Technology and Politics

Shanto Iyengar
December 1, 2004

No other group is as disengaged from
elections as youth. Voter turnout in the United
States trails that of other industrialized societies,
and is particularly anemic among youth between
the ages of 18 and 24. The under-representation
of youth voters has been observed ever since
eighteen year olds were enfranchised in 1972 (for
evidence, see Levine and Lopez, 2002; Bennett,
1997). In the 1976 election, 18-24 year olds made
up 18 percent of the eligible electorate, but only 13
percent of the voting electorate, reflecting underrepresentation
by one-third. In the subsequent
off-year election of 1978, under-representation of
18-24 year-olds increased to 50%. Twenty years
later, youth voters numbered 13 percent of the
voting age population, and a mere five percent of
those who voted.
The consequences of age-related imbalances
in political participation for the democratic process
are obvious. Elected officials respond to the
preferences of voters, not non-voters. As rational
actors, candidates and parties tend to ignore the
young and a vicious cycle ensues. As William
Galston puts it, ?Political engagement is not a
sufficient condition for political effectiveness, but it
is certainly necessary.? (2002a, p. 6)
There are several possible reasons for
political avoidance by the youngest portion of the
electorate (see Bennett, 1997; Galston, 2002 for
a general discussion). Elections and campaigns
are thought to have little relevance for youth
because they are preoccupied by short-term
factors associated with the transition to adulthood,
including residential mobility, the development of
significant interpersonal relationships outside the
family, the college experience, and the search for
permanent employment. Against the backdrop
of such significant personal milestones, political
campaigns appear remote and inconsequential.
Rivaling life cycle factors as a cause of
apathy is the political subculture of youth. In
particular, youth lack the psychological affiliations
so important for political engagement (see Beck
and Jennings, 1982; Stoker and Jennings, 1999).
Partisanship is what bonds voters to campaigns,
and the sense of party identification is more firmly
entrenched among older Americans who have had
multiple opportunities to cast partisan votes (Niemi
and Jennings, 1991; Keith et al., 1992). The young
are also less likely to have internalized relevant
?civic? incentives -- beliefs about the intrinsic
value of keeping abreast of public affairs (Jennings
and Markus, 1984; Sax et al., 1999). Because
adolescence and early adulthood are especially
formative phases for the development of personal,
group, and political identity (see Sears and
Valentino, 1997; Niemi and Junn, 1998; Stoker and
Jennings, 1999; Putnam, 2000), it is particularly
important that participant attitudes and norms take
root if today?s youth are not to remain tomorrow?s
non-voters.
The question of potential ?treatments? for
the problem of politically disengaged youth has
attracted considerable attention. Much of the
literature focuses on civic education and efforts
to make the curricula more ?hands-on.? The
most recent nationwide evidence suggests that
civics courses do impart information and foster
development of attitudes known to encourage
participation (Niemi and Junn, 1998; Niemi and
Campbell, 1999; cross-cultural evidence from
28 countries is summarized in Torney-Purta et
al., 2001; for a critique of the mainstream civic
education model, see Hibbing, 1996, Conover
and Searing, 2000). An important innovation
to classroom-based civic learning extends the
curriculum to the community. Some have argued
that participation in non-political community service
programs can be a catalyst for the development
of pro-social and participant orientations (Merrill,
Simon and Adrian, 1994; Astin and Sax, 1998;
Niemi, Hepburn and Chapman, 2000). Yet, it is
clear that the gains from near-universal exposure
to civic education are insufficient to get young
voters to the polls.
An alternative treatment strategy -
- unrelated to civic education -- is to rely on
conventional voter mobilization campaigns. When
?get out the vote? efforts are directed at young,
first-time voters (e.g. college students), the
payoffs are considerable. Using a series of field
experiments, Donald Green and Alan Gerber have
demonstrated that in-person and telephone-based
canvassing both provide a significant impetus to
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CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004 Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
youth turnout (an increase of over five percent),
and at a fraction of the cost of national media
campaigns (Green and Gerber, 2001; Green,
Gerber, and Nickerson, 2002). However, as noted
below, by providing the recipient of the contact
with a salient situational rationale for voting,
mobilization campaigns may actually impede the
development of participant attitudes and motives.
In sum, civic education contributes to the
development of participant attitudes, but at least
in the near-term, does not boost youth turnout.
