Political beliefs: nature or nurture?

(Riddhi Jani)

Growing up, there was always a form of political discussion in my house. From discussing the issues of what was occuring in my country of origin (Afghanistan) to discussing the issues of my place of birth (Canada), I cannot think of a time when political discussions did not exist. 

With stories like mine and many others who have grown up with politics, it is easy for political beliefs from the older generation to influence the younger. Until we are older and have that sense of awareness, forming political beliefs are mainly derived from what our parents teach us. 

Our beliefs are one of the main components of our identity. Beliefs and ideologies are important as they are the factors that shape the way we see, interpret, and interact with the world around us. 

In attempts to delve into my own psyche, I wonder how political beliefs stem and flourish within us. Do parents play a key role? How similar or different are children’s political beliefs compared to their parents? Why do children’s beliefs change or remain the same?

The Experts Take 

In an article by Vox, political scientists Christopher Ojeda and Peter K.Hatemi conducted research on this topic to understand the beliefs of children, parents and how they further correlate with one another. 

The results are far from uninteresting. The results show that “less than half of Americans accurately perceive their parents’ political leaning and adopt those beliefs.”

They further found that adopting beliefs fall on the parent-child relationship. Similar to my story, it is said that “the more they discuss politics, the more easily the child can diagnose their parent’s political beliefs.” Nonetheless, this concluded that this sort of upbringing have little correlation on whether the child will possess these beliefs or not. 

Ojeda and Hatemi also took a dive into previous research specifically, two surveys: one conducted in 1988 and the other in the late 2000s. The results found in the surveys had shown that “two in three adult children could properly identify a parent’s party identification,” and one in four children in this group “rejected their parents’ politics.”

Additionally, professor in the department of sociology, Lesley Wood, provides more insight as one who studies political sociology. 

Wood starts by saying one’s beliefs are shaped by “socialization in family and society, the changing context, and social ties.

“When one is young, one is most influenced by one’s parents’ political beliefs, but significant events like migration, economic or political crises can radically alter those beliefs. As an adult, and perhaps especially as a young adult, friends, teachers, and even professors may influence one’s activities and beliefs,” Wood continues. 

Wood clarifies the misconception of children always rebelling against their parents. They say “some people follow in their parents footsteps, particularly when the larger culture demonizes those beliefs. Of course there are others who do rebel. This is most likely when they have diverse sources of information and support.”

Wood further touches on migration and generational divides. “Sometimes we see migrants’ beliefs be particularly influenced by homeland experiences, and their kids’ beliefs react against those experiences, and then their kids shift back in some ways.”

A dive into student stories

Several students have agreed to share their own stories and journeys within forming their political stance. They bring up points not only limited to the way they were raised but also the overall impact of society as well. 

One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, shares how their political beliefs and further study of politics was particularly impacted by their father. “Over the years, my approach to politics gradually shifted back and forth across different spectrums, depending on the issue being discussed. This is because my father had instilled in me the belief that there is no singular correct approach to political issues, and that parties on the left and right are seldom always correct in their approach to politics.”

They further discuss how their opinions and beliefs are similar to their parents but were “not a result of having conversations with them that reinforced their ideas. It came after years of joining different political parties, speaking with a diverse set of communities, and witnessing the impacts of different policies that were initiated by individuals from a variety of political backgrounds.”

Sanesh Tiwari, a fourth-year international student studying mathematics, shares their experience of coming from a different society and how this impacted their political beliefs.

“Coming from a more right-leaning political society, I used to consider myself as a person with more liberal beliefs. As such, that was one of the reasons why I chose to study in Canada, which around 2015 to 2016 was appearing in social media as a model country for liberalism with Justin Trudeau’s new “progressive” government,” Tiwari shares.

Tiwari mentions that at that time they served in the Singapore Armed Forces, and the culture growing up was mainly conservative. Tiwari also delved into an interesting and ironic point of their political views shifting to the right side when they moved to Canada. 

“Over my years in Canada, beginning with my time as a York student, my political beliefs have largely shifted towards conservatism and more right leaning. York has been a staunch liberal university, throughout which I have largely disagreed on many of its stances,” Tiwari says.

Tiwari continues by sharing, “I have realized that my initial left-leaning political views were basically a case of the grass being greener on the other side as Singapore is a largely successful country that has undeniably been a result of right-leaning policies. After living on my own, I have become a lot more vocal about my political views to people, including my family back home. As a traditional Asian family, my vocality seems to be jarring for them, which does put them off at times.”

Another student, who also wishes to remain anonymous, shares that their “family is very proudly NDP.” They explain that this is due to the New Democratic Party (NDP) being advocates for minorities, and how they were “raised to speak up when things seem unfair and advocate for change, even if it is at a steep price.”

This student also shares that though they have focused on the “humanitarian approach” to their family values, they have shifted in views, particularly with budgeting. “We tend to clash on certain policies and decisions of the government as far as budget is concerned, but ethically we agree there are issues. We both agree there are problems in Canada that need to be addressed, but differ in the types of solutions that ought to be implemented.”

A weigh in on by a Member of Parliament

Member of Parliament for Thornhill, Melissa Lantsman, gives insight through her involvement in politics as well as delving into factors that play into shaping political beliefs.

Lantsman mentions how people are affected by the prevalent issues at hand, and how these issues convert into conversations held at home. She specifically mentions that her conversation with a civics class at Hodan Nalayeh High School and the issues at hand discussed was of affordability. Lantsaman says that “you do pick up on what the conversations are at home, and I think that colours your view about what you think is important based on what your parents are talking about either at the table or just among themselves.”

Lantsman delves into her personal history of coming from an immigrant family and how that shaped her identity and presence in the world. “I was also raised in a home where religion was a central point on the way we conducted ourselves — much of the lessons and teachings that you get are generally from that religion.”

Conversations around the dinner table were part of Lantsman’s upbringing and played a role in her position in politics today. She says, “I think there was a good conversation proverbially every night at the dinner table and I found myself having more of a place in the Conservative Party, and I think it is a very simplistic thing to say that it’s ‘left’ and ‘right’.”

The role of technology is touched on, and its influence on politics. Lantsman says, “We are so much more informed about what’s going on around us, and it probably plays some role in politics.” 

Furthermore on the role of technology and more specifically social media, Lantsman explains how social media shapes the way one sees the world as well as other factors such as “your family, your circle of friends, and some of the clubs you have decided to join.”

More than anything, Lantsman emphasizes the role of family and culture in determining your beliefs. How these factors are more deep rooted than “the sports team you like or the concert you went to if you listen to the same band.”

One can easily conclude that political beliefs and thoughts have a variety of factors. Whether it’s your family, friends, religion, culture or the issues you have faced, political beliefs are not binary — they are interconnected with aspects beyond what one may perceive. 

About the Author

By Jannat Yaqobi

Former Editor

Jannat is a first year Criminology student at York. Along with being part of Excalibur, she is also part of the Criminology Society, SCOLAPS, and the YFS. She has a passion for reading, writing (particularly spoken word and slam), photography, and watching classic and vintage movies. Apart from juggling her busy (and at times hectic) schedule, one can occasionally find Jannat journaling, graphic designing, or watching Golden Girls with her mom or Friends with a cup of black tea.


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