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Why We Vote: How Schools and Communities Shape Our Civic Life [Paperback]

David E. Campbell

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Book Description

Aug. 10 2008 Princeton Studies in American Politics: Historical, International and Comparative Perspectives

Why do more people vote--or get involved in other civic and political activities--in some communities than in others? Why We Vote demonstrates that our communities shape our civic and political engagement, and that schools are especially significant communities for fostering strong civic norms.

Much of the research on political participation has found that levels of participation are higher in diverse communities where issues important to voters are hotly contested. In this well-argued book, David Campbell finds support for this view, but also shows that homogenous communities often have very high levels of civic participation despite a lack of political conflict.

Campbell maintains that this sense of civic duty springs not only from one's current social environment, but also from one's early influences. The degree to which people feel a sense of civic obligation stems, in part, from their adolescent experience. Being raised and thus socialized in a community with strong civic norms leads people to be civically engaged in adulthood. Campbell demonstrates how the civic norms within one's high school impact individuals' civic involvement--even a decade and a half after those individuals have graduated.

Efforts within America's high schools to enhance young people's sense of civic responsibility could have a participatory payoff in years to come, the book concludes; thus schools would do well to focus more attention on building civic norms among their students.

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"[A]n impressive study. . . . Extremely compelling and provocative. . . . Why We Vote challenges us to think seriously about the role of schools in society."--André Blais, Science Magazine

"In this examination of public engagement in the United States today, Campbell . . . argues that voter turnout is affected not only by people's desire to protect their own interests -- the view traditionally taken by political scientists -- but by their feelings of civic obligation as well."--Education Week

From the Inside Flap

"This book provides the first solid, generalizable evidence of the influence of an adolescent's surroundings on adult political behavior. It offers a significant contribution to the study of voter turnout by showing how citizen duty is a factor in predicting political participation."--Richard Niemi, University of Rochester

"Why We Vote makes an important contribution to our understanding of the ways community contexts prompt voting. This clear and compelling analysis will add energy to the resurgence of interest in the study of political socialization."--Joseph Kahne, Mills College

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Model for Interdisciplinary Research on Voting Behavior April 2 2007
By Herbert Gintis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is essentially a sociological analysis of voter participation. The author shows that youth are more or less effectively socialized to treat voting as a civic duty, they carry their normative behavior into adulthood, homogeneous communities favor voting as a civic duty while heterogeneous communities foster voting as a political instrumentality. The volume and quality of the data are excellent, and the author's analysis thorough and credible. The author's suggested policy advice is that schools should do more to promote political participation and foster an ethic of civic duty. This may sound like a throw-away, but it probably is good advice.

I would like to have seen some light shed on the correlates of voter participation---what kinds of people participate for what reasons. Also, are participators higher or lower in happiness, mental health, length of job tenure, success at work and marriage, and so on.

Like many political scientists, Campbell cannot seem to understand (though he presents the argument early in the book) that even voter participation with politically instrumental motives ("I am voting because I want this or that candidate to win/lose") is deeply altruistic. One voter can never make a significant difference in an election with more that 1000 voters participating, so people who claim to be voting for instrumental reasons are simply not correctly explaining their behavior.

How should we interpret politically instrumental voting? Probably, individuals of this type vote to express personal feelings in a socially acceptable venue, and/or they consider their behavior a contribution to an in-group with which they identify ("we people who believe in x"). Possibly, it would be difficult credibly to hold a strong opinion concerning certain public affairs without demonstrating some costly commitment, of which voting is one form.

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