Voter mobilization campaigns boost turnout, but
leave little mark on the attitudes of young voters.
Can both outcomes be achieved simultaneously?
We argue that the revolution in information
technology provides a significant new opportunity
for connecting youth to the electoral process.
TECHNOLOGICAL LITERACY AS A
POTENTIAL POLITICAL RESOURCE
There is no doubt that youth are in the
vanguard of computer-based media. School-age
children and young adults are considerably overrepresented
among all computer and Internet
users. Three out of four Americans under the age
of 18 have access to a computer; on average,
they use it for some thirty minutes every day
(Dept. of Commerce, 2002). Thus, in contrast to
their under-representation in any form of political
action, youth enjoy a massive advantage when
considering the daily use of information technology.
As suggested in Figure 1, should the worlds of
technology and politics be combined, youth and
adults would be equally active!1
Figure 1
0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1
1.2
1.4
1.6
Representation Ratio
Voting and PC Use Voting
Voting + PC Use
Averaged Voting-Computer Use
18-24 25-49 >50
1. The representation ratio measures the degree of over or underrepresentation
of any particular group. A value of 1.0 indicates
that the group in question participates in proportion to its share
of the population, e.g. a group that accounts for 25 percent of the
voting-eligible population makes up 25 percent of those that voted.
Values below 1.0 indicate under-representation and vice-versa (see
Rosenstone and Hansen, 1993). The turnout data are for 1996; the
pc usage data are from 1997 (Dept. of Commerce, 2002).
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CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004
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Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
Not only are the young especially adept with
new technologies, but they have also integrated
technology into their personal lives as never before.
From carrying out school assignments, chatting
with friends, playing games, listening to or creating
music, to downloading and watching the latest
movies, ?multi-tasking? with a personal computer is
a core element of contemporary youth culture. In
the words of a 17 year-old respondent in a recent
Pew Internet and American Life survey, ?I multitask
every single second I am online. At this very
moment I am watching TV, checking my email
every two minutes, reading a newsgroup about
who shot JFK, burning some music to a CD, and
writing this message? (Lenhart, Rainie and Lewis,
2001, p. 10).
The fact that new media require an active
rather than passive audience has important
implications not only for the users? sense of
community (see Putnam, 2000, p. 411), but
also for their own personal identity. The social
psychological literature demonstrates unequivocally
that behavioral cues exert powerful effects
on beliefs about the self (for a review of self
perception research, see Schneider, Hastorf,
and Ellsworth, 1979; Ross and Nisbett, 1991).
Typically, individuals attribute their actions to either
dispositional (internal) or situational (external)
causes. Someone who votes, for instance, may
believe that she was motivated to vote on her own
or, alternatively, that she was pressured to vote
by a phone call or campaign worker. Attributing
the act to dispositional factors contributes to
?intrinsic motivation? which encourages the person
to repeat the act in question (for a recent review
of the intrinsic motivation literature, see Lepper
and Henderlong, 2000). In one of the classic
attributional studies, pre-schoolers who were
promised rewards for drawing were later found to
approach drawing materials less frequently than
those not led to expect any reward (Lepper et al.,
1973; Lepper and Greene, 1978). The extensions
to youth political participation are clear: young
people who encounter campaign information on
their own accord and spend time interacting with
political material may come to see themselves as
interested in politics. The relatively inexpensive
?act? of using a campaign CD (Iyengar, 2001)
or visiting a political website (Lupia and Baird,
2003; Shah et al., 2001) may then lead to more
significant acts including registering to vote and
discussing the campaign with parents or friends.
In this respect, a trivial and unobtrusive addition
to one?s ?technology space? such as a CD, which
young people are able to turn on and off at
will, promises far greater long-term payoff than
conventional efforts at mobilization. The locus of
causation for technology use is relatively personal;
an eighteen year old, who in the course of playing
a computer game, learns that certain groups or
causes he dislikes are on a particular candidate?s
?team,? has some basis for claiming an interest
in politics. An eighteen year old who receives a
phone call urging him to vote has some basis for
claiming precisely the opposite.
RESEARCH DESIGN
We designed this study to assess whether
young people?s expertise with information
technology could be harnessed to stimulate a
greater sense of involvement in political campaigns.
