Why should discussion of the family be of interest when we look at political values or behaviour? It is unlikely that voting predispositions form a part of the ritual of courtship. The family as such cannot have an opinion. It cannot vote as a unit – for this purpose it has to break up into its individual membership. Neither politicians nor political analysts have tended to view the family as a factor in politics. For the politician thinking of politics the family is only of an interest – if with a dash of wishful thinking – as a moral force. For the political analyst, unaffected by wishful thinking, the family holds no obvious interest at all: electoral preferences are measured in terms of individual characteristics. For instance, older people, people from a relatively high social class, non-trade union members – these people are predisposed towards the Conservative Party. The family is merely in the background, providing some of the characteristics, such as tenure or total household income, that might be used to predict individual political values.
However, there are several very good reasons for taking a look at the family’s values and voting patterns:
if real circumstances (income, jobs, and so on) influence individual opinions or political behaviour – and the extent to which this is the case can be tested empirically – then, because many of the factors that impinge on individuals vary by family circumstances (for example, a person remains in employment but their spouse or partner loses a job), the family can be seen as a possible mediator of values and voting;
to what extent the family is a crucible for the formation or maintenance of particular political views is of great interest; conformity within the family over time is likely to mean that family members influence each other in their political and other persuasions;
related to the above, general changes in family structure could have an impact on the transmission of political values over time, and thus the family itself might have an impact on the political system.