How family and religion influence young adult political views

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Editor’s note: As the Nov. 3 election draws near, the Daily Universe is exploring different national and local issues impacting voters in a series of stories.

Students and faculty at BYU say that family and religion heavily influence their political opinions and how they vote. (Photo illustration by Whitney Bigelow)

Editor’s note: All BYU students interviewed for this story are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Many people started talking about their political beliefs with the 2020 presidential election just around the corner, but where do their political beliefs come from? Religion and family are two things that BYU students and faculty say have an influence on their political beliefs.

The large majority of BYU students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to Pew Research Center, in 2014 most members of the Church were Republican or leaned conservative, but there were some Democrats and some who didn’t have a political affiliation.

Family influence

Jeremy Pope, a BYU political science professor, said family influence plays a big part in people’s political beliefs.

“The most obvious example is that people’s partisanship is clearly very much an inherited legacy from parents,” Pope said. “It is not the case that parental partisanship is perfectly determinative, but it is the case that parents matter a lot.”  

Political science professor Lisa Argyle said family influence has a huge role in political opinions. “Political science research shows that families are typically the ‘starting point’ for someone’s political views,” she said. “Then, friends, communities, political events and other life experiences can shift people from that starting point, especially in the young adult years.”

Argyle said people’s views are most likely to stay close to their parents’ views if their parents talked about politics in their home growing up.

BYU student Tayler Ventura said she believes her family has had an influence on her political beliefs, “probably in the sense that I have pretty politically active and aware parents.” Ventura and her mom consistently discuss politics, and she said her family has pretty similar views on issues and candidates.

Religious influence

Argyle said the relationship between religion and politics is a complicated one. “Some research shows that people actually choose their religious congregations based on their politics,” Argyle said. “Other research shows that it’s not necessarily the religious doctrine that matters for political views, but our social connection to other people in the congregation. If the congregation is overwhelmingly liberal or conservative, then regular association with those people can have an impact on someone’s political views.”

Olivia Neeley, a BYU student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, considers herself a liberal in the Democratic Party. She said her religion has taught her that love is one of the most important things in the world, along with free agency.

“I personally feel as though religion preaches these things but adds in ‘ifs’ and ‘buts,’ and I felt that some people in religion believed them,” she said. “Religion has played a part in forming my views and has played a larger part in me being more active in politics and sharing my views.”

BYU student Megan Jensen considers herself a part of the Republican party and leans libertarian. She said she thinks religion has greatly influenced her political views. “Freedom of religion is very important to me,” she said. “I also sometimes feel my religious values bleed into my political views. However, often it is more opinion-based than religious.” 

Hans Lehnardt, a BYU student who grew up in Salt Lake City, also said he believes his faith has played a role in his political opinion. Right now, Lehnardt doesn’t identify with a political party but plans to vote for Democratic candidates in this year’s election.

“I think there are things in both parties that the church lines up with, but I think there’s a lot more in the Democratic Party,” Lehnardt said. “Democrats are more about helping the poor and the needy and helping refugees and allowing immigrants to come in.”

Lehnardt said the Church has given statements saying we should welcome immigrants and refugees. “That’s something Donald Trump doesn’t love,” he said.

BYU student Nathan Hansen from Bartlesville, Oklahoma identifies as a political conservative and said he believes the Church’s teachings on personal accountability have influenced his political views.

Other impacts

Argyle and Pope agreed that sometimes when people leave their parents’ house they change their political beliefs, but it’s not very common.

“Education can have a liberalizing effect on people’s political attitudes,” Argyle said. “However, this impact is not enough for most people to completely change parties from what they grew up with.”

Pope said when it does happen, it occurs during the college years when people are exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking. “After that point, partisan identity is relatively set, but can change in response to major life changes or massive public events.”

Neeley, a Democrat, grew up in a household where conservative views were pushed, but she never really agreed with her parents’ views. “I learned more and did more research and just listened to what I thought was right and am definitely a person with liberal views,” she said.

When she moved out of her parents’ house, Neely said she became even more liberal and more comfortable in her mindset and began really being active in politics.

On the flip side, Hansen said when he moved out of his parent’s conservative household his views became even more conservative as he’s had his own experiences. 

Political science professor Kelly Patterson agrees that it can happen but usually doesn’t. “You don’t change your partisanship while you’re in college, you simply bring your partisanship with you to college,” he said.

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