Political Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 909–934 | Cite as

Can Political Participation Prevent Crime? Results from a Field Experiment About Citizenship, Participation, and Criminality

  • Alan S. Gerber
  • Gregory A. HuberEmail author
  • Daniel R. Biggers
  • David J. Hendry
Original Paper


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.


Field 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.

Supplementary material

11109_2016_9385_MOESM1_ESM.docx (693 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 693 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan S. Gerber
    • 1
  • Gregory A. Huber
    • 1
    Email author
  • Daniel R. Biggers
    • 2
  • David J. Hendry
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Political Science, Institution for Social and Policy StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of California, RiversideRiversideUSA
  3. 3.Department of MethodologyLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK

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