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PUBLIC TELEVISION AND POLITICAL SOCIALIZATION
A field experiment on the impact of a public iclevision series on the political knowledge, attitudes and communication behaviors of adolescents.
Charles K. Atkin
A joint publication cf the Department of Commu-
This project was sponsored and funded by the
In the development of a project of this scope, and particularly one which involves field coordination and cooperation, several agents and agencies are critical. Splendid and necessary cooperation was received from all
people, both administrative and academic, in the Leon County School system.
The superintendent, his staff, the principal, the teachers all personally
assisted this project.
The field supervisor, Dr. Judy Le Roy, was invalu
She arranged for and administered day-to-day operations, and fixed,
without arranging for, day-to-day crises. She was the third project director, in practice. Two Florida State colleagues, Professors David LeRoy and Edward Wotring, materially helped us and Judy. At Michigan State, Rick Bechtel processed seemingly endless analyses, and Judy Osborne and Edna Seeley prepared materials and manuscripts. In Washington, Jack Lyle
of CPB encouraged the project and CPB funded it.
During April, May and early June, 1973, the public broadcasting system in Florida televised approximately 40 one-hour evening programs based on that day's session in the state legislature. The shows were created to make the public aware of political issues, bills, committee hearings, nd the general functioning of the state legislature. This was done as part of
Florida's Sumshine Act, designed to minimize secrecy in the administration
of public business.
Such programming may generate many questions, particularly in the light of current Washington hearings on the merits of televising sessions of Congress. This particular study focused on one of those questions -the likely political socialization of youngsters as a function of exposure to some segments of this television series on public affairs. The project examined the nature of the series' impact on high school students' knowledge about politics, attitudes toward legislative activities and legislators, political interest and the students' resultant political communication be
This report will first summarize what prior research suggests are the
likely agents of political socialization and how the media have been shown to affect political attitudes and behaviors. Specific hypotheses will be generated for this study, and the results presented. The final section
discusses some implications of these results.
The survival of a society requires that new members be taught the basic social patterns and values of that system. The socialization process usually involves the young person's learning of appropriate orientations through such
formal and informal agencies as the school and family.
Political socialization is a developmental process by which children and
adolescents acquire cognitions, attitudes and behaviors relating to their po
litical environment (Hyman, 1959; Langton, 1969; Hess and Torney, 1967).
Several societal agents have been identified as key transmitters of political
orientations from generation to generation: parents, schools, peers, and the
Political socialization is one of the newest and most active areas of social science research. Herbert Hyman provided the main impetus for this developing field with his 1959 book that empirically examined how children learn patterns of political participation, party identification, ideology, and authoritarianism. Later researchers have studied the roots of political efficacy, interest, trust, knowledge, information-seeking, and electoral behavior. Most scholars agree that political orientations acquired in childhood have important implications for adult behavior (Cook and Scioli, 1972).
Research shows that the socialization process typically begins with abstract emotional attachments and identification with political figures and
institutions in the elementary school years.
These vague affective alle
giances are supplemented with specific knowledge during adolescence, when
the child develops a more rational understanding of his political world
(Greens tein, 1965a). Some researchers argue that political socialization
is really a continuous life-long process, with adult political experiences constantly reshaping previously learned orientations (Brim and Wheeler, 1966; Prewitt, Eulau and Zisk, 1966-67). Nevertheless, the primary emphasis in the field has been on pre-adult stages of learning.
Political scientists have proposed a number of frameworks for concep
tualizing this process. Eas ton and Hess (1962) approached political social
ization from a systems theory perspective. Their parsimonious input-output conversion model posits various demands and supports as the primary inputs to the political system. One important means of support is the continuous socialization of incoming participants to the political process.
A similar macro-level emphasis has been used by scholars working from Parsons' structural-functional theory (Mitchell, 1962; Almond and verba, i 1963). This perspective holds that a key element in societal pattern maintenance is conformity to prescriptions of the cultural system. Therefore, youth must be inculcated with a desire to fulfill role expectations of society concerning normative political behavior. Langton (1969) points out that the socialization process occasionally may serve as a vehicle for system change rather than invariably maintaining traditional norms and values.
Most political scientists have taken the individual as the primary unit of analysis in an attempt to explain the child's acquisition of political cognitions, attitudes and behaviors. Greenstein (1965b) has provided the
most useful micro-level scheme in his rephrasing of Lasswell's basic ques
tion: Who learns what from whom under what circumstances with what effects?
The current research literature has generally focused on several agents in
fluencing certain cognitive, affective and behavioral dependent variables
for various subgroups of pre-adults.