Community college students taking political science courses are more likely to register to vote, to vote, and to understand constitutional checks and balances. That’s according to our study of over 2,000 students at nine community colleges.
After taking into account previous student civic engagement and other college experiences, we found that students who took at least one political science course were 9% more likely to register to vote than those who did not. have not.
Additionally, we found that students who took at least one political science course were 8% more likely to vote.
Improving student electoral participation is a national issue. After the 2008 presidential election, many states began passing restrictive election laws that lowered turnout, especially among Hispanic students in the 2016 presidential election.
Finally, we concluded that at least one political science course helped students better understand constitutional checks and balances. Students who had taken political science classes were 9% more likely to understand that the Supreme Court – not the president – determines whether laws are constitutional. They were also 17% more likely to understand how Congress can override a presidential veto.
Why is this important
Recent events, including two rounds of impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump, illustrate the importance of understanding constitutional principles. At the time of Trump’s first impeachment, nearly half of adults in the United States were unaware that the impeachment process originated in the House of Representatives.
According to data from the National Learning, Voting and Engaging Study, about 1 in 4 students – including two- and four-year colleges – were not registered to vote in the 2016 or 2018 elections. .
In a high turnout year like the 2016 presidential election, about half of the students did not vote. In a low voter turnout year like the 2018 midterm elections, around 6 in 10 students did not vote. (Data on the voter turnout of university students in the 2020 election is not yet available.)
Voter turnout is important in close elections, and students represent significant percentages of eligible voters in all 50 states, ranging from 3.6% in Alaska to 10.2% in Utah.
What is not yet known
We think it’s important to stress that our results did not focus on university students who majored in political science. We were also unable to review their course content or grades. Finally, we relied on self-reported data, so there is no practical way to confirm that they registered to vote or that they voted. However, we do know if they answered the questions on constitutional checks and balances correctly.
In current research, we are focusing on ways in which extracurricular experiences, such as belonging to campus organizations or being in a leadership position in a student organization, are linked to civic engagement. We hope to offer implications for how several departments on college and university campuses can take a holistic approach to supporting civic engagement.
This line of research is relevant to colleges and universities that have mission statements that include teaching students about civic engagement. Historically, American schools, colleges, and universities were expected to support civic education. We hope that our future findings and research will provide information that faculty and administrators can use to develop curricula and demand courses that support civic engagement.
Frank Fernandez is Assistant Professor of Higher Education Administration and Policy at the University of Florida.