When I was eight years old, I hung a sign on my bedroom door that read "DUKAKIS 4 PREZ." I didn't know a damn thing about Governor Dukakis, but I knew my dad didn't like him, and my liberal Catholic grandfather did. That was good enough for me.
That's how my political affiliation first came to be Democratic: I wanted to rile the tough father I often resented, and ally myself with the grandparents I adored. My father always said I'd get more conservative as I grew older, and he was sort of right – just as I was sort of right when I claimed he'd eventually see the light of liberalism (he voted for Obama in 2008, after 24 years of voting Republican in general elections.) My dad is socially liberal and fiscally conservative, one of those old-fashioned moderate Republicans who vote with their pocketbooks and national security in mind, rather than their loony desert fairy tale ideologies.
I believe that our political opinions don't form in a vacuum but are influenced by the environment in which we are raised. I theorize that while some of us form certain beliefs as an act of rebellion against the generation that came before, others cling to their beliefs as an affirmation of our love for them and our membership in the family unit. In order to test my theory out, I took to that magical beast, social media, to acquire anecdotes from friends and strangers about how they formed their own political ideals.
Juliet, 28, Brooklyn, NY
My parents were both in unions and I grew up in a very blue collar, pro-labor household. When I was in high school and college the liberal perspective just made so much more sense to me. Being progressive is all about keeping up with a constantly changing culture, economy and society, conservatism is about going backward and maintaining the status quo.
I am for a free market system but not one that is completely out of control. I also feel that we are only as strong as our weakest link. If we don't look out for the weakest in our society, especially children, everyone suffers as a result. If a child grows up with a poor education, unsupervised, half-starved, that child is not going to be as strong of a citizen. So we are our brother's keeper to an extent and I believe in a social safety net, especially for children as they don't decide their parents' choices in life.
Julie, 33, Anaheim, CA
Although I was politically all over the map as a teenager, I was socially liberal and financially conservative (i.e. I was pro-choice and pro-gay rights, but against taxes and the government telling me what to do), so I voted Democrat because that was where my heart was at, although I liked some of the ideas Ross Perot had and seriously considering voted Independent.
Then for a long list of personal reasons, I became a born-again Christian and became a hardcore GOP card carrying conservative Christian because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do…At the time I found all their arguments very convincing, but years later, looking back, I think I was just happy to BELONG to something after a lifetime of being The Weird Kid and got swept up in a bunch of propaganda.
I went back to college to finish my business degree and despite attending a supposedly conservative Christian college, I found myself challenged by a number of articulate, amazing, liberal and independent professors and began to rethink my entire world view. The biggest thing I walked away with was the idea that I could be socially liberal and fiscally conservative and still be a Christian. Really, I could be anything I wanted to be politically and be a Christian, because honestly there is very little about politics in the Bible, and you can justify just about any political agenda if you point at the right passages… for now I am an Independent, until such time as I find a party that I feel actually represents both my values and my interests.
Jenny, 26, North Carolina
I decided I was a Republican when I was in high school. I think my parents had some influence on my opinions, but ultimately, it comes down to personal responsibility and smaller government for me. Unfortunately, the current Republican party doesn't do a lot to further either of those causes.
When I was in college at UNC-Chapel Hill, I was very active in College Republicans and I helped found Conservative Women's Voice. I believe that communities are better suited than the federal government to care for those who need help. That's why I helped organize two benefit concerts through Conservative Women's' Voice for a domestic violence shelter that was woefully underfunded. I thought that if we were going to preach taking care of our own, then we should practice it.
Raeanne, 32, Montreal, Quebec
I was always very proud of Canada's social openness and determination to include social services in the country's character. We had publicly funded television that brought us specials about accepting homosexuality and race and I grew up with a lovely sense that religion was a person choice and not part of the governmental structure.
But as I grow older and I see these internal systems falter and wane, I have grown cynical of trusting the bureaucracy to take care of all of us fairly and properly. I don't discredit the merit of a social "net" to catch those that have a bad stretch and need support and systems, but the middle class does truly get lost. I don't need many services so this hasn't become extremely frustrating but the amount of taxes I pay does make me scratch my head at where the money goes, especially when my streets are falling apart and I can't find a family doctor. This is where I get a little fiscally conservative. I'm tired of paying nearly $10,000 a year and have nothing to show or see for it…I find it funny when this is brought up in the American debates since you guys pay NOTHING compared to what we do.
