Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
The term “political behavior” encompasses a wide array of phenomena, most of which convey a sense of people interacting with, and responding to, the political stimuli that surround them. People follow contemporary political events by reading today's newspaper or watching this evening's TV news; they approve or disapprove of the job the president currently is doing; and they vote for candidates in this year's election. In light of this immediacy, it is understandable that most accounts of political behavior contemplate how people may be influenced by environmental forces, and especially by forces in operation just prior to the behaviors in question. Thus, a great deal of research examines matters such as the impact of news media on political attitudes, of partisan mobilization on voter turnout, and of campaign content on candidate choice. Or, reaching back to earlier influences, studies consider the effects of childhood political socialization, education, and the person's exposure to others within various social contexts.
To the extent that such research calls attention to one key set of determinants of political behavior, we should have no qualms about a focus on the influence of environmental forces. However, diligence is needed to ensure that such a focus does not produce analytical myopia. Any account of political behavior positing, either explicitly or implicitly, that only environmental forces matter necessarily assumes that people first encounter the world of politics as political blank slates. And that assumption is wrong.