Class, Socialization, and Politics
Elections are at the core of the American political system. They are the way we choose our government, the source of government authority, and a means by which the people can influence public policy. For most Americans, voting is the only form of political participation. Essential questions to ask concerning these issues are: Who votes and why? What influences people to become voters? And what influences how they vote? It is important to approach these issues from a sociological standpoint addressing such matters as socialization and social stratification. Socialization is a gradual process that takes place as we grow up. It is the process that aids in developing attitudes and opinions that allow us get along within a society. These beliefs affect the political views we hold later in life. Through social agencies such as family, schools, peers, and media we become aware of social rules and develop a social identity. (Introduction to Sociology Pg. 96) A product of this development is political socialization, which is the process of learning political attitudes and behaviors. The idea of political socialization helps in providing the answers to the questions concerning who votes. It aids in explaining how and why people participate in politics. The strongest agent in political socialization is the family. What this means is that most children adopt beliefs similar to those held by their parents. Therefore most people will believe in and vote for issues that are important to members of their family's. The extent to which an individual is involved in the political process is shaped by his or her family's level of involvement. For example, a child is less likely to vote if they are raised by parents who don't regularly go to the polls on Election Day. Children of course, don't always copy their parents' political learning's, but are often heavily influenced by them. As a result, most people end up favoring the political party that their parents generally identify with. Social Characteristics also affect how an individual will participate in politics. Whether a person is young or old, black or white, rich or poor, northerner or southerner will have a heavy impact on his or her political opinions and behavior. Class may be just as important in shaping people's political opinions and behaviors. The term social class refers to one of the systems of structured inequalities that exist among different groups within a society. It is the most important concept for analyzing social stratification in a modern society. (Introduction to Sociology Pg. 222) Within this class system are three broad overlapping categories: a working class, a middle class, and an upper class. People are placed within these categories based on their occupation, income, and wealth. The working class receives the lowest income and fills blue-collar jobs in factories and farms, as well as white-collar positions like clerical and secretarial jobs in offices. The middle class consists of professionals like teachers, engineers, small business people, and skilled workers. The upper class, often called the elite or ruling class is composed of those who run our major economic and political institutions and receive the highest earnings for doing so. Class as reflected in education, income, and occupation, does influence people's attitudes on a variety of issues. People in the working class tend to be liberal in wanting greater economic equality and more programs dealing with social welfare. This liberalism on economic issues contrasts strongly with their ideas on civil liberties. Members of the middle class tend to be more conservative in their economic views and more liberal on issues such as free speech and respect for civil rights. Therefore, class attitudes on political questions are both liberal and conservative. The problem with figuring out how these various characteristics that divide the population influences a person's...
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