The process of political socialization of native born American citizens and foreign born naturalized American citizens
Key words: political socialization, migration,immigration, acculturation, civic engagement
By Cristina Medrea
Saint Anselm College
Manchester, New Hampshire
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The purpose of this study is to investigate
the possible differences in the process of political socialization as
occurs in the life of native born Americans and foreign born
Americans. The literature supports the hypothesis that states
due to the cultural background and the personal experiences of an
he or she will have a different way of acquiring political information
and forming political beliefs depending on whether they were born in
United States (US) or not. The process of political socialization
usually takes place during childhood and early adulthood, but in the
of the immigrant population, this process takes place later in
after they immigrate to a new country. The immigrant population already
underwent a process of political socialization in their native country,
but will learn about the political system of their new country as
they become citizens. The main sources of political socialization are
following: family, friends, TV news, newspapers, school, radio and the
internet. Native born Americans and foreign born Americans also differ
in the sources they choose to acquire their political information.
The focus of this study is the
process of political socialization as it occurs for native born
citizens who presently reside in the United States and foreign born
American citizens who are immigrants that became American
. This study found that due to the differences in cultures, traditions,
and experiences, there is a significant difference regarding
sources of political socialization. Political socialization is
to each individual; therefore it occurs under different forms as
a consequence not only due to personal differences, but also due to
differences. American born citizens have different experiences that
the way they understand politics and their role in the civic life, that
differ from those that raised under different forms of government
and different regions of the world. Immigrants that became naturalized
citizens are a rich group to research since they were exposed both to
form of government in their native countries, and also to the
process particular to the United States, all of this occurring during
advanced adulthood years. For this particular group, the process
it is more complicated as they already have a personal understanding of
politics and a cognitive framework that they need to change or by
the new with the old.
Political socialization is the
through which people acquire their political beliefs and attitudes that
shape their individual political involvement, their trust in the
system, their voting pattern, and their way of gathering information
the political arena (Cooper, 2001). The process of political
can occur through different routes such as parents, teachers, peers and
the media (Barner-Barry, 1985). Most of childhood is spent with
therefore there is a tendency to adopt and internalize their ways of
and their opinions. Bandura’s social learning theory that states
that humans learn social behavior by both observing and imitating
(Aronson, 2002), and this very principle can be applied to the process
of political socialization. Children and young adults can observe their
parents’ behavior, and as they are perhaps their closest role models,
actions will be seen as socially desirable and therefore worthy of
imitated (Aronson, 2002).
one of the problems that
is faced by many countries and their citizens that is not examined
is the problem of immigration. This is surprising since this is not a
process, but has been a major American phenomenon more than 100 years
and Wittkopf, 2004). For some people the word immigration might prompt
the idea of Western countries being inundated with immigrants from less
wealthy countries. While this may be true, it is not the only scenario,
as immigration has a wide range of other possibilities. For example
is the immigration of people from the south to the north, even in
that are considered not wealthy by the Western states (Kegley and
The first sample (N=13) with 8 males and 5 females were all born in the United States and have their residence in the United States. The subjects have an average age of 40, with a middle-class background and, are from the New England area. This is a sample of convenience randomly selected from the staff of a small liberal arts college in New England. These participants differed in terms of their educational background, their jobs and their political ideology.
The second sample (N=13) the foreign born participants, 4 males 9 females were born in a foreign country, but were naturalized as US citizens. The subjects have an average age of 40, with a working class/middle class situation, and living in a small New England town. These participants came from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds and lived in the United States for different amounts of time, some just for 5 years and others up to 20 years. Also, these participants came from countries with very different forms of governments.
The subjects were asked to complete a survey regarding their political attitudes, political behavior, and the sources used to acquire their political information study (see Appendix A).
The survey was experimenter-generated but also incorporated some items from a political background questionnaire developed by Dr. Elizabeth Ossoff in a research project at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Before the administration, the survey used for this study was approved by the Saint Anselm College Institutional Review Board and was in full compliance with the guidelines of the American Psychological Association code of ethics.
