Can Political Participation Prevent Crime? Results from a Field Experiment About Citizenship, Participation, and Criminality
Democratic theory and prior empirical work support the view that political participation, by promoting social integration and pro-social attitudes, reduces one’s propensity for anti-social behavior, such as committing crimes. Previous investigations examine observational data, which are vulnerable to bias if omitted factors affect both propensity to participate and risk of criminality or their reports. A field experiment encouraging 552,525 subjects aged 18–20 to register and vote confirms previous observational findings of the negative association between participation and subsequent criminality. However, comparing randomly formed treatment and control groups reveals that the intervention increased participation but did not reduce subsequent criminality. Our results suggest that while participation is correlated with criminality, it exerts no causal effect on subsequent criminal behavior.
KeywordsField experiment Political participation Criminality Causal inference Democratic theory Civic education
We thank Chris Mann for sharing the VPC experimental data. We thank seminar participants at UCLA and UCSD, Traci Burch, Kevin Arceneaux, Anthony Fowler, Alec Ewald, the three anonymous reviewers, and the editor for their helpful comments and feedback. All errors are our own.
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