Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Assessing Changing Views of the President: Revisiting Greenstein's Children and Politics. (Articles)

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Assessing Changing Views of the President: Revisiting Greenstein's Children and Politics. (Articles)

Article excerpt

How do children view the presidency? This question drew a good deal of attention in the 1960s, as best represented by the work of Fred Greenstein. Since that time, little effort has been made to see what today's children think about the presidency. The purpose of our article is to close this gap. Drawing from former political socialization and presidential studies (Easton and Dennis 1969, 1970; Greenstein 1960; Hess and Torney 1967; Jaros 1967; Jaros, Hirsch, and Fleron 1968; Maddox and Handberg 1979; Sigel 1968) and most significantly Fred Greenstein's (1969) Children and Politics, we completed a replication study utilizing Greenstein's survey questions to uncover differences in children's views of the president and the office he holds.

Political Socialization Study, the Presidency, and the Past

Beginning in the 1960s, the study of the political socialization of children experienced an academic boom. Drawing from the studies of Laswell and others in the early twentieth century, the study of political socialization became a popular endeavor. Scholars approached the subject with studies focusing on numerous aspects of the political world. They examined agents and events that promote political socialization (Conway et al. 1981; Jennings and Niemi 1968; Kraus and David 1976; Searing, Schwartz, and Lind 1973) and children's learning patterns in schools and across lifetimes (Stacey 1977), as well as children's views of authority and policy (Greenstein 1975; Merelman 1971; Sullivan and Minns 1976; Weissberg 1972), and even examinations of development of children's political opinions throughout their educational careers (Hyman 1959).

Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest as well as study in the subject, as documented by a survey of the literature completed by Niemi and Hepburn (1995). Academics have seemingly rediscovered political socialization research and the possibilities it could have for interpreting political knowledge and legitimacy in the adult electorate. Scholars have addressed political development in children stemming from children in relation to the media and advertising (Rahn and Hirshorn 1999), political participation (Simon and Merrill 1998), socializing agents and events (Minns and Williams 1989; Sears 1990; Sears and Valentino 1997), and comparative educational systems as well as moral development and political efficacy (Flanagan and Sherrod 1998; Glanville 1999). Equally important, scholars are reexamining the studies of the past and using the early political socialization work to contrast changing opinions and development of political citizens.

Research Design

This project replicates Fred Greenstein's original work in schools in New Haven, Connecticut. The 2000 study used a questionnaire containing almost identical questions as those Greenstein used in 1958 for his Children and Politics study (see Table 1 for a comparison of study features). (1)

Our surveys were conducted at three Nashville, Tennessee-area schools: two private schools and one public school. The surveys were carried out at the private schools in April 2000 and at the public school in October 2000. The surveys were conducted across five grades, fourth through eighth. The sample size was 505 students. Participants who did not report their gender or grade as well as those who did not finish more than two-thirds of the survey were removed from the sample, resulting in an adjusted sample of 466. We administered the survey during regular class time with the students' teachers present. After the surveys were collected, we debriefed the students as to the purpose of our study and answered any questions they posed.


We found in this study, as was similarly discovered in the studies of Hess and Torney (1967), Greenstein (1960), Easton and Dennis (1969), and Jaros (1967), that the children of today view the presidency as an office of paramount importance and see the president as the top authority figure of the United States. …

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