In 1978, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings famously sang, “Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys”… but if you ask most Americans today, that would be a preferred career over one in politics.
About 85 percent of US citizens are proud to American, according to a Gallup poll released this week, but very few would want their child to become a politician — making 2013 fall in line with polling results from the past six or so decades on that very question.
To most reading these results, “only” 31 percent of parents would want their child to go into politics. But to others, who follow closely the rises and falls of American confidence in political institutions, this statistic is surprisingly positive, considering the monumental disdain felt by people for institutions such as Congress, which in June had a job approval rating of just 17 percent.
In fact, other than an outlier year in 1965 when 36 percent of parents would have wanted their son to be a politician, no more than 30 percent of respondents have ever answered affirmatively. This question was first asked in 1945, when 21 percent of respondents answered favorably about their child’s political future. Positive responses hit a low in 1953, at 20 percent.
Overall, June 2013 results are identical when parents are asked about sons and daughters, but there is some partisan variation in response. Republicans are slightly more likely to want a son to enter politics (28%) rather than a daughter (24%), while among Democrats the opposite is true: daughters (34%) are more likely to be given a parent’s blessing for this type of career, compared to sons (32%). For independents, exactly one-third would like to see a son go into politics, and the same for a daughter.
But don’t be quick to assume that the female preference among Democrats is related to the gender of the respondent. Women are equally likely to want a political career for their male and female children (29% for each), and men overall prefer politics for their girls (34%) over boys (33%).
Overall, white respondents were least enthusiastic about political careers for their kids (26% for sons and 25% for daughters), while non-whites neared the halfway mark (42% for sons, 45% for daughters).
As for “make ’em be doctors and lawyers and such,” doctors hit Gallup’s recent “most trustworthy” poll list at 3rd place, while lawyers rank as the 8th least trusted.
For my kids, I wouldn’t mind them pursuing … “and such”.
Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy consultant, researcher, and mother to three daughters.