Photo by Kyle Crawford

Ever since the 2008 presidential election, Senior Eric Virden has had an avid zeal for politics. Raised in a family with parents with opposing political viewpoints, he said he had early exposure to viewpoints from both parties. In elementary school, during those elections, he said it made him upset that many of his classmates would just talk about what their parents said instead of having their own views. To some extent, he said at the time he also enjoyed watching “Kids Pick the President” on Nickelodeon as it was interesting and easy to follow. He said the combination of those experiences motivated him to dive deeper into understanding many sides of the political spectrum and their arguments.

“I started paying attention to politics in fifth grade, which was around the 2008 presidential election. The reason why I started doing that was I felt a lot of my friends were kind of just spouting off what their parents said. They weren’t having their own views, so I decided I was going to start researching these issues myself and start looking at them. I was in fifth grade, so I wasn’t doing the best research, but I was doing a little bit and getting out there,” Virden said. “You’ve got to get your political views from somewhere. Somebody, somehow, you’re going to get them. Whether it’s the media, whether it’s your family, whether it’s the school, there’s something that has to start you off.”

For junior Jackson Holforty, he said the influences on his political viewpoints consisted of growing up in Indiana and learning about some of the successes and failures in the governments of the past in world history class.

“I think the biggest influence (on the public) would be the area they live in and where they grow up. You can see this from many political maps that show how there are some swing states, but for the most part, states will tend to vote towards one side, and that just shows that normally people that grow up in that state will vote with what that state will normally go with,” Holforty said. “I think for the most part that holds true (for me), but a little bit goes into just how I’ve been taught in the classrooms and what I’ve seen through history. I’m very interested in history. What I’ve seen that has been successful in history and hopefully will be successful in the future has impacted me a little bit. World history has been most influential so far, and that was in my freshman year when I was still crafting my political views.”

He said through these, he eventually became more conservative on most issues while maintaining more liberal views on social issues.

“Some of the more liberal regimes have not been the most successful in history,” Holforty said. “Once you get too far to the left, it turns into a government that is putting too many controls on the people. Human nature is to be independent and to strive for success, and governments that put too many sanctions on the people just limit that.”

Virden said he started leaning towards Democratic viewpoints with some prevalent issues from the Bush Administration.

“The two issues that drove me into it were the economy at the time, which was under President Bush—I didn’t really think the economic policies he was doing were really helping out the country,” Virden said. “The other one was the issue of Guantanamo Bay and torture. I feel like torture is abhorrent, and it disgusted me that our own country was engaging in some of those activities. That’s what kind of led me towards the Democratic party, and over time, I kind of developed my views even more.”

However, both Virden and Holforty said that while they say they classify themselves to their respective political parties, neither of them considers himself to be stereotypically representative of them—Virden said while he has more liberal views on social policies, he has more moderate views on economic policies, and Holforty said while he tends to lean towards conservative viewpoints on most issues such as economics and foreign policy, he, like Virden, has more liberal views on social policies.

“I was raised in a more conservative household, and being in Carmel and being in Indiana, that’s more of the viewpoint that you see, but just as I lived my life, I realized that freedoms were a very good thing and that individuals should be entitled to those in life, and that’s how I developed more liberal social ideas,” Holforty said.

If you grew up in a very conservative household but then you went to a extremely liberal college, you’re going to maybe shift your beliefs based off of the new experiences that you’re having. Although, a lot of people tend to stay with the same groups that they’ve always belonged to. It’s all those different socialization things that kind of set people in their ways.”

– Teacher Jocelyn Coe

“I’m very supportive of LGBT rights, very pro-gay marriage, for making sure that people are treated equally; I would consider myself a feminist—I think women should have equal rights and should be treated fairly. … Generally, I’m just really supportive; I think really highly of people and I want them to have the opportunities that they deserve,” Virden said. “I’m moderate on economic policies… I appreciate some of President Obama’s economic works, but I would favor more of working towards balancing the budgets while at the same time being careful with it—not cutting too much, essentially raising taxes as well as cutting spending.”

Widespread stereotypes, according to Jocelyn Coe, U.S. government and AP Comparative Government and Politics teacher, consist of calling Democrats liberal and supportive of big governments and Republicans conservative, supportive of small government and religiously focused. Additionally, Virden said the public tends to view Democrats as heavy spenders and taxers and also as more cautious about getting involved in foreign affairs, and it tends to view Republicans as colder, not caring for the people and client-focused. Holforty also said there are many tendencies for political viewpoints to lean one way or the other based on race, age and socioeconomic status.

Coe said one of the biggest reasons why the public tends to develop a lot of stereotypes of political parties and their members is because of socialization, the social influences on people as they grow up, which can cause them to get stuck in their ideologies.

“Ninety percent of your political philosophies and leanings are going to be established within you by adolescence and it’s going to be really hard for you to change that because of what your parents said and the people surrounding you and what church said and what school said,” Coe said. “If you grew up in a very conservative household but then you went to a extremely liberal college, you’re going to maybe shift your beliefs based off of the new experiences that you’re having although a lot of people tend to stay with the same groups that they’ve always belonged to. It’s really all of those different socialization things that kind of set people in their way.”

Virden agreed and said that people continue to sink into their beliefs by selectively processing information.

“They’re stuck in to the point that they don’t look at any other information that doesn’t back it up. So if they see other information that conflicts with it, they immediately throw it aside like, ‘That’s wrong information, that was found in a bad way, we’re not going to look at it. We’re going to look at the media we agree with,’” Virden said. “When they think they’re right, they don’t want to give up.”

Coe also said another reason for the stereotypes is overemphasis of media coverage on those with the most extreme views and that most people fail to see the views that are more characteristic to the middle of the political spectrum.

“The most public person in a debate skews the perception of that group. For example, there’s a lot of people that are pro-life that do it for religious beliefs and for their own personal belief of not supporting abortions; however, if you look at the news and you wanted to see what a pro-life person was like, all you’d see are stories of people bombing and shooting Planned Parenthoods and abortion clinics, and that’s not representing everyone on that pro-life side,” Coe said. “That’s the same thing with Muslim terrorists. People think that Muslims might be bad if they’ve got an ignorant view of that whole situation, but it’s just a few that are bad—not the entire religious section.”

Virden and Holforty agreed with Coe on the media coverage’s influence on political viewpoints.

“I would say some of the stereotypes hold up to be true, but I think some of the most extreme circumstances of each side, left and right, have been some of the stereotypes, and that’s what has allowed them to form,” Holforty said.

Virden said, “It’s sad, but it’s true because they put out these views that are wild, and they seem to be representing their respective parties. So you see the views espoused by Donald Trump or the views espoused by Bernie Sanders—both of them are extremes. They’re throwing out these views that are crazy. Bernie doesn’t represent a lot of the Democrats, and Trump doesn’t represent a lot of the Republicans. But it makes it look like that when the media’s only reporting that.”

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Sarah Liu