We provided a representative sample of California
youth with an interactive CD featuring the 2002
gubernatorial election. Participants were sent the
CD two weeks in advance of the election. Following
the election, they completed a survey of their
political attitudes and opinions.
The experimental treatment was a
multimedia ?ebook? about the 2002 California
gubernatorial election. Compiled on a CD,
the ebook presented an exhaustive and easily
searchable database about each of the two
major candidates (Democrat Gray Davis and his
Republican opponent Bill Simon) including televised
advertisements, interviews with broadcast news
sources, excerpts from the party platforms, and
the audio of their one public debate. Participants
had to only place the CD in the drive for the ebook
software to self-install.2
The ebook was organized into four
chapters. The opening chapter (?Politics in the
Golden State?) provided a general overview of
electoral law and procedure (i.e. how to register
to vote), the composition and partisan sentiments
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CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004 Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
of the California electorate, a historical survey
of gubernatorial elections, and a brief discussion
of campaign strategy. The second chapter
(?The Candidates?) provided biographical and
career information about Davis and Simon. Next
(?The Issues?), we provided excerpts from the
candidates? stump speeches on the economy,
energy shortages, public education and other major
issues. Finally, Chapter 4 (?The Media?) featured
the one debate between Davis and Simon, as well
as a series of news reports (taken from newspapers
across the state) about the candidates and the
state of their respective campaigns.
Using this format, we produced two versions
of the CD. The ?adult? version, as described
above, provided extensive information about the
candidates. The ?youth? version provided the
identical information, but supplemented with a
variety of interactive games, contests and quizzes
all designed to make the presentation especially
appealing to youth. Specifically, the youth version
featured two different ?whack-a-pol? games in
which the user seeks to hit as many moving
targets (politicians or interest groups) with a
hammer (see Figure 2 below), a music quiz asking
users to identify popular songs and associate
the artists with candidates or causes, a similar
?celebrity quiz,? and a self-administered ?rate your
campaign IQ? test in which users first watched
well-known (and amusing) television ads from
past political campaigns and then explained the
strategy behind the ads. Thus, although the adult
and youth versions provided identical substantive
content (both text and multimedia), the latter was
designed to both inform and entertain. Naturally,
we expected that exposure to the youth CD would
prove especially influential among younger CD
users.
2. The software (TK3 Reader) is a product of Nightkitchen.com.
Figure 2: Whack-a-Pol Screen Shot
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CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004
6
Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
We contracted with a research firm,
Knowledge Networks, to mail each version of the
CD to a representative sample of Californians
between the ages of 16 and 29.3 Potential
participants were contacted in advance and offered
$10 for participating in a Stanford University study
about voter reactions to an election CD. Those
who agreed were further informed that they would
receive the CD in the mail two weeks before the
election, that they were free to use the CD as they
saw fit, and that they would be asked to complete
a brief survey about their use and evaluation of the
CD shortly after the election.
Each version of the CD was mailed to
350 participants on October 21st.4 Following the
election, Knowledge Networks administered a
web-based survey to all recipients of the CD in
addition to a parallel (in terms of age) control
group of 250 participants. The survey included a
series of questions concerning their engagement
in the campaign, and more generally, their feelings
about the role of ordinary citizens in the political
process. For the purposes of this analysis, we
focus on actual (i.e. validated) turnout,5 interest in
the campaign, the sense of civic duty and political
efficacy as our measures of political involvement.6
These questions were also administered to the
control group. In all cases, the measures were rescaled
to range between 0 and 1.
152 of the participants mailed the CD
completed the survey for a response rate of
22 percent.7 We know for certain that these
respondents received the CD. Unfortunately, we
do not have any reliable indicator of the extent of
their CD use.8 Accordingly, in the analyses that
follow, we consider respondents assigned to either
3. As originally planned, we hoped to limit the sample to 16-24 year-olds, but the sample size would have been too small because
the Knowledge Networks panel is designed to be representative of the adult population.
4. The assignment to either of the CD conditions was randomized.
5. We used the Secretary of State?s turnout database to trace study participants based on their street address and date of birth. The
level of over-reporting of actual turnout was approximately 25 percent. That is, self-reported vote exceeded actual vote by that
amount.
