Jump-Starting Democracy: Adult Civic Education and Democratic Participation in Three Countries
In countries emerging from authoritarianism into democracy, citizens have little preparation for participating in the new political dispensations they face. Adult civic education promises a way to jump-start the lifelong socialization experience that their counterparts in the long-established democracies enjoy. But do these brief crash-courses in democracy really have any impact? Recent surveys of civic education efforts sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development in the Dominican Republic, Poland and South Africa find that those taking part in the programmes do participate significantly more in local level politics and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in politics more generally as well. There is also evidence that non-elites can benefit more from such programmes and begin to close the participation gap that separates them from traditional elites. The overall gains in participation are, however, modest. But given that political participation in absolute terms has been quite low in both old and new democracies, it can be argued that even modest gains are important and make investment in civic education worthwhile.