Do people change their politics?

I have a theory I’d like to offer for discussion: By the time you reach early adulthood, say, by age 25 or earlier, your personality is pretty much formed for life. That includes your values and your ethical and spiritual views. And it also includes your political views, if you have any. Wherever you land on the “Political Compass,” or whatever instrument might be used to assess your politics, at age 25 will be substantially the same as where you are at age 60 (assuming, of course, that an instrument can be designed to make substantially equivalent measurements under greatly changed historical conditions). If, during adulthood, you change your voting registration or party affiliation, that is not because you have changed your views, it is because the political world has changed around you. For instance, since the 1960s, following Nixon’s successful “Southern Strategy” in 1968, a lot of white Southerners (loyal Democrats for generations back to Reconstruction) have migrated from the Democratic to the Republican Party – not because their own views have changed, but because the Republican Party has shifted its political center of gravity and become more accommodating to their views. There are indeed instances of adults undergoing dramatic personal conversiions in their politics. For instance, some of the neoconservatives now advising the Administration started out, in the '60s, as Trotskyite socialists. (We’ve already had a GD thread on this.) But I believe such conversions are mainly the province of serious political intellectuals – who will be a small minority in any society. Most people, for the most part, do not substantially change their politics after they reach adulthood. Do you agree or disagree?

Being a tad short of your requisite age of no change, I have to say that I certainly hope it is right, because I have and do bounce all over the political spectrum, and it is kinda lonely when everyone dislikes you for something.

In a closed environment? Maybe. I’m in a science mood today, so I would note that the brain gelling and settling down into adulthood, production of hormones, and other biological conditions may have some effect on it. Certainly, I would say that environment would - getting a job and entering the market as an adult has a drastic effect on solidifying your beliefs, political, economic, and otherwise.

In the open environment we live in? I see people’s ideologies changing every day. I don’t think it is cemented in place. Not even core beliefs such as religion are - there are too numerous numbers of converts and born-agains and such. My mother has switched back and forth between Republican and Democrat with almost every administration (in fact, when I went in to register as a Republican in '98, she went in to change with me. We both are vehemently against the Republican party right now, though we aren’t fans of the Democrats).

In all, I would have to say that there may be a trend towards people settling into a routine, but nothing is set in stone.

Generally agree, but with a couple of caveats:

First, a person’s perception of the relative importance of various issues may rise or fall through time and circumstance. For instance, a person may strongly support a balanced budget in 1994, but believe that deficit spending in 2004 is appropriate in order to devote resources to fighting terrorism. Similarly, a person could be pro-choice and not give a damn about a party’s anti-abortion agenda when they don’t have a chance of changing the law, but be extremely concerned if legal abortion comes under serious threat.

Second, political affiliation may drift over time due to changes in the policies of the political parties. Reagan claimed (wrongly, IMO) that he was an FDR Democrat who had been abandoned by the party he knew in the 1930s-1940s. Similarly, I could see fiscal conservatives today leaving the GOP over Bush II’s wild-spending ways.

From your lips!

Well, for myself I would have to say I don’t agree. My family was and is very liberal over all…very blue collar, working class hispanic democrats. My father was the only ‘conservative’ of the lot, and even he voted mostly democrats when I was younger (he voted for Carter for instance). When I was in college though, my views changed as I was exposed to new things there, and I became very conservative (especially fiscally)…I actually joined the College Republican chapter at my school and was very active. This was during the Regan era, and I really liked and admired him. However, after a few years I began to be disillusioned with the Republican party, especially on the way I saw them dragging morality and theological topics into the party. I didn’t feel this was the realm of a political party, and I really disagreed with its stance on such things as abortion, which I felt people who loved liberty and freedom should reguard as a right to choose their own course on this. However, over all I still agreed with much of the Republican party and conservativism.

By the time I was in my mid to late 20’s I became more and more disaffected by BOTH parties, having gone from fairly liberal and democrat, to fairly conservative and republican, I began to drift towards the center, though I was still a republican and still supported the party.

By my early 30’s I drifted closer and closer to the center, and further and further away from both parties, and as I closed in on my 40’s I finally broke completely with the Republicans. Now that I’m in my 40’s I think I’m becoming a fan of the 3rd parties more and more. I’m probably closer to being apolitical than anything at present, which is radically different than I was in my youth. I was pretty militant about voting and the franchise back then (as well as a lot of other things)…now I’m a lot more laid back, though I still believe in this country and in democracy.