6. The interest index consisted of four items: (1) Which of the following best describes how often you follow what?s going on in
government? Responses ranged from ?most of the time? to ?hardly at all.? (2) How many days in the past week did you talk about
politics with family or friends? Responses ranged from ?every day? to ?none.? (3) Generally speaking, how much did you care about
who won the presidential elections this fall? (4) How much did you personally care about the way the 2000 election to the U.S.
House of Representatives came out? Responses to both these items ranged from ?very much? to ?not at all.? We summed the four
responses and then converted scores to a 0-1 scale. The average inter-item correlation (r) was .54.
We used three items to measure the sense of efficacy: (1) Sometimes politics and government seem so complicated that a person
like me can?t really understand what?s going on. (2) Public officials don?t care much what people like me think. (3) People like me
don?t have any say about what the government does. The response options ranged from ?strongly agree? to ?strongly disagree.?
We summed across the items and transformed scores to a 0-1 scale. The average inter-item correlation was .32. Finally, our index
of civic duty consisted of three items: (1) If people don?t care how an election comes out he they shouldn?t vote in it, (2) It isn?t so
important to vote when you know your party doesn?t have any chance to win, and (3) A good many local elections aren?t important
enough to bother with. Response options for all three items ranged from ?strongly agree? to ?strongly disagree.? We summed across
items and transformed the index scores to a 0-1 scale. The average inter-item correlation for the civic duty set was .33.
7. Failure to use the CD is the most likely explanation for the relatively low response rate in the treatment conditions. That is, most
participants opted out of the survey for the simple reason that they had not used the CD. Note the substantially higher response rate
in the control group (62 percent). Non-response can further be attributed to the general lack of interest in the election, and the fact
that our participants were drawn disproportionately from the ranks of the politically disengaged (the young).
8. Unlike an earlier study of the 2000 presidential campaign, we did not have the necessary resources to monitor participants? actual
use of the 2002 CDs. In the earlier study, we retrieved usage files from the participants? computers. Using that behavioral measure,
we found that 38 percent of the participants actually used their CD. Considering the differences between the 2000 presidential and
2002 gubernatorial campaigns, most notably the considerably lower salience of the latter (with a 36 percent turnout rate), and the age
distribution of the participants in the 2002 study, we believe the imputed exposure rate of 22 percent is plausible.
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CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004 Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
of the CD conditions as ?exposed? to the CD. Using
the conventional logic of experimental design, we
can attribute, ipso facto, differences in measures
of political engagement between the treated and
control groups to exposure to the CD.
METHODOLOGY AND RESULTS
At the heart of any scientific experiment
is random assignment. Randomization ensures
that differences between the treatment group
and the control group only reflect the effects of
treatment; bias in the estimated treatment effect
is not an issue (i.e., the experiment is valid), and
the only issue concerns statistical significance
(i.e., is the realized treatment effect big enough
such that it is unlikely to have been generated by
chance). Of course, when working with human
subjects, random assignment often fails. People
fail to comply with their assignment status, usually
refusing treatment (or receiving treatment even
when assigned to the control group, as sometimes
occurs in medical trials). The problem posed by
outcome-related selection into the treatment
condition is obvious. In the case of the youth CD,
for instance, actual turnout among treated subjects
exceeded turnout among the control group by 15
percentage points. This observed difference is not
only attributable to the treatment, but also to the
ex-ante level of political interest among participants
who chose to use the CD. When acceptance
rates for experimental treatments are less than
universal, it becomes necessary to estimate the
average treatment effect after adjusting for selfselection
into the treatment group.
In our experiment, 78 percent of those
assigned to the treatment conditions did not
participate, due to general disinterest in the subject
matter, insufficient time to use the CD, or other
such factors. This means that the subjects who did
accept the treatment were drawn disproportionately
from those generally more interested in politics
than the typical subject, and, more importantly,
than the typical member of the control group. Put
simply, not only is exposure to the treatment nonrandom,
it is correlated with the outcome variables
of interest (voter turnout, political efficacy, etc).
Fortunately, in recent years there has
been a tremendous surge of interest among
statisticians and econometricians in estimating
treatment effects in non-randomized settings
(i.e., experiments where randomization has failed,
and non-experimental or observational settings).
Recent surveys include Imbens (2003), Angrist
and Krueger (2000), Heckman, Lalonde and Smith
(2000) and Heckman, Ichimura and Todd (1998).
