Study: Offspring misperceive, reject parents’ party affiliation
November 20, 2015 12:26 AM
Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The study found that when there was more political discussion in the house, children were more likely to perceive their parents’ party correctly — though no more likely to choose to identify with that party.
By Anya Sostek / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Political affiliation has long thought to be like grandma’s china — passed down in families for generations. But a study published Thursday by researchers at Penn State University casts doubt on that belief.
Fewer than half of the offspring examined in the study both knew their parents’ party affiliation and chose to affiliate with that party. The study was done using two different data sets — one from 1988 and one from 2006-2008 — and found similar results from both. Some of the offspring in the study were as old as in their 80s.
“It surprised us because conventional wisdom holds that you’ll just become whatever your parent is,” said Christopher Ojeda, the study’s lead author, who was a political science doctoral student at Penn State when the research was completed. The study was published online Thursday in the American Sociological Review.
One big flaw in previous research, Mr. Ojeda and co-author Peter Hatemi found, is the assumption that grown children are even aware of their parents’ party affiliation. The study found that in the 1988 data set, 31.2 percent of offspring incorrectly perceived their mothers’ political party and 32.2 percent did not know the correct political party of their fathers. For the 2006-2008 data set, which measured only mothers, that figure was 33.2 percent.
In measuring “transmission” of the same political party affiliation between parents and children, the study makes the distinction between children who correctly perceive their parents’ party affiliation and those who don’t.
“What we discovered is that when you account for perception, actually the transmission rate is overestimated,” said Mr. Ojeda, who is now a postdoctoral scholar in the Stanford Center for American Democracy at Stanford University. “Imagine a parent is a Republican and has two children. One child says, ’I think my parent is a Republican and I want to be a Republican.’ One child says, ‘I think my parent is an independent and don’t want to be like my parent, I want to be a Republican.’ You might count that as transmission if you weren’t thinking about perception.”
In one data set, the 1988 Health and Lifestyles Study, 46.5 percent of the offspring — ages 16 to 82 — both correctly perceived their mothers’ party affiliation and adopted that same affiliation. Just over 23 percent correctly perceived it but adopted a different party, 18.5 percent incorrectly perceived it but ended up adopting the same party affiliation anyway, and 11.7 percent incorrectly perceived it and rejected that party.
For fathers in that data set, the figures were similar.
The other data set examined, the 2006-2008 waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, focused on 3,356 families with offspring ranging from 18 to 37. In that study, which collected data only on children and their mothers, 48.8 percent of children correctly perceived their mothers’ political party and chose to identify with the same party, and 18 percent knew their mothers’ party but chose a different one.
The study found that when there was more political discussion in the house, children were more likely to perceive their parents’ party correctly — though no more likely to choose to identify with that party. It found that when children had higher levels of social support — feeling that their parents care for them — they are more likely to adopt the perceived political party, though no more likely to perceive that party correctly.
“I still think children are very much influenced by their parents,” Mr. Ojeda said. “I think children play a bigger role in the transmission process than we previously expected them to play. Research really needs to think about the role the child has in affecting their own political development.”
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