Ryan Claasen and Quin Monson of BYU have a recent article in the Journal of Political Science Education that tests the impact of a series of civic education exercises in two large introductory American politics classes.
What makes the paper particularly nice are these features that provide much greater leverage on the question of impact:
- An identical manipulation was implemented at two large research universities, but ones with different local political cultures, one conservative and religious (BYU) the second more liberal and secular (Kent State)
- They used experimental methods, assigning students to a “writing lab” that was, for a randomly selected portion, political blogging
- They compared political behavior among the groups 6, 12, and 18 months after the classes
The impact of the class manipulation was modest, with only minor movements in reported voter turnout. More encouraging, however, was the impact of the blogging exercise on student engagement with politics writ large–the bloggers reported higher levels of news consumption and information about politics well after the class.
Despite consensus regarding the civic shortcomings of American citizens, no such scholarly consensus exists regarding the effectiveness of civic education addressing political apathy and ignorance. Accordingly, we report the results of a detailed study of students enrolled in introductory American politics courses on the campuses of two large research universities. The study provides pre- and postmeasures for a broad range of political attitudes and behaviors and includes additional long-term observations in survey waves fielded 6, 12, and 18 months after the conclusion of the class. Long-term observation provides leverage absent in many prior studies and enables us to compare the changes we observe during the semester to those that take place beyond the confines of the classroom and during important political events, such as the 2012 presidential election. Also embedded in the study is an experiment designed to assess whether students’ enthusiasm for “new media” (e.g., blogs) can be harnessed in American politics courses to stimulate long-lasting political engagement. We find evidence that civic education matters for some, but not all, measures of political engagement. Moreover, we find evidence that what one does in the classroom also matters. For some dimensions of political engagement, this study finds evidence of lasting civic education effects and the experimental manipulation compellingly locates the source of some engagement variation in the classroom.