The general idea is straightforward: although
respondents have self-selected into treatment,
after we control for factors that predispose
assignees to accept or refuse treatment, the
outcomes of interest and treatment are no longer
confounded. That is, if we have data on variables
that structure receipt of treatment (covariates), we
can overcome the failure of random assignment
into treatment or control groups, and recover
an unbiased estimate of the treatment effect. In
particular, we can form matched comparisons of
treated and controls (matching on the covariates);
under a set of conditions defined below, averaging
over these matched comparisons produces an
unbiased estimate of the causal effect of treatment.
In the context of our CD study, the relevant
covariates included self-reported voting histories,
the respondents? propensity to participate in
surveys, and social-structural indicators related
to political participation (i.e. age, marital status,
education, etc). In comparison with nonparticipants,
CD users were older, more frequent
survey takers, more educated, and with higher
incomes. Together, these factors correctly
classified 89 percent of all participants as either
?CD acceptors? or ?non-acceptors.?
We adjusted for the compositional bias
in exposure to the treatment by computing the
average outcomes for treated participants and
control participants who share the same values on
the relevant covariates. Thus, we estimated the
treatment effect as the averaged difference in the
outcome variables between subgroups of treated
and control subjects with identical covariate values.
When the available covariates for predicting
acceptance of treatment are plentiful and/or
continuous, the resulting matching estimators are
biased, since it may not be possible to come up
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CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004
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Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
with exact matches. Abadie and Imbens (2002)
demonstrate that subject to some regularity
assumptions, the simple matching estimators
defined above are inconsistent if the number of
(continuous) covariates available for matching
exceeds two. They develop a hybrid matchingregression
estimator that has better statistical
properties. Their bias-corrected matching
estimator is consistent and asymptotically normal.
Of particular importance, Abadie and Imbens
(2002) provide expressions for computing the
variance of the bias-corrected estimator making it
possible to test the significance of the treatment
effect without resorting to bootstrapping.9
Matching is hardly a new idea (e.g., Cochran
1968), but recent technical and applied work
has established it as the dominant technique for
analyzing experiments in which random assignment
to treatment has failed. The underlying ideas
are actually quite simple -- we make a series
of comparisons between treatment and control
groups, within subgroups defined by covariates
that predict participation in the study. This means
we are in fact comparing cases that are essentially
indistinguishable with respect to the phenomenon
of interest, save for the fact that some were
treated and some were not.
We present matched estimates of the
treatment effects in Table 1. For purposes
of comparison, we also report the ?na?e? or
unmatched estimate, namely, the simple difference
in the average value of the outcome variable
between the control and CD groups.
Table 1: Matched and Unmatched Average Treatment Effects
Turnout (in %) Pol. Interest(0-1) Civic Duty (0-1) Pol Efficacy (0-1)
Control
Group
Mean
18
(N=137)
.24
(N=161)
.50
(N=161)
.35
(N=122)
Youth CD
Effect
Unmatched Matched
+15 (06)** +11 (07)*
(N=199)
Unmatched Matched
+.07 (.03)** +.07(.03)*
(N=237)
Unmatched Matched
+.03 (.02) + + .01 (.02)
(N=237)
Unmatched Matched
+.00 (.03) -.01 (.03)
(N=187)
Adult CD
Effect
+11(06)* +05(06)
(N=199)
+.08(.03)** +.05 (.03)*
(N=237)
+.03 (.02) + + .02 (.02)
(N=237)
+.02 (.03) +.02 (.03)
(N=185)
** p<.01 p="" .10=""> 9. Software for the Abadie-Imbens estimators is available
in STATA and Matlab (Abadie et al. 2003) and we are
implementing these estimators in R.
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CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004 Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
The unmatched estimates indicate powerful
effects of both treatments for two of the four
outcomes. Participants exposed to the youth CD
were more likely to vote by a margin of fifteen
percent; in the case of the adult CD, the turnout
boost was eleven percent. Both CD groups also
expressed significantly higher levels of interest
in the campaign (by seven percent over the
control group). Exposure to either CD also made
participants more likely to claim that voting was a
duty (by three percent), but these effects proved
only marginally significant. Both interventions
failed, however, in the case of political efficacy;
participants in the CD conditions were no more
likely to perceive themselves as capable of political
influence than their counterparts in the control
condition. This is an important failure, given the
literature concerning the role of behavioral cues in
self-perception.
