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Influences on ideology: lesson overview

A high-level overview of generational, lifecycle, and period effects on political attitudes.

Key takeaways from this lesson

Cultural factors influence political attitudes - Political scientists measure the attitudes and opinions of Americans in various ways. In addition to differences of opinion between individuals according to factors like race or religion, political scientists have noted significant differences based on generation, lifecycle stage, or past experience.
Generational effects derive from common experiences shared by a portion of the population that came of age at the same time. For example, a large proportion of those who came of age during the Great Depression favored New Deal policies and retained their loyalty to the Democratic Party throughout their lifetimes.
Lifecycle effects describe the changes in one person’s life as they age, marry, have children, buy a home, or retire. The youngest Americans tend to be more liberal but less politically active than older Americans.
Lastly, period effects result from major events or broad social trends (for example, the growing availability of the internet or the Great Recession starting in 2008) that shape the experiences of society as a whole.

Key terms

Generational effectsexperiences shared by a group of people who came of age together (generational cohorts, such as baby boomers or millennials) that affect their political attitudes; wars and economic recessions that hit one generation particularly hard have lasting effects on the political attitudes of that generation as its members progress through life
Lifecycle effectschanges over the course of an individual’s lifetime, which affect their political attitudes and participation; as individuals develop from young people to adults to senior citizens, their concerns and values change
Period effectsmajor events and social trends that affect the political attitudes of the entire population; for example, the terrorist attacks on September 11 and the Watergate scandal had lasting effects on the political attitudes of those who lived through them

Review questions

Why do you think older Americans tend to be more politically active than younger Americans?
Is it possible to separate period effects from generational or lifecycle effects? Why or why not?

Want to join the conversation?

  • mr pants green style avatar for user Cash Pruitt Gravitt
    Q1: Why Older Americans are More Politically Active
    Older people may be more politically active because as they retire, they have more time to become active in other areas of their community, and may be influenced more by voters of the same age. Retired citizens also may just have more time in general to go vote, by mail-in ballots, or driving to the polling place since they do generally have a full-time job they are required to be at.
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user erodriguez83
    I think it is possible. because they have influence on younger Americans
    (3 votes)
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  • starky seed style avatar for user ag912091
    Q1: Older people are more politically active because they grew up with wars and seeing things that need to be changed.
    Q2: Yes because period(s) effect everyone not just a singular person.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user leslie.lewis25
    need explained
    (0 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user karwanipankaj125277
    i need to next part
    i was recently watching C-Span. and they were interviewing a guy who was a political adviser for Nixon. and he said that a big difference he's seen on people's political views, or, i guess a better way to say it, political activism from back in the late 60s-70s, and this current generation, is that there is a lot of passion and extremely strong opinions nowadays, but very little to no thought is given to those opinions. whereas 50-40 years ago, the general public was more informed and thoughtful when it came to political issues. and my question is, is that true? and if so, why?
    (0 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user rk90062
    The data displayed in the table above best supports which of the following statements?
    (0 votes)
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