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Civic Education in High School and Voter Turnout in Adulthood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2021

Aaron C. Weinschenk*
Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Green Bay, USA
Christopher T. Dawes
Wilf Family Department of Politics, New York University, New York City, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


This article examines the effect of high school civic education on voter turnout in adulthood by integrating extensive academic transcript data on social studies and civic coursework into a large-scale, longitudinal survey of a nationally representative sample of adolescents. In an initial series of regression models, civics courses appear to have an effect on turnout in adulthood. However, after accounting for individual and family attributes, civic education has a fairly limited effect on turnout, though several measures have statistically significant effects even in the presence of controls. Interestingly, the study finds no support for the idea that high school courses that focus on service learning, civic skills development or political issues increase turnout in adulthood, which is contrary to expectations from the resource model of participation. After subjecting the civic effects that persist after accounting for controls to additional scrutiny by using family fixed-effects models that account for all observed and unobserved influences shared by siblings in the same family (for example, socialization, predispositions, etc.), the evidence suggests that there is a null relationship between civic education and turnout; the best-case scenario is that any civic education effects that do exist are likely very small. The idea that additional civics training will help to substantially elevate voter turnout appears to be overly optimistic.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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