The matching estimates demonstrated
considerable attenuation of the original effects.
The attenuation ranged from 25 to 50 percent
and, given the small samples, often transformed
significant into non-significant differences. More
specifically, the use of the matching procedure
erased the simple effects of the adult CD
treatment. Of the three significant unmatched
effects of exposure to the adult CD, only one (on
political interest) survived the matching procedure.
In contrast, two of the three original significant
effects associated with exposure to the youth CD
survived the matching procedure with only slight
attenuation. As a result, the matched turnout
effect of exposure to the youth CD (11 percent)
doubled that of the adult CD! Thus, the matched
results suggest an important revision of the initial
findings: the simple effects of the adult CD were,
in good part, artifacts of self-selection into the CD
group. In contrast, the treatment effects of the
youth CD were uncontaminated by self selection;
even after adjusting for the over-representation of
especially ?participant? subjects among the ranks
of the treated, the youth CD boosted turnout and
interest. The adult and youth CDs were identical
in terms of substantive content; therefore, we
may appropriately conclude that a synthesis of
entertaining games and substantive information is
necessary for election handbooks to influence the
development of civic attitudes among youth. With
a relatively young audience, a purely substantive
presentation is less engaging than one that is more
entertaining.
In the next and final phase of the analysis,
we considered age-specific effects of exposure
to the CDs. We have just demonstrated that the
youth CD was a more powerful stimulant than
the adult CD overall. But did the youth CD, as
anticipated, leave more of a mark on the attitudes
of younger participants? To find out, we split
the sample into ?youth? (between the ages of
16 and 25) and ?adult? (aged 26-30) segments
and compared the level of the outcome variables
across both age groups and CDs. These results are
presented in Table 2.
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CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004
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Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
Table 2: Effects of CD Treatments By Age Group
Control Group
Mean
Youth CD Effect Adult CD Effect
Turnout (18-25)
(26-30)
11
(N=68)
24
(N=69)
Unmatched Matched
+22 (08)** +18 (08)**
(N=102)
+06 (10) +05 (11)
(N=97)
Unmatched Matched
+13 (08)* +06 (08)
(N=98)
+09 (10) +02 (11)
(N=101)
Pol. Interest (16-25)
(26-30)
.21
(N=91)
.28
(N=70)
Unmatched Matched
+.10 (.03)** +.09 (.04)**
(N=140)
+.03 (.04) +.03 (.05)
(N=97)
Unmatched Matched
+.05 (.03) +.05 (.03)
(N=136)
+.09 (.04)** +.06 (.05)
(N=101)
Pol Efficacy (16-25)
(26-30)
.33
(N=62)
.36
(N=60)
Unmatched Matched
+.00 (.02) -.01 (.04)
(N=101)
+.00 (.04) -.02 (.04)
(N=86)
Unmatched Matched
+.02 (.04) -.02 (.04)
(N=98)
+.05 (.04) +.06 (.05)+
(N=87)
Civic Duty (16-25)
(26-30)
.46
(N=91)
.54
(N=70)
Unmatched Matched
+.06 (.03)** +.03 (.03)
(N=140)
+.00 (.04) -.02 (.04)
(N=97)
Unmatched Matched
+.02 (.03) -.01 (.03)
(N=136)
+.06 (.03)* +.05 (.04)+
(N=101)
** p www.civicyouth.org 11
CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004 Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
Given the limited size of our sample, any
analysis of subgroups is inherently unstable.
However, the pattern of results in Table 2 is
suggestive -- the youth CD provided a stronger
boost to the responses of youth. Thus, exposure
to the interactive CD actually reversed the typical
?age gap? in political engagement: age differences
in turnout, interest and civic duty were nonexistent
in the youth CD condition! Older participants?
efficacy and civic duty scores, on the other hand,
were influenced more reliably by the adult version.
Clearly, the interactive elements of the youth CD
?worked? especially well for youth. Total turnout
in the 2002 gubernatorial election was 36 percent.
Among youth in the Youth CD condition, the level
of turnout was similar -- 33 percent. Given the
typical shortfall in turnout among the young,
the fact that turnout in the youth CD treatment
nearly matched statewide turnout is revealing of
the power of the treatment. A more appropriate
comparison would be limited to 18-24 year olds:
in 1998, the last off-year election for which the
Federal Election Commission has compiled agedifferences
in turnout, the turnout rate for 18-24
year olds was 18.5 percent (http://www.fec.gov/
pages/98demog/98demog.htm), considerably
below the youth turnout rate in either CD condition.
