Political Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 433–454 | Cite as

Leadership Experiences Within Civil Organizations and Candidacy in Public Elections: Causal Evidence from a Quasi-Experimental Approach

  • Martin Lundin
  • Oskar Nordström-Skans
  • Pär ZetterbergEmail author
Original Paper


Standing as a candidate in public elections has been characterized as the ultimate act of political participation. We test the hypothesis that acquiring office within civil organizations increases the probability of becoming a candidate in public elections. In order to take self-selection problems into account, we provide quasi-experimental evidence using election discontinuities, in which we compare the likelihood of being nominated for public office between closely ranked winners and losers in Swedish student union (SU) elections. Our original data cover 5,000 SU candidates and register data on their candidacies in public elections (1991–2010). The analysis provides support to the hypothesis: Students elected to SU councils were about 34 percent (6 percentage points) more likely to become a candidate in a public election than SU council candidates who were not elected. The causal impact is fairly stable over time. The analysis makes important contributions to two interrelated bodies of literature: First, it provides political recruitment literature with causal evidence that acquiring leadership experiences at arenas outside of representative democratic institutions facilitate entry into election processes. Second, it provides strong evidence to an increasingly contested issue within political participation research by showing that certain organizational activities increase individuals’ political involvement.


Candidate Political recruitment Political participation Voluntary associations Regression discontinuity Self-selection Elections Civil organizations 



This article is based on work supported by the Institute for Evaluation of Labor Market and Education Policy (IFAU) [Grant No. 148/09]. The authors thank Michelle Taylor-Robinson, Laura Stoker, Karl-Oskar Lindgren, Alex Solis, Gunnar Myrberg, Henrik Oskarson, Markus Steinbrecher, Björn Öckert, Erik Amnå, Patrik Öhberg, and four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions. A special thanks to Cecilia Josefsson and Neshat Alizadeh for excellent research assistance, and to the student unions for kindly giving us access to their archives. Any remaining errors are the responsibility of the authors. The authors are equal contributors to this article: names are listed in alphabetical order.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 77kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Lundin
    • 1
  • Oskar Nordström-Skans
    • 2
  • Pär Zetterberg
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute for Evaluation of Labor Market and Education Policy (IFAU)UppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  3. 3.Department of GovernmentUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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