Beth, 35, Livermore, CA
I am a Democrat because I grew up with little, but the world and people around me provided me with the resources to become something more than a statistic. I am a Democrat because I was able to be the first member of my family to graduate college when my parents could never afford to send me there. I am a Democrat because I care about people. I am a Democrat because I believe everyone should be allowed opportunity and dignity. I am a Democrat because my grandparents taught me to do unto others as I'd have them do unto me. I am a Democrat because I want to be a good human being. I am a Democrat because I am not an asshole.
Kate, 45, Long Island, NY
I grew up with politics being discussed in my house, with a Democratic mom and a Republican (libertarian-leaning) dad. Also grew up in a liberal mainline Protestant church with a strong social justice emphasis, so that definitely had an influence. My parents, both from the Deep South, told stories of the changes that happened in their lifetime around race and segregation and miraculously, out of four grandparents, only 1 was a dyed-in-the-wool racist (which is pretty good given that time and place.)
Fast forward 25 years, and I'm still a Democrat, going to a veeerrry liberal religious institution (Unitarian Universalist). However I have found that after being in business (as opposed to, say, the arts or education), I am more conservative than most of my college friends and fellow congregants.
Jeri, 70, North Texas
I am a registered Republican who grew up in a staunch Republican family. My mother, Irene, worked feverishly for the Party and every time the voting polls were open in Central New Jersey, my mother would we working all day well into the evening. I loved going to the polls! I admired and was in awe of the high profile people who I would get to meet due to my mother's affiliation with the Republican Party. My dad, John, my grandfather, John, and my grandmother, Lillian, were also dedicated voters and helped support the Republican Party… My whole world growing up was connected to the Republican Party! It was a world that I was comfortable with and to this day I continue to "lean" to the Republican Party.
Leslie, 31, New York, NY
I was raised in a very religious household, which definitely impacted my view of politics. We prayed to God to guide our politicians' decisions and we prayed that the public would elect the right officials (which usually meant the Republicans). There were certain platforms that were heavily focused on in our religious community, pro-choice vs. pro-life being a huge one. If a candidate was pro-choice, then they weren't a consideration--regardless of their other viewpoints. There were definitely "deal breakers."
My parents and I don't talk politics. Especially since they can't understand why I would vote Democrat now. I've never been very politically driven, but as I've gotten older, I've tried to look at the big picture concerning a candidate's platform as opposed to having one or two things that would immediately make me dismiss him/her.
Jessica, 23, Seattle
I was raised in Alaska by two educated New York Jews. Needless to say, politics were always discussed in my house and I was encouraged to stay informed, without my parents forcing their beliefs down my throat. In fact, it maybe was their openness to me forming my own ideas and opinions that led me to the Democrat path. Religion isn't a direct influence on my affiliation (my parents vote differently from each other) but the general kindness and empathy taught by the culture of Judaism inspired my perspectives. My family taught me from a young age that my education and health are vital tools for happiness and success, and worth fighting for. Coming from a line of feminists has had a greater impact on my political beliefs than coming from a line of Bat Mitzvahs.
During the 1980 election, I remember that we had those little Scholastic "newspapers" and the teacher asked us to go home and ask our parents who they were voting for. My dad said "Reagan." Ever since then, I've always been sympathetic to the GOP and its candidates. (When Reagan was shot, I remember making him a get well card, with a picture of jellybeans, which I sent to the White House.) I hated the knee-jerk liberalism that I saw in college, particularly surrounding the election of Clinton in 1992. I was definitely more conservative in college than at any other time in my life (politically - NOT in any other way at all.) I got a job in the RNC phone bank in '94, in the midst of Newt's Contract With American years, and stayed on through the sham of the Dole campaign. Of course, I was also working as a phone sex operator at the time, which honestly, wasn't all that different.
What about you? When and how did you become the Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/Fill-in-the-Blank you are today? Let's get into it in the comments!