Political socialisation by definition reads: “The process by which people come to acquire political attitudes and values (2009, political socialization, Oxford Reference)”. Nuendorf and Smets (2017, p.2) produce an amusing yet insightful analogy in that political socialisation is a “finite bookshelf that holds our political values, identities, and behaviour, which is empty when we are born.” Throughout our childhood and young adult years the ‘shelf’ slowly fills with stories we receive from various agents of socialisation, and so formation of political identity and behaviour start to appear. These years between child and adulthood have been dubbed the ‘impressionable years’ and are a crucial period in which citizens start to form and consolidate our political attitudes and behaviours (e.g., Jennings 1979). However, there is still no consensus on how enduring these early socialization experiences are, which is important to note as it will influence a person’s view on what the primary agent for political socialisation is. If like Easton and Dennis (1969) one believes that such orientations taken on in early life shapes later political identity and beliefs and are enduring and persistent, then undoubtedly one would assert that family and school remain the primary agent of political socialisation. On the contrary some argue for lifelong plasticity (Alwin and Krosnick 1991) in which citizens alter their political behaviour as they progress through life and therefore main primary agents would revolve around important political events and experiences. There is a general consensus however that political learning starts at an early age (Easton and Dennis 1969; Kinder 2006), the question is to what extent these influences stand the test of time but more importantly what these primary agents are. This essay will critically examine all agents of socialisation using empirical evidence where possible to conclude on whether family and school remain the primary agents of political socialisation.
The introduction addresses the importance of the impressionable years however who and what influences these political perceptions from child to adulthood have up until this point, been left undiscussed. Evident that political learning starts from an early age, it is therefore unsurprising that much of early socialisation comes from the influence of parents and education. Numerous academics (Dalton 1980; Bowers 2009) have stressed the importance of family as perhaps the primary agent of political socialisation. The three main areas in which parental socialisation influence is party identification (Taylor, Peplau and Sears 1994), political ideology (Percheron and Jennings, 1981) and political participation (Beck and Jennings 1982). However Family as an agent depends on “if parents are highly engaged politically and provide frequent and consistent political cues” (Stoker and Bass, 2011, p.2). Furthering this point Jennings, Stoker and Bowers (2009) found that children from such homes are increasingly likely to mirror the political views of their parents (p.455) which are retained at least up until mid-adulthood. In relation to party identification