Along with the survey each participant received a letter that summarized the purpose of the study and explained the completion procedure. Also, the researcher assured the participants of the voluntary, confidential and anonymous nature of the survey in the letter. The participants were also explained that they can stop the process at any time if they felt uncomfortable or not at ease. Furthermore, this letter served as an informed consent the moment the participants decided to voluntarily fill out the survey, showing that they read the letter and understood the procedure. The letter had two different forms for the two samples due to the procedure used to recruit the participants in the two samples through different organizations either the college or the English Second Other Language programs. (see Apendix B and Apendix C)
Due to the difference in the two samples, the procedure used to recruit the participants was different for each group, but voluntary and confidential participation was insured to both samples.
In the case of the US born sample, the population used was the staff at a small liberal arts college in Manchester, NH. The surveys were sent by campus mail to a group of 30 employees of the college, randomly selected from a list of employees. Out of the 30 randomly selected participants, 14 of them replied to the survey, but only 13 were used due to the fact that one participant did not fit the requirements of the study that stated that all must be US citizens. Upon completion of the survey, the 13 individuals returned the materials to the researcher’s mailbox through campus mail.
For the second sample, that of foreign born naturalized citizens, a slightly different procedure was used. The participants were contacted through the leaders of two English as a Second Language programs in Manchester, NH. The teacher handed out the surveys to the participants that were US citizens and explained to them the purpose and the details of the survey. The participants that voluntarily decided to complete the study returned the surveys to their teacher and placed them in an envelope that was returned to the researcher.
All participants were explained the volunteer nature of the study and their power in regards to the termination of the process at any time. (See Apendix B and C)
The analysis performed on the data collected from both samples the foreign born US citizens and US native born citizens, supported the hypothesis that stated that there will be a difference between the way the two samples acquire their political information.
The independent variable in this study was the variable that showed whether a participant was born in the United States or became an American citizen after immigrating to this country.
The dependent variables that were analyzed were sources of political socialization such as TV news, Newspapers, radio, internet, family and friends; level of concern towards politics, level of involvement in politics, partisanship and willingness to vote. Other confounding variables that the researcher sought to account for were: age, education and native country.
From the total number of participants (N=26) , 46% were males and 54 % were females. Also the participants ranged in age from 21 to 64 ( M= 44), and their level of education was from high school and up to a PHD or an equivalent, but on average most of the participants had only some college (M=3.5, some college). From the first sample (N=13), the US born population, 62 % were males (N=8) and 38% were females (N=5). In the second sample the foreign born population (N=13), 31 % were males (N=4) and
69 % were females (N= 9).
An internal consistency analysis was run, as the survey was an experimenter-generated one. The reliability analysis between the 6 media variables on the questionnaire showed an alpha level of a= .30. Due to the low level of the alpha, an analysis was run on the individual media variables such as : newspapers, internet, TV news, other TV programming and radio.
Several independent t-tests were done to establish whether there is a difference between the two samples in terms of their sources of political socialization. Also, several descriptive statistics and crosstabs analysis were conducted to look at the possible differences within each category of the different variables in the study.
The hypothesis was supported by the results yielded by the independent t-test performed on the question regarding the best way to stay informed (t(22)=1.797, p=.05). There was a significant difference regarding the participants’ opinion on what is the best way to stay informed as 91.6 % ,11 participants (N=12) of the foreign born sample classified television news as the most importance source of information (see Table 1). On the other hand, the US born sample was more evenly distributed between television news, newspapers 33.3 %, internet 8.3% and radio 8.3%, but still a 50%, 6 participants from this sample classified television news as the best way of staying informed (N=12).
Another route of political socialization is through school or education. In the US born sample 46% (N=13) received some kind of political information in school compared to 31% (N=13) in the foreign born sample. There was no significant difference found in the analysis of this variable between the two groups ( t(24)=-.784, p=.440).
