Why Does Education Increase Voting? Evidence from Boston’s Charter Schools

In this quasi-experimental study, Sarah R. Cohodes and James J. Feigenbaum investigate whether and how charter school education increases individuals’ voting. On average, individuals with higher levels of educational attainment have higher voter turnout, but we know little about why education in general, and charter school education specifically, relates to voting. The authors match charter school lotteries from Boston area schools to voting records in Massachusetts and other nearby states and estimate the effect of attending a charter school on voter registration and voting. The authors find that students who attended charter schools were more likely to vote than students who did not attend a charter school. Specifically, charter school attendance increases voter turnout in students’ first presidential election after turning 18 by about 6 percentage points, a substantial increase given the overall low voter turnout for young people. The authors find these effects are concentrated among girls, who have almost twice the boost in voting associated with charter school attendance than boys. In exploring why, the authors find suggestive evidence that non-cognitive skills (as indicated by attendance and SAT test-taking) and policy feedback (as indicated by an increase in charter parents voting) may play a role.

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