Module 2 part 4 IV. An Example: Potential Causes of Political Participation Education In the discussion above, we mentioned that some people believe that education influences voter turnout. Years of schooling provide knowledge about political life that helps to build an interest in politics. Furthermore, education helps provide people with skills to continue to learn about politics on their own time. This access to political knowledge helps to keep people informed and interested in the campaign -- thereby increasing the likelihood that they will vote. The hypothesis tends to be: the more educated one is, the more likely one is to vote. Income Another potential causal influence on political participation is income. People with higher incomes may feel that they have a greater stake in governmental decisions. They also have more economic resources to help stay informed about the campaign via newspaper and newsmagazine subscriptions. Both of these theoretical justifications lend support to the following hypothesis: the more income one earns, the more likely one is to vote. Age A third potential causal influence on voter turnout is age. Young people are in early stages of building a life for themselves; they may have seen relatively few events that made them take an interest in political life. They are also frequently occupied with school, new careers, and/or a social life. Middle-aged adults and senior citizens, on the other hand, may feel that they have a greater stake in governmental decisions. The hypothesis that emerges from these lines of reasoning is: the older one gets, the more likely one is to vote. Gender A fourth potential cause of voting in the U.S. is gender. Some people assert that women are socialized to be passive and that this passivity makes them less likely to take an interest in politics. This disconnectedness from politics could be reinforced by the fact that most elected officials and most candidates are male. Conversely, socialization dynamics would encourage men to take an interest in politics and the male-dominated look of government would heighten the willingness of men to participate in the political process by voting. This train of thought produces the following hypothesis: men are more likely to vote than women. Over the last generation, several developments suggest that the traditional societal practice of defining a variety of roles by gender is declining. Women are moving into a variety of occupations and leadership roles once seen as male-only. In addition, the participation of female candidates in elections is on the rise. This change in gender relations has led some people to speculate that contemporary women may feel a greater commitment to public life than men -- thereby asserting a contrary hypothesis: women are more likely to vote than men. Race Race is another potential causal influence on the decision to vote. African-Americans may be socialized to believe the government is indifferent to their opinions or, worse still, openly hostile toward them. The white-dominated nature of government reinforces these feelings of powerlessness and makes black citizens even less likely to vote. In contrast, white citizens feel at ease with the white faces of the majority of candidates and elected officials. This line of reasoning leads to the following hypothesis: black citizens are less likely to vote than white citizens. Supporters of the above hypothesis frequently point to reports in the media stating that lower percentages of blacks vote than whites. Notice, however, that such reports have not met one of our four causal criteria: no spuriousness. It is conceivable that black citizens tend to vote less frequently than whites not because they are black, but because they tend to be influenced by one or more additional independent variables. For example, looking at the abbreviated causal model above, it could be the case that African-Americans vote less frequently because they tend to have lower incomes and/or fewer years of schooling than Caucasian-Americans. In order to control for the possibility of spuriousness using the quantitative approach outlined earlier, we need to use appropriate statistical techniques to examine the covariation of these 5 independent variables with our dependent variable: voter turnout. As a first step in that process, we need to develop ways to measure each of these variables. We turn to those issues next in Module Three.
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