The previous post outlined the central finding of Social Action as a Route to the Ballot Box: youth volunteering increases turnout among young people by increasing their interest in political issues and so raising their motivation to vote. This effect is only apparent, however, for young people whose parents have little or no interest in politics (and who are unlikely to socialise their children into being politically active).
Those from more politically engaged households are considerably more likely to volunteer but are also already likely to be interested in politics, and so receive less of a benefit from their volunteering. The impact of volunteering on young people’s political interest is only part of the story, however: this project has also considered how volunteering affects young people’s views of their duty to vote in elections.
Previous research has argued (but never effectively demonstrated) that young people who volunteer are likely to develop more of an attachment to their local community and as a result feel more of an obligation to be active in community affairs. Alternatively, others have argued that as volunteering brings young people into contact with social problems (such as pollution or homelessness) and people in need, they become more likely to feel they have a duty to participate in politics to try and address those issues. Either way, it is expected that young people who volunteer become more likely to vote as a result of seeing it as their civic duty.
This project shows that the previous research is partially correct: young people who volunteer are more likely to believe they have a duty to vote in elections when they are older. As with political interest, however, this consequence of volunteering is primarily felt by those raised by parents who do not see voting as a civic duty and so are unlikely to socialise their children into holding such a view. Figure One (see below) illustrates this, using data from a sub-sample of young people in the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) aged between 15 and 22 (and who had never voted before) around the 2015 UK General Election.1
Figure One compares the political interest of the young people in the 2011/13 UKHLS survey with their belief that voting is a civic duty around the 2015 election in the 2014/16 survey (questions about voting as a civic duty were not asked to most of the respondents in the earlier survey). While there is not a perfect correlation between being interested in politics and seeing voting as a duty, the two are related, and we expect those who are interested in politics during childhood to be more likely to see voting as a duty when they are older.
What is of interest to this research is whether those who volunteered between the 2011/13 and 2014/16 surveys were more likely than those who did not to see voting as a civic duty, which would suggest a ‘volunteer effect’. The graph also accounts for the impact of the attitudes towards voting the respondents were likely to be exposed to at home, by categorising them depending on the beliefs of their parents regarding the civic duty of voting.
Looking at the whole sample reveals no evidence of a substantial ‘volunteer effect’: 41 per cent of non-volunteers were interested in politics in 2011/13, and the same proportion saw voting as a duty in 2014/16; among volunteers, the figures were 47 and 48 per cent respectively.
A larger difference is apparent, however, when respondents are categorised based on their parents’ view of voting as a duty. For respondents whose parents saw voting as a duty, 60 per cent of non-volunteers were interested in politics in 2011/13 and 49 per cent saw voting as a duty in 2014/16; for volunteers, the figures were 69 and 60 per cent respectively. In other words, more young people who volunteered were likely to see voting as a duty when they were older than those who did not volunteer, even though overall a sizeable minority rejected the notion of having a civic obligation to vote.
Among respondents whose parents did not see voting as a duty, the volunteer effect was even larger: for non-volunteers, the proportion who saw voting as a duty in 2014/16 was 29-points smaller than that who were interested in politics in 2011/13, while for volunteers this drop was just 15-points.
Schemes that promote youth volunteering, therefore, can be effective means of helping more young people to vote in elections – particularly those from politically disengaged households. They not only increase young people’s motivation to vote, but their perceived civic obligation to do so as well. If such schemes can be organised so as to recruit more young people from disengaged households (something they are currently not particularly successful in doing, as future blog posts will highlight), they could be very effective in helping to reduce age inequalities in turnout.
1The main analyses for this project were conducted using a range of complex statistical methods, including logistic regression analysis, latent structure analysis and structural equation modelling. An illustrative summary of the key findings are presented here and in future blog posts – more details of the methods or findings are available upon request.
The sample for this data included 2,063 respondents who were not yet eligible to vote, or became eligible to vote in their first General Election in 2015, in the 2014/16 UKHLS survey, and who provided complete data for the required variables in the UKHLS Youth Panel in 2011/13 and 2012/14, and the main panel in 2014/16. All were aged between 15 and 22 in the final survey. The data on volunteering was collected in the 2012/14 Youth Panel survey. With the data on parents’ civic duty included – which was collected from respondents’ parents in the 2011/13 Main Panel, the sample size fell to 602.