I’m not quite sure what to make of this study, but since Election Day is around the corner, I thought it would be fun to share.

If you’ve ever wondered whether your kids will one day vote Republican or Democratic, your parenting style might offer some important clues. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggest that how we discipline our kids may play a meaningful role in the development of their political ideology later in life.

Psychological scientist R. Chris Fraley and his colleagues evaluated long-term data collected from over 700 children and families on a range of variables including parenting style and children’s temperament.

The researchers identified which parents demonstrated authoritarian attitudes in the home (“Children should always obey their parents”) and which were more egalitarian (“Children should be allowed to disagree with their parents”).

In their study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, they reported that children whose parents emphasized obedience were more likely to hold conservative attitudes at age 18, while children in egalitarian households were more likely to hold liberal attitudes. These findings were consistent regardless of ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status.     

It seems that children’s temperament may also play a role in which political candidates they’ll ultimately support in the voting booth. In this study, children who were reported to have higher levels of fearfulness at age 5 were more likely to be conservative at age 18. Highly active kids, as well as kids with strong attention spans, were more likely to hold liberal values as young adults.

So what does this mean?

While correlations between parenting, temperament and potential political affiliations have been identified, it’s probably not a simple – or direct - relationship. 

The authors of this study acknowledge that the development of political ideology is a complex process. Surely, it is likely to be influenced by all kinds of factors ranging from family dinner conversations about current events to which 24-hour news channel is constantly playing in the living room. What’s more, political beliefs may change and evolve over time based on all kinds of unique life experiences.

There’s even research to suggest a genetic contribution to the development of conservative or liberal beliefs. Yes, you read that right. Maybe all those expensive campaign ads are a huge waste of time and money if we’re somehow biologically programmed to vote Republican or Democrat.

More research is certainly indicated to gather more information.

Still, this study offers plenty of meaningful questions to ponder.

How significantly do parenting styles influence our children’s social attitudes and behavior later in life?

How stable is our children’s temperament and how likely is it to shape their values?

And do those political ads really make a difference?

Have an opinion? Share it here. 

About the Author

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D.

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and speaker specializing in parenting and child development.

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