I just see both parties as being what they are, two faces of the same dull coin…self serving partisan assholes, more interested in number one than in the good of the country. To me, politicians of all stripes are pretty much the same…their creed is self, party and country in that order, and damn the country because its more important to score political points against the other party than it is to have a successful and prosperous nation. Its constant partisan backbiting and hacking…sort of this board painted large.


xtisme, dead on! My background is rather different from yours but I have “drifted” over time just like you describe, and for much the same reasons. Maybe there is a difference between persons (like me) on the one hand, who really don’t agree with any party, and persons on the other hand, who will always agree with a given party no matter what?

BG: As the OP in this thread, how about doing a little research on the subject and presenting us with some facts? Surely there have been sociological studies of this very subject by looking at a pool of subjects over time. Let’s start off with some facts, and not just opinion…

Found this PDF document by Googling: Party Allegiance and Core Political Value Change
Linked as number 5 from this page.

Haven’t read the whole article but seemingly no word about us “drifters”. :frowning:

One that doesn’t constantly examine (and change) his politics is a fanatic.

Politics is not which party one votes for, it is which policies one advocates. It is prefectly legitimate and indeed intellectually healthy to change one’s mind on a certain issue if a convincing argument or study comes your way.

Grouping all such issues into a single political “view” is rather arbitrary unless there is some unifying principle which one espouses explicitly. As a Popperian utitlitarian, I advocate the minimisation of suffering where feasible, and tolerate some decrease in economic liberty ie. taxation to address this. Libertarians (or “neo-classical liberals”) might tolerate some suffering in order to maximise “liberty”.

I agree that few people jump ship regarding their central tenets, but this is understandable given the emotional investment one’s chosen philosophy often signifies. However, it is as legitimate and healthy as coming to prefer Beethoven to the Beatles, or vice versa.

My father crossed all the political compass over the course of his life, from communist to socialist to conservative to the extreme-right. Though these changes had been in part triggered by quite important events (for instance he forgot about communism because his job had been for some years to rapatriate various people from Soviet Union hence he had been in contact with the ugly face of stalinism), it’s an evidence that some people at least change their political views over time.

Not necessarily, because political choices often result from personnal values. For instance, a libertarian and me could agree that politician X implementing policy Y will result in situation Z, hence we would in perfect agreement about the facts, but I still could vote for X and the libertarian against him because we disagree on the desirability of the outcome Z.

Well, I think your story rather supports my theory. Since you reached early adulthood, your party affiliation has changed but your political views have changed very little – you broke with the Republicans because you perceived that party had changed and no longer represented your views; and you are developing an interest in the third parties because you are trying to find a group that really does share your beliefs, consistently. Similarly, a lot of white Southerners abandoned the Democratic Party after it became definitely committed to civil rights and integration.

I’m doing the research now, John. I am thinking that a good way to develop my thoughts on this topic is to propose it as a GD thread and see what the other Dopers have to say, and with luck some of them will be familiar with relevant sociological research, which I can follow up on. And see, Frankenstein Monster has already provided me with a link to an article! I could, instead, start out by going to the library, but it’s more fun this way. Don’t you think so? We’re all in this forum because we love to argue, aren’t we?

Sometimes one who does change his politics is a fanatic. The neoconservative movement is full of people who converted from left-wing radicalism to right-wing radicalism.

Well, again I disagree. Certainly my party afiliation changed over time…and continues to change. However, many of my core ‘political’ views have also undergone change. As I said, I was brought up in a very liberal extended family, who were big on social programs, against large expenditures to the defense department, huge supporters of unions, but very anti-gay (hell, even anti-divorce), certainly anti-abortion, anti-drug legalization, and even very pro-gun regulation or even elimination of private ownership. Its a strange mix (I think its not unique, but it certainly isn’t like other ethnic groups I know of), I know…very liberal on some issues, very conservative on many of the quasi-political issues dealing with morality and such. I certainly believed in these issues in my early 20’s when I was just strating college (I was in the service for 4 years before going to college).

As I said, over time my views changed, especially after I got out of the barrio and started to be exposed to new ideas, and new people. I became much more critical of social programs and government spending, much more supportive of spending on defense (being in the military probably had something to do with this), much more critical of the unions in respect to big business, and my stance on things like crime and punishment and gun ownership became much more like that of traditional republicans…while retaining my anti-abortion stance, anti-drug legalization stance and anti-gay marriage/rights stance, etc.

