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Political views likely to change in college

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

How much impact have your parents had on your politicization? They may not have as much control over your political ideology as they think.

Political opinions evolve over time. As we near the end of one of the most polarized elections in modern American history, the question of "where do you fit on the political spectrum?" seems quite loaded.

Political opinions are generally first formed by an individual's parents.

But similar to many things in life, opinions evolve based on someone's environment and life experiences.

Many college students today who possibly voted for the first time in the 2020 election likely had different or less-formed political views four years ago. Being away from home, paying attention to politics on their own terms has more than likely influenced their views somewhat.

Parents of all political persuasions grapple with how to guide the political conversation with their kids.

Even if parents choose not to discuss politics with their children, the child's ideology is still shaped.

While some parents decide to wholeheartedly involve their children in politics because they wish to pass down deeply ingrained values, others choose to shield their children from the often bitter debate and partisan views.

The Rebellious College Student

Research shows that parents indoctrinating achild at a young age steers them to political rebellion later in life for the parents who decide to make political copies of themselves with their children.

Maxwell Trammell, a gay man born into a wealthy, conservative family, had always voted along Republican party lines until his junior year of college.

"As a political science major, the courses that I took in college gave me a new understanding of concepts that I had not yet considered,” Trammell said. “My political stance changed because I became more informed and had a better understanding of what was going on in the political sphere."

A study published in the British Journal of Political Science used data from the United States and U.K. to confirm that "the children who are most likely to initially acquire the political views of their parents are also most likely to later abandon them as a result of their own engagement with the political world."

This research also suggests that these political reforms are more likely to occur during the college years. College students who come from homes where politics is a recurring dialogue are more prone to talk politics once they leave home, revealing new perspectives.

Karyn Amira, political science professor at The College of Charleston who studies American politics and political psychology, explains that college "tends to be a bit more liberalizing” students’ political identities and ideologies “which shouldn't come as a huge surprise. The research on the effects of college on people has a lot to do with the students they are in contact with and meet in college."

Permissive Parenting

Rouzy Vafaie has been heavily involved in politics since 2000. A oplitical science graduatae from UCLA with a master's in comparative politics from The London School of Economics and a law degree from The University of Helsinki in Finland, Vafaie believes being born in Iran mobilized his interest in politics.

"My interest in politics really started as a kid because I grew up in a warzone,”Vafaie said. “My dad has been very politically active throughout his life, having spent a lot of time in prison in Iran under the previous Shah for essentially being communist. Both parents are conservative, but my dad told me to stay away from politics for obvious reasons."

But going to college and pursuing graduate degrees in other countries gave Vafaie different perspectives.

"Going to school in L.A. gave me social liberalism. Going to school in the U.K. and Finland made me appreciate a strong, centralized government," he said. "So, yes, I did politically evolve from college. However, I still do believe in some of the same issues before college."

He admits that most of his political conversations growing up were with his brother. The only political discussion with his parents happened when he asked for their opinions.

Because his parents did not hold him to conservative beliefs, he could navigate his way through the political world and come to his own conclusions.

The Politically Uninvolved

What is the outcome of parents who decide politics should not be discussed with their children at all? Matthew Logue, a recent college graduate, had no idea his parents were conservative until he graduated from college.

"Politics was never brought up with either of my parents. Sure, maybe they had the news on. Still, I never paid attention because I wasn't given a standard to measure my ideology against. I never received definitive responses from them when I asked who they would be voting for. I always knew they had opinions; they just never shared them with me."

Now, at 23 years old, Matthew has no political identity. He has not voted in any election and does not see himself voting in the future. Like Dina's findings, Matthew had nothing to engage with once he left home because he was not exposed to strong political beliefs.

Every situation is different, some based on upbringing and some based on college experiences and influences. It is rational that most connections during formative political-thinking years could override for at least a season, if not indefinitely.

Although there are examples of offspring emulating their parents' ideology, research shows that's less likely than you may think.

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