Expert Commentary

Using experiments to estimate the effects of education on voter turnout

2010 paper in American Journal of Political Science examining the possible link between education levels and voter turnout.

Numerous studies have found that voter turnout rates increase with years of formal education. The precise nature of any causal relationship, however, is a matter of debate among social scientists.

While many of these past studies have used observational data, a 2010 paper published in the American Journal of Political Science, “Using Experiments to Estimate the Effects of Education on Voter Turnout,” examines this possible link by tracking children involved in several experimental studies over the long term and evaluating their voting patterns in adulthood.

The study’s findings include:

  • There is a significant causal relationship between formal education and voter turnout.  A person who did not complete high school — who, statistically speaking, would have only a 15.6% chance of voting — would have between 30.9% to 65.2% chance if he or she had graduated from high school.
  • Those with higher education are more likely to have a greater interest in and knowledge of politics.
  • Those with higher education are more likely to have a larger social network, thus increasing their likelihood of participating in community and political endeavors.

Despite the strong empirical link between education and voter rates, it is nonetheless true that voter turnout has declined since the 19th century. The authors conclude the study by examining the reasons that could account for this phenomenon despite population-wide increases in educational attainment.

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