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Contextual influence on participation in local and school governance - David E. Campbell (University of Notre-Dame)

This paper is presented on the site of the Ash Institute for democratic governance and innovation http://www.innovations.harvard.edu

Por Martin Vielajus

  • 06-05
  • Participation in local politics - including school district politics - is something of a paradox. On the one hand, there is some evidence that Americans in general show little interest in, awareness of, and engagement with local politics, as demonstrated by the fact that voter turnout rates in local elections are typically abysmally low. But on the other hand, when we look beyond voter turnout in the general population and instead turn to the specific ways in which participators choose to get involved, engagement in local affairs constitutes a major share of the participatory investment made by Americans. Almost half (44 percent) of Americans report attending at least one meeting on « town or school affairs » in the previous year.

    And of the issues regularly featured prominently on the local political stage, school politics is often the star of the show. Americans care deeply about their local public schools, enough to put their money where their mouths are. Consider how real estate prices track school quality. Yet the literature on political participation has had little to say about this particular channel for political involvement.

    This paper examines one important means of local engagement in politics, attendance at local meetings, including school board meetings. In particular, this paper adds to a growing literature on how the characteristics of the communities in which Americans live affect their civic and political participation. Like previous studies, it asks: does where you live affect your degree of political involvement? Unlike prior studies, however, it specifically looks to the school district as the community of interest. The analysis thus uses a unique dataset to determine whether the contextual features of school districts affect individuals’ levels of participation. In a nutshell, this study is motivated by two inter-related claims. First, place matters. Second, school districts are places with political relevance.


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    Source : Taubman Center for State and Local Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government

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