Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Marshmallows and Votes? Childhood Socio-Emotional Skill Development and Adult Voter Turnout

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

John B. Holbein, Duke University
Recent research examining the intricacies of child development has suggested that the "non-cognitive skills'' children develop---such as the ability to self regulate or to interact in social settings---are critically important for success in school, the labor force, and for overall well-being.  Could non-cognitive skills also be important for acts of political participation, like voting? In this paper I explore this possibility. Using multiple data sources, I show that children who develop non-cognitive skills are much more likely to participate in adulthood than those who do not.  Going one step further, I explore whether these attributes are malleable to targeted interventions, and whether improvements translate into downstream participation increases.  To do so I use a unique 20-year field experiment that exogenously improved a sample of children's non-cognitive skills.  Matching participants to voter files, I show that this program increased adult turnout by 11-14 percentage points, a substantial amount. These results suggest that non-cognitive skills may play a key---yet under-explored---role in determining who votes, and provide important policy information for those seeking to increase civic engagement.