Now that I’m older my views are pretty radically different to be honest. I still have similar views on economics that I had when I was younger (though they are a bit more mature now), and I have definitely softened my views back towards the middle on social programs (having put them in perspective). Where my views have changed most radically are on such issues as gay rights (due to having several friends who are gay), abortion (where I’m firmly pro-choice now), drug legalization (where I’m pro-legalization of certain drugs), and a re-thinking of my stance on gun control (where I’m still in favor of private ownership but think registration would be a good thing).

So, do I still fit your model? I think that this is an individual thing, depending on what people are exposed too. If you are never exposed to new things I don’t think you grow or change, in which case your OP is correct. If you are exposed to things that are new and different though, I think your ‘formative’ years are certainly when such a change WOULD occur. I know plenty of folks that never left South Tucson, who’s views are exactly what they were when we were kids together. However, isn’t there a saying that goes something like “If you aren’t a liberal in your youth, you don’t have a heart. If you aren’t a conservative in your old age you don’t have a brain.”? Now, I’m not saying that is accurate, but it certainly shows that vast changes in your political philosophy aren’t all THAT unusual, no?


I think it was Winston Churchill, and he said, “Any man under 25 who is not a socialist has no heart. Any man over 25 who is still a socialist has no head.” No cite, though.

Please remember, we Dopers are not a typical representative sample of the general population, in the U.S. or anywhere else. We are all people who own or have access to Internet-linked computers, and we are self-selected for a certain level of interest in intellectual matters; and we in the GD forum are further self-selected for a certain level of interest in political and social matters (and a shared taste for arguing). As I stated in my OP, many people do change their core political beliefs over the course of their lives but they are mostly political intellectuals – that is, not necessarily think-tank staffers, but people who think seriously about their politics. And I don’t think most people fit that description, in the U.S. or anywhere else.

Well, now you are into the realm of needing more data about this, as I really DON’T know generally if ‘most people’ are like this or not. I certainly DO know a number of people (in my own family) who meet your OP perfectly…they have never changed either their party affiliation or their core belief at all, or if they have its been VERY minor. I think it has to do with being exposed to new things, but its only my guess based on my own experience.

But I conceed that you have a point…I really don’t know what percentage of people are like that, and what percentage of people are exposed to new things and alter their world view based on it. I also agree that people in general on this board are somewhat unusual and don’t really represent the majority of citizens…hell, people that use the internet regularly and really understand the tool at their fingertips are not representitive of the population at large for that matter.

I now see John Maces point too, where I didn’t before. I thought asking for a cite on this was inappropriate, but I think we really would need some additional data to see if its really all that unusual or if its more common place than you think. However, I seriously doubt there IS any really firm data on this…how would you even go about asking this question in a survey so that the information provided was meaningful in answering the question you are posing?


I think mine change every time I open a new post in GD… :slight_smile:

I say stuff like this a lot, but when I come down to it, I have personally been an exception to this one. I went from a peson who didn’t care about politics and economics, to an Objectivist, to whatever I am now, which i describe as a left anarchist but that would give impressions that are actually incorrect.

What will change a person’s politics is a sense of betrayal, I think, by one’s ideals. If I were looking to make a generalization, it would probably be that most people don’t care about politics, swallow various party lines, and more or less forget about it. These people can’t really change because they don’t really have any opinions in the first place.

Having thought about it some more, I think I can actually discern a large constant in my attitudes, even though my ideological affiliation has been all over the map (Trotskyism to right-wing liberalism - liberalism is considered right-wing in Europe).

The constant is that I hate all forms of oppression, repression, coercion, violence, criminality, etc.; and narrow-mindedness. Always have.

This means that I was vehemently anti-communist back in the '80s. Yet at the same time I was vigorously anti-big-business. Etc. For any given ideology, I could easily find some pet issue of theirs that I would be fiercely opposed to.

What has changed over the years is that, compared to my younger years, I have gained a lot of factual knowledge (in depth and breadth). I have developed a feeling for how people work; how organizations work; how politics works; how power works. Subtle dynamics and interactions among circumstances. How outcomes of actions can be counter-intuitive.

What I have found lately is that I actually start losing opinions. Since there are so many sides to a coin, so many competing interests to consider, so many facts and cirsumstances that I don’t know, I have to conclude more and more that I have “no opinion” on certain matters. Others, I become more centrist (what is an appropriate size of government / level of taxation?). Others, I’m as fiercely opposed to as ever (wars, dictators).

So who doesn’t? Even Communists hate all those things in principle. Only the outright fascists and Nazis actually base their ideology on glorifying oppression, repression, etc.