they will have the resources to fund their
political activities should they find themselves actively involved in politics. They are however
very conservative, tend to hold liberal political views; they see involvement in politics as their
civic duty. These students will get into politics for more tradition reasons such as service and
accountability to the people.
Students from poor backgrounds have shown tendencies of always pushing for change and
reforms; they see politics as a form of activism. They are less liberal in their political stand as

there is a lot of influence from their family, religion and other social areas of the society. A great
number of these students will also get into university politics as a stepping stone into the greater
political stage. They will want it to reflect on their resumes that they have the ability to mobilize
and to influence others.



Diana Owen (2009) stated that studying how political socialization takes place in society
is like aiming at a target that is in perpetual motion. Many have termed it as a messy affair that
is broadly constructed Predicting what kind of citizen will emerge as a result of various
socializing agents presents an eternal challenge for scholars and educators. There is a need for
innovation in socialization scholarship, both in terms of developing theory and more refined
empirical referents, in order to better explain political socialization in the institutions of higher
learning and its implications for citizenship. Political socialization produces distinct generational
patterns that at the same time are riddled with subtleties and contradictions. Few investigations
have successfully dealt with the underlying causes of historical, generational, or time-related
differences in political socialization.
There is a failure to recognize how changes in the nature, structure, and operation of
agents over time can fundamentally alter the socialization process. There has been a massive
paradigm shift in the way young people handle politics. They are now more likely to take part in
political activities, such as contacting officials, signing and circulating petitions, attending
political meetings, and working on election campaigns. Youth had been found to have less of a
commitment to political creeds than older people. With increased education and its ideals of
equality of opportunity and freedom in society, this has changed drastically.
Important questions beg to be addressed, including: How do you teach civic skills to a diverse
citizenry? How do you deal with citizens of a global community with shared interests versus
those who privilege national identity and allegiances? How will technology influence the
development of citizen identities, beliefs, values, and participation? Decades of research have

merely scratched the surface of the complex phenomenon of political socialization, and there are
numerous opportunities to advance the field further.



Amit B. Patel (2011). Democratic Political Socialization on University Campuses.
David Farum (2011). Political Socialization: How We Become Our Political Selves.
Diana Owen (2009). Political Socialization in the Twenty-First Century: Recommendations for
Jennings M. Kent & Laura Stoker (2006). Another and Longer Look at the Impact of Higher