Kids Voting and Political Knowledge: Narrowing Gaps, Informing Votes

Authors


  • *The author can share all data and coding information with anyone wishing to replicate the study. An earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research, Chicago, Nov. 22–23, 2002. This research was made possible by support from the Center for the Study of Political Psychology at the University of Minnesota. The authors also thank Kids Voting Minnesota and the St. Paul Public Schools. Finally, they gratefully acknowledge Christina Fiebich and Fang Wan for their collaboration in the data collection for the Kids Voting evaluation project, of which the current research was a part.

Patrick C. Meirick, Department of Communication, University of Oklahoma, 610 Elm Ave., Norman, OK 73019-2081 meirick@ou.edu

Abstract

Objectives. Kids Voting USA is a program designed to educate schoolchildren about the democratic process and foster their political socialization. This article set out to explore the consequences of the Kids Voting program for political knowledge, knowledge gaps, and attitude-behavior consistency.

Methods. A sample of seventh and eighth graders in an urban school district were surveyed before (N=385) and shortly after (N=648) the 2000 general election.

Results. Kids Voting exposure was positively related to political knowledge at Time 2 even after controlling for demographics, scholastic achievement, and attention to campaign news. There was no evidence that knowledge gaps widened between Time 1 and 2; in fact, African Americans and those with low initial knowledge gained the most. As political knowledge increased, party ID and issue attitudes became more predictive of candidate preference. Kids Voting exposure, too, was positively related to consistency between party ID and candidate preference, a relationship that was partially mediated by political knowledge.

Conclusions. Political knowledge among these adolescents appeared to function much the way it does in adults: it equipped them to make political decisions that better reflected their attitudes. Kids Voting seems to contribute to this process, through knowledge and perhaps other avenues, without increasing knowledge gaps.

Ancillary