In terms of the variable of political similarity with a spouse, there was a significant difference between the groups, where the US born sample was more likely to have similar beliefs to those of their spouse (M=5.7, on a 1 to 7 scale with 1 standing for very different and 7= the same), whereas for the foreign born sample was slightly less similar (M=4.2, on the same scale)(See Table 2). Furthermore, the two groups differed when asked about their political similarity to their peers and their families, but the results did not yield statistical significance. (See Table 2)
Another independent t-test was performed on the level of interest and concern in politics, and also the rating of the importance of voting. The results showed a significant difference between the two samples, with the US born population showing higher interest and involvement in politics and civic life than the Foreign born population (see Table 3).
Also an analysis regarding the participants intention to vote in the coming election yielded an important result that also supported the hypothesis. It was showed that there is a significant difference between the two samples (see Table 4), with the US born sample being more decided to vote as it can be seen from their intention, whereas the foreign born sample being decided not to vote or at least undecided.
Overall, the results of the analysis supported the hypothesis that stated there are differences between the two samples in terms of their sources and impact of political socialization.
US born sample(N=12) Foreign born sample(N=12)
US born sample Foreign born sample
Mean SD Mean SD df. t
Political similarity with family 3.46 1.94 4.18 2.22 22 -847
Political similarity with spouse 5.76 1.23 4.23 2.27 24 2.140*
Political similarity with peers 4.12 1.31 4.38 2.18 23 -.356
Table 3. Level of interest, concern, involvement in politics and the importance of voting of both the US born sample and the Foreign born sample
US born sample Foreign born sample df t
Mean SD Mean SD
Level of interest 5.46 0.96 3.66 2.05 23 2.82*
Level of concern 6.00 1.00 4.00 2.08 24 3.12**
Importance of voting 6.84 0.37 5.30 2.13 24 2.55***
*p=.010; ** p=.005;
*** p= .017
US born sample Foreign born sample t(23)
Mean SD Mean SD
Planning to vote 1.00 .00 1.75 .62 -4.358*
The process of political socialization as mentioned earlier is a process that is specific to each individual according to his/her own experiences and culture. This particular study was meant to examine the possible differences in the process of political socialization between two samples, native born Americans and foreign born Americans. The hypothesis of the study stated that there are significant differences between the two groups in terms of the sources of political socialization that they adopt. The analysis performed on the data collected through a experimenter-generated survey supported the hypothesis. An independent t-test performed on the variable that answered the question regarding the best way to stay informed revealed a significant difference between the two groups. The foreign born sample rated as their best way of staying politically informed as television news, whereas the native born sample was more evenly distributed across the variables of television news, newspapers, internet and radio( Martinelli and Chaffee, 1995). These results could be due to the fact that television news is more accessible and more economically feasible than other means to the immigrant population. Also, the immigrant sample averaged 49 years old, therefore there is a high likelihood of them immigrating to this country fairly late in life and still encountering language barriers, therefore the images and the spoken word on television would be more comprehensible and easier for them to process.
Research has show that television news is not only more accessible, but in fact it is more simplified and also more engaging when compared to other forms of media such as radio, newspapers and magazines (Garramone and Atkin, 1986). On the other hand, print news that appears in newspapers and newsmagazines has a greater depth, more details and more domain specific terminology that is difficult to understand by someone who does not have much knowledge in the particular area or does not have a good grasp on the English vocabulary. Garramone and Atkin (1986) in their study regarding different media sources and political socialization in non-voter young adults, predicted that the deeper, more detailed and more educative the form of media is, the more political involvement and participation will occur (Garramone and Atkin, 1986).
Another variable that was analyzed was the impact of family on one’s political attitudes and behaviors. The results of this study did not support the direction predicted by the hypothesis drawn from Bandura’s social theory that states that individuals tend to model and imitate those in their family in their attitudes and behaviors (Aronson, 2002).
