Voice Lessons: Rethinking the Relationship Between
Education and Political Participation
Published online: 11 February 2015
Ó Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015
Abstract The association between education and political participation is one of
the strongest and most reliable in American politics, but it is poorly understood.
Whether human capital acquired through education affects participation remains
unknown. Most studies of this question restrict measurement of human capital to
years of schooling (attainment) or civics knowledge. But attainment is a weak
instrument for human capital, which varies considerably within attainment levels.
And skills beyond civics—particularly verbal communication skills—are politically
important. With data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, I examine
the relationship between verbal skills acquired in school during adolescence and
participation later in life. I ﬁnd a strong positive effect, showing that when young
people learn to use their voices in school, they are more likely to speak up as
participatory adults. The ﬁndings reveal an important mechanism by which edu-
cation affects democratic life, call for a broadening of the empirical treatment of
education in political science, and suggest an answer to the puzzle of participation.
Keywords Civic engagement Á Education Á Voter turnout Á Longitudinal data Á
The correlation between educational attainment and voter turnout is one of the
strongest and most reliable relationships in the study of political behavior (e.g.
Campbell et al. 1960; Verba et al. 1995; Wolﬁnger and Rosenstone 1980). But after
nearly a century of study, this relationship is famous for puzzles rather than answers.
M. Condon (&)
Urban Affairs and Public Policy, Loyola University Chicago, 427 Granada Center,
1032 W. Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60660, USA
Polit Behav (2015) 37:819–843