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Using Experiments to Estimate the Effects of Education on Voter Turnout

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The powerful relationship between education and voter turnout is arguably the most well-documented and robust finding in American survey research. Yet the causal interpretation of this relationship remains controversial, with many authors suggesting that the apparent link between education and turnout is spurious. In contrast to previous work, which has relied on observational data to assess the effect of education on voter turnout, this article analyzes two randomized experiments and one quasi-experiment in which educational attainment was altered exogenously. We track the children in these experiments over the long term, examining their voting rates as adults. In all three studies, we find that exogenously induced changes in high school graduation rates have powerful effects on voter turnout rates. These results imply that the correlation between education and turnout is indeed causal. We discuss some of the pathways by which education may transmit its influence.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: U.S. Military Academy, West Point 2: Yale University

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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