Blog Political Science and Public Administration

Carolina Galais (UAB)


When pondering why some Spaniards feel more engagement with politics than others, one of the most intuitive explanations could be that "they were brought up that way." In other words, active socialization in politics can predispose some individuals to participate in politics as adults. One of the main findings of the research presented here is that what happens in childhood should not be ignored, but neither does it provide a complete explanation. In some cases, adult processes are more determining of political engagement. Primary socialization may have a muted impact because its effect on attitudes is indirect, though this impact is important because it affects the configuration of patterns of adult socialization. On the other hand, it is necessary to confirm this assumption by controlling for the effects of political context, both past—which can create political cohorts with a persistent tendency to apathy or engagement—and present—with regard to the political situation that determines whether a particular period is more or less apt to attract attention and political involvement.


The present analysis goes back to the individual perspective of the early studies on the origin of political attitudes, taking into account limitations such as the absence of cross-sectional time series data and using contributions from the rational perspective on the study of political culture—basically its emphasis on the role of political context. Apart from the question that opens this text, the study takes on other issues relating to the primary and secondary stages of socialization, the relationship between the two, and the extent to which what a child learns about politics may determine adult political engagement.


The dependent variable of the analyses to test these hypotheses is an index of subjective political involvement based on the classic indicators of interest in politics and internal political efficacy. These have been drawn from the 2002 CID survey (CIS 2450). The selection of this survey enables the operationalization of the working of the main agents of political socialization (family, friends, school, work, media, and so forth) but also controls for a factor with predictable effects on the degree of political involvement: the political situation. When the survey was conducted (March 2002), the public agenda was “quiet,” without any events that might galvanize political involvement by Spaniards, such as happened in 2000 and 2004 (general elections with particularly strong mobilization, especially in the one soon after the terrorist attacks of March 11th), 2001 (the September 11th terrorist attacks, the demise of compulsory military service, the adoption of the National Hydrologic Plan, etc.) or 2003 (massive demonstrations against the Iraq war). Therefore, we assume that the effect of the political situation is controlled, and do not expect any effects because of the specific time period.


Regarding the estimation techniques, structural equations were used to deal with different latent variables (the phases of socialization) and test relationships between explanatory factors (such as the link between what was learned in childhood and the dynamics of adult socialization). Another advantage of this technique is that it allows a comparison of estimation models for different groups. In order to check the validity of the explanatory model for persons belonging to a particular political cohort, the classification by groups was done according to whether respondents felt they were influenced by some previous political event. Those who said they were influenced by some political event have further differences when compared with the rest of the population, such as a more influential adult socialization. This suggests that citizens influenced by any past event or historical period may have weaker ties to what they learned in childhood, and could become engaged with politics even if their primary political socialization had been passive. In conclusion, the political context interacts with the agents of political socialization, strengthening or attenuating their effects, so its role in shaping political attitudes must be taken into account.


The full text of the study is available at: