Economic Hardship, Family Life, and Voter Turnout in Developmental Perspective: Longitudinal Research on the High School Class of 1992

Other External Scholars:
Eric Plutzer, Penn State University
Project Date:
Jan 2004
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Voter turnout has been in decline in the United States for many decades, but the fall-off has been particularly precipitous among the poor. This disturbing trend has produced a growing gap between the political participation of rich and poor, and not surprisingly, a political system which seems increasingly skewed to the interests of the wealthier voting class. We know very little about why the poor are dropping out of the electoral system. Are they simply too hard pressed to vote, or have they lost the belief that the political choices available to them will make a meaningful difference in their lives?


With support from the Foundation, Eric Plutzer of Penn State University will use data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 to try to understand how economic and social disadvantage overlap to create classes of citizens at especially high risk of becoming lifelong abstainers from the political process. The data set is a nationally representative sample of 12,144 students who were eighth graders in 1988. The survey follows them through their high school years until they had the opportunity to vote in two presidential and two congressional elections. Plutzer will examine whether changes in family life such as divorce or single parenthood during the students’ early adolescent years are consistently associated with low voter turnout when the students reach voting age. He will also add measures of changes in income, residential mobility, and parent home ownership over the same time period to assess other predictors of voter turnout. He will estimate the models separately for whites, black, and Hispanics, compiling his findings into a book.


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