Conclusion
We undertook this exploratory study to test
whether young Americans? enthusiasm for digital
technology can provide a meaningful opportunity to
engage them in the world of politics. Our evidence
suggests that the answer is in the affirmative. The
findings presented here, of course, are subject to
any number of limiting conditions. The evidence
was derived from a single campaign in California,
a state that can hardly be considered a microcosm
of American or youth culture; the size of the
sample was too small to permit refined tests of the
treatment effects; and our measure of exposure
to the CD was crude and necessarily imprecise.
While acknowledging the multiple limitations of our
design, we are nevertheless encouraged by the
results. Providing teenagers and young adults with
campaign materials in the form of an interactive
and entertaining campaign handbook did wonders
for their political spirit. CD recipients voted at a
much higher rate, showed more interest in the
campaign, and expressed greater faith in the act of
voting than members of the control group (or the
same age group in the general population).
Unlike conventional efforts at mobilizing
the young, such as telephone or door-to-door
canvassing, election handbooks represent much
more than a reminder to vote. They deliver
relevant information as well as the opportunity
to encounter the candidates in their own words,
all with minimal effort. Thus, CD use raised
interest in the election and civic mindedness,
neither of which can be influenced by traditional
canvassing methods. Moreover, as we noted
earlier, in comparison with conventional methods of
mobilization, the local of responsibility for CD use is
more dispositional (intrinsic) in the sense that CD
users explore the information or try out the games
on their own accord. As suggested by attribution
theorists, CD use can serve as a behavioral cue;
young people who enjoy playing ?whack a pol?
have some basis for calling themselves interested
in the campaign. In short, the election CD is an
especially effective form of youth mobilization.
In more practical terms, there are both
advantages and disadvantages to the use of a
multimedia CD as a platform for civic education.
On the positive side, CDs are cheap to produce
and distribute. They are simple to use and impose
trivial opportunity costs (for example, insertion
of the CD into the drive does not impede other,
more compelling functions of the user?s computer).
Providing similar materials on the Web would
require both Internet access and bandwidth (given
the multimedia content of campaigns), neither of
which is readily available across a broad spectrum
of voters. However, mass dissemination of CDs
at the present time may be a less effective tool
for voter mobilization than targeted exposure
techniques such as telephone calls or direct mail.
At present, there is no doubt that civic groups
can target and reach a greater number of young
voters through the telephone than by giving away
CDs. Moreover, even with the multitude of barriers
to unsolicited telephone calls, callers are likely to
get through to a considerable percentage of the
names they call (see Green, Gerber and Nickerson,
www.civicyouth.org
CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004
12
Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
2002; Holbrook, Pfent, and Krosnick, 2003). In our
study, only twenty percent of the targeted audience
was reached. Therefore, although campaign CDs
represent a much richer and more powerful political
stimulus than a telephone call, their overall effect is
attenuated by the lower ?acceptance rate.?10 Thus,
if campaign CDs designed for youth are to have a
real impact, their reach must be expanded.
We think the goal of broadening the use of
election CDs is realistic. Enlisting the assistance
of educators would be an obvious first step, given
the pedagogical value of the CD. The impact of
the materials would be enhanced by incorporation
into classroom discussions -- which would
also, of course, serve to publicize the CD more
widely. Sponsorship by a reputable non-partisan
organization, or by a media outlet with special
appeal to youth (e.g., MTV) would add further to
outreach and visibility.
In conclusion, the results from this pilot
study suggest that a synthesis of political content
and interactive technology can engage youth.
When enlivened with games, music, and other
attention-getting diversions, a campaign CD
provides a meaningful impetus for youth to become
more aware of the political world. Civic educators
and campaign organizers take note: this form of
communication gets through to young people!
10. On the basis of the observed 18-point increase in youth
turnout (the matched estimate) and the twenty percent rate
of exposure, a youth CD campaign aimed at 100 newly
enfranchised voters would produce between three and four
additional voters. A telephone campaign, with mobilization
effects of some 5 percent, but a contact rate of 60 percent would
yield a similar result.
www.civicyouth.org 13
CIRCLE Working Paper 24: December 2004 Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation
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