a1 Vanderbilt University
a2 University of California, Davis
The consensus in the empirical literature on political participation is that education positively correlates with political participation. Theoretical explanations posit that education confers participation-enhancing benefits that in and of themselves cause political activity. As most of the variation in educational attainment arises between high school completion and decisions to enter postsecondary institutions, we focus our inquiry on estimating the effect of higher education on political participation. Our primary purpose is to test the conventional claim that higher education causes political participation. We utilize propensity-score matching to address the nonrandom assignment process that characterizes the acquisition of higher education. After the propensity-score matching process takes into account preadult experiences and influences in place during the senior year of high school, the effects of higher education per se on participation disappear. Our results thus call for a reconsideration of how scholars understand the positive empirical relationship between higher education and participation: that higher education is a proxy for preadult experiences and influences, not a cause of political participation.
(Received August 10 2006)
(Accepted August 11 2007)
Cindy D. Kam is associate professor of political science, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37235. Carl L. Palmer is a Ph.D. candidate in political science, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616.