In terms of political similarity to their spouses, the immigrant sample was less likely to have similar beliefs to those of their spouses, than the American born population . This could be due to the fact that in the case of the immigrant sample there is a lack of concern and interest in politics that could lead to lack of communication regarding politics between spouses. Also, as a recent immigrant and newly naturalized citizen there are other concerns such as employment, education and economic issues that are priority in their lives.
as stated by the hypothesis, the two samples differed significantly in
their levels of interest and concern about politics, but also in the
to which they perceive voting as important. The results showed that the
US born population was far more interested and concerned about
This can be due to their better understanding of politics thus
in a higher sense of external and internal sense of efficacy (Craig,
It can be noticed that the foreign born sample was composed of
with very different background, and especially political background. A
good number of foreign born participants came from a country that did
have a democratic form of government, therefore there was less power in
the hands of the regular person which probably lead to a sense of
political inefficacy in which the person feels that he/she possesses no
power to impact the rules, leadership and the decision-making in
own country (Craig, 1990). Furthermore on the same issue of political
the results of the study showed that the foreign born sample was less
to vote, which is connected to the same feeling of inefficacy in which
the individual feels that he/she has no power to impact the society
live in (Craig, 1990).
These findings further strengthen what the literature has already shown, that there are differences in the way immigrants and native born Americans understand and develop their political attitudes. This is important as their involvement in society and the civic life relies on their understanding of the political life (Galston, 2001). Research has shown that if an individual does not understand the current state of the political arena in their country and has no strong knowledge regarding the political issues, they will be less likely to get civically engaged either by voting or volunteering in their community (Galston, 2001). These findings in the literature regarding political efficacy and political knowledge as they tie into political and civic involvement were reflected also in the present study. The foreign born sample that had less political knowledge and also felt political inefficient were less likely to vote and get involved, than the participants in the US born sample who were more concerned, interested in politics and decided to vote in the coming election. The US born sample claimed that their main source of political information is the newspaper which is believed to be a form of media that conveys information that is more detailed, more in depth and that requires interest and some knowledge in the particular area (Garramone and Atkin, 1986).
This study provides with further evidence, even though the results might only be applicable to the particular samples, with the basis for further research. In order to better understand the process of political socialization as it occurs in the lives of both native American citizens and foreign born American citizens, the samples must be more representative, both in terms of their number and their generalizability. Also, due to the myriad of political systems, when investigating the processes that characterize the life of an immigrant it is essential to look at their own geographical and cultural background and make particular generalizations to their particular ethnic group. The further studies should include a variable that will compare specific immigrant population from very different and also very similar political systems to that of the United States.
H. (2002). Parental
Socialization and Rational Party Identification Political Behavior,
Level of education (choose from:)
Grade completed in school
1. Where did you live for
most of your
2. Were you born in the United States?
1.Yes(please skip to question
3. What year did you come to
4. What year did you
5. How interested are you in politics?
Not interested at
6. How concerned are you about current political events?
Not concerned at
7 Very concerned
7. Do you believe voting is important?
Not important at
7 Very important
8. Are you registered to
9. If yes, what political party are you registered with?
10. How would you describe your political ideology?
Liberal 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Conservative
11. Are you planning to vote in the upcoming election?
1. Yes 2. No 3.Undecided
12. How politically involved do you consider yourself?
Not involved at all 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very involved
13. What would you say is the most crucial source of political information for you?
14. What impacted you most in your decision to be politically involved? (choose one)
Newspapers TV News TV Ads Family Friends/Peers
15. Did you receive any
when in school (either middle schools or high school) from your courses
( e.g. civic education)
16. If yes what courses ?
17. In high school or college were you involved in extracurricular activities? ( if yes please name them)
18. How similar are your political beliefs to those of your parents?
2 3 4
6 7 Very similar
19. How similar are your political beliefs to those of your family(spouse, children)?
2 3 4
6 7 Very similar
20. How similar are your political beliefs to those of your peers?
2 3 4
6 7 Very similar
21. During a typical week, approximately how much do you use the major media and these other sources to get your political information? Please use the following scale to answer these questions:
1= less than 1 hour a week
1 2 3
5 6 7
22. Please briefly describe
a news story
that you saw on TV regarding either a political candidate or a
23. Please briefly describe
advertisement positive or negative that you watched.
24. What do you think it is
way to stay informed ?(please circle ONE)
For more information or if you would like a
the results please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or at
the mailing address above.
Sincerely ,Cristina Medrea
Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees(GCIR)
Office of citizenship of the Unite States
United States Immigration Support
The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies