Where Do Political Views Come From?
It’s an election year and everybody has an opinion. We often hear other people’s views on the issues, and we may state our own from time to time. But where do these political attitudes come from?
Conservative, Liberal, or Somewhere In-between
For students, the distinction between conservative and liberal views may be vague or nonexistent. They may believe as their parents believe. They may have no opinions at all. It’s also possible that their views on some issues fall to the right or left of the political spectrum.
Helping students identify the sources of their political views encourages them to be articulate and discerning citizens.
Plot Your Views on a Political Spectrum
Have students determine where they fall on the political spectrum by presenting the following six statements on the issues of public assistance, the death penalty, and immigration.
- Public assistance prevents people from taking care of themselves.
- The government should take care of people in need with public assistance programs.
- The death penalty does not keep people from committing crimes and it should not be used.
- The death penalty is an appropriate punishment for serious crime, if the accused has been properly tried and convicted according to the law.
- Immigration should be more strictly controlled as newcomers often strain government’s resources.
- Immigration is an important part of American history, and newcomers should be welcomed.
Head to the Ballot Boxes
First, have students respond individually without discussion, using the answers below. Place six ballot boxes at the front of the room labeled 1 through 6.
Then, distribute six index cards. After silent deliberation, have students place their votes in one of the boxes.
1 = Strongly Agree
2 = Somewhat Agree
3 = Neutral
4 = Somewhat Disagree
5 = Strongly Disagree
Discuss and Reflect
Then, return to these six questions in a classroom discussion. After talking over the issues, pass out six new index cards and have students vote again.
Download the Political Views Spectrum PDF for plotting votes.
Have a volunteer tally the answers. Have another volunteer plot the votes on the Political Views Spectrum PDF.
Compare the results of the two votes. Using a show of hands, ask students whether or not they changed their votes the second time around. Why might their views have changed?
Politics: A Gray Area
Politics is seldom black-and-white. Consider Prohibition and the temperance movement. Lawmakers and temperance groups in the 1920s wanted to reduce the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Instead of curbing the consumption of alcohol, Prohibition led to a dramatic increase in drinking, illegal distillation, and violence. Organized crime thrived and gangsters grew rich trafficking in synthetic gin served at speakeasies.
Or take an issue closer to home. Everyone agrees that freedom of speech is good, right? After all, it is guaranteed by the Constitution.
But what about bullying or hate speech? Does freedom of expression make it OK to post offensive comments on social media sites?
Remind students that their political attitudes often reflect their ages and circumstances. As adults, they might look back on this exercise and discover that their attitudes have changed.
Once students understand more about their own views, they can recognize relevant influences. They may also come to see that a particular political attitude is neither right nor wrong. Respect for the attitudes of others is at the heart of our political system.