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Student Voters Political Beliefs Heavily Influenced By Family, Education

This story was written by Hannah Boen, Daily Toreador

Steven and Elyse Keaton could be considered by many to be zealous left-wing hippies, raising children with entirely different values from the characters on the television series "Family Ties."

Upon watching the show, viewers are left to wonder if a real family exists with such contradictory political ideals.

But Alan Reifman, a Texas Tech professor of human development and family studies, said a voter's family is only a part of their political influence.

"How often that exists in real life," he said about the probability of a real-life Keaton clan, "I don't know."

The professor, who studies adolescence and transition into adulthood - including political identification - said parents do play some role in developing a child's party loyalty, but so do other factors, including school, peers and the media.

Although children often are influenced by their parents' political ideals, Reifman said, it is likely the exposure to politics in college can be another significant influence.

For Reifman, proof of this influence lies in the Bennington College Study led by late psychologist Theodore Newcomb.

Reifman said the private women's college in Vermont was widely known as liberal, but students came to the college mostly from Republican families. The study, conducted in the 1930s, showed education affected political identity.

"You figure the kids will be fairly conservative," Reifman said, "but when professors and upper-year students are liberal, the two forces hit each other."

Reifman said the study showed conservative women who pursued higher education at a liberal college may have left the party loyalty of their families and shifted to the left.

"A roughly small group of women remained conservative," he said, "stuck to their families viewpoints."

The women who remained conservative, Reifman said, were aware of the shifting views of their peers, but made a conscious effort to stay close to their family values.

While the Bennington study suggested the college environment plays a large role, Reifman said he believes the results would not be consistent on Tech's campus.

"Certainly, Texas Tech is not overwhelmingly liberal like Bennington College is," he said, suggesting that Tech students who grew up in a conservative household will be exposed to much the same ideals in college.

"We know that Lubbock is one of the most conservative areas in the whole country," he said, "they vote overwhelmingly Republican for virtually every office."

Reifman used statistics from local elections to prove his point. Nationally, 2006 was a strong year for Democrats who captured the House and the Senate, locally, Republican candidate for U.S. House of Representatives Randy Neugebauer won 68 percent of votes.

Reifman said coming to Tech from primarily Republican regions will receive the same exposure on campus, but students who come from more liberal regions may be exposed to very different political ideals.

"If what you're exposed to in college is the same as what you're exposed to at home, it's probably going to reinforce what you believed at home," he said. "The difference is if college experience clashes from ideals taught at home."

That difference, Reifman said, is where students may allow their pursuit of higher education to have an influence on political ideals.

Cindy Rugeley, assistant professor of political science at Tech, said researchers cannot be 100-percent certain, but the best indicator of political socialization is family.

"Family is a big part and it continues through to whether or not the vote and party identification," she said.

Rugeley and Reifman agreed hard evidence does not exist to prove the largest influence on political party loyalty, though they both speculated family is a sizeable authority.

When children are young, Rugeley said, they learn from their families, and what they learn typically follows them through their entire life. She acknowledged young people often change their opinions, and that does not exclude politics.

Rugeley attributed political shifts in college to the fact that higher education is being pursued.

"As people become more educated," she said, "they tend to become more liberal."

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