Becoming more and more like our parents as we grow is a natural part of life. Parents pass along preferences to children, whether it is a fondness for mom’s meatloaf or affection for a sports team. And for decades, research affirmed the idea that children absorb some of their parents’ partisan leanings. Grow up in a Republican house and you’re likely to lean a little bit right at least early on in life, and vice versa.
But research also showed this was a sort of soft partisanship, with children having a fondness for their own side without any real animosity toward the other. Today, that is no more. Political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Matthew Tyler find that just as adults today are much more negative toward the other party, they find children as young as 11 years old holding much deeper animosity toward the other side of the aisle than adolescents did in 1980. Parents got more polarized, and their children went right along with them.
Why does this matter? There are volumes of research about how the things that define your political worldview when you’re young tend to be sticky, hanging around and affecting your political behavior and preferences long after you’re grown.
Children growing up believing that those of the other party are not just wrong but are bad people can’t possibly have a positive effect on the future of democracy. We are defined by the moment in which we come of age. There are plenty of reasons to be worried about the effect of deep polarization on our country. But is there any way forward?
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