Childhood volunteering encourages future voting in elections, studies show

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Childhood volunteerism encourages those from politically disengaged families to go ahead and vote when they are older, a new study shows.

Community actions lead them to become more interested in politics and see voting as mandatory, according to research. However, volunteering doesn’t have the same impact on most children, so it shouldn’t be seen as an answer to declining turnout.

Research published in Journal of European Political Research, carried out by Dr. Stuart Fox (now at the University of Exeter) and performed during his work at Brunel University. She used the UK Household Longitudinal Survey and structural equation modeling to examine the impact of childhood voluntary on the turnout of eligible new voters in the 2015, 2017 and 2019 UK elections.

Dr. Fox said, “On average, childhood volunteering has little impact on turnout, because most children who volunteer are likely to vote in adulthood. It facilitates civic and political participation.”

“But for children of politically disengaged parents, who would otherwise be unlikely to vote because they have fewer opportunities to engage politically, voluntarily exposing them to political issues and institutions in their communities, as well as other individuals who are more engage politically, and increase their attachment to that community.This has led to an increased interest in politics and a greater tendency to view voting as a civic duty.

“This means childhood volunteerism has the potential to help reverse declining turnout. But it can only make a limited contribution to reducing turnout inequalities that are rooted in social factors.”

Dr. Fox used data on self-reported interest in politics and measured whether respondents felt it was mandatory to vote, whether they felt qualified to participate in politics, knew about politics, or that political involvement was too expensive. He also controlled for characteristics associated with voluntary childhood, voting or both: gender and age and education.

Of people in the study who were raised by politically involved parents, 53% who did not volunteer in the year before their first election said they “would have voted,” compared to 56% who volunteered—an “increase” 3 points for the number of first-time voters from voluntary. However, among those raised in politically disengaged—and typically poorer—households, the increase in turnout was 25 points, with 31% of those who did not volunteer “sure to vote” compared to 56% who did voluntarily. volunteer.

During their teenage years, most had at least some interest in politics and only a third had no interest. Nearly three-quarters had never or almost never volunteered a year later, while 16% did so at least once a week. By the time of their first election, overall political engagement had increased, with the proportion saying they were not interested in politics falling to a quarter and a similar proportion rejecting the view that voting was mandatory.

Those from politically uninvolved households are less involved and less likely to volunteer: 45% had no interest in politics as a child, and at their first election this was still true for 36%, while 33% did not feel that voting is a chore; nearly four-fifths did not volunteer. Among children of engaged parents, only 26% were not interested in politics as a child, and at their first election this was 22%, with 19% not viewing voting as mandatory. Nearly a third reported volunteering.

Of those who did not vote, 10% “definitely did not vote” in their first election and 46% “definitely voted”. Of those who volunteer at least once a week, the rates were 5% and 61%, respectively. Similarly, of those who did not volunteer, 28% had no interest in politics since their first election, and 28% voted against being obligated. Among those who volunteered at least once a week, the rates were 20 and 24%, respectively.

Attitudes about political interests and obligations both have a strong and significant effect on likelihood of voting, whereas volunteerism has a very weak positive effect on feelings about obligations to vote and a negligible effect on political interests.

For children from non-involved households, the total effect of volunteering on likelihood of voting was 0.48—for each increase in the frequency of volunteering, the likelihood of voting increased by 0.48 points. For the children of the households involved, the total effect is 0.09.

Further information:
Stuart Fox, Social action as a route to the ballot box: Can youth volunteerism reduce voter inequality?, Journal of European Political Research (2023). DOI: 10.1111/1475-6765.12586

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