Theses Doctoral

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment as a Teachable Moment: Young Adult Voter Turnout in U.S. Elections, 1972-2006

Wright, David Lee

Ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1971 was a watershed event in America's long and often tumultuous electoral reform journey. The persistently low voter turnout of newly enfranchised 18-20 year-olds since then not only is troubling from a democratic perspective but also is puzzling in light of the rapidly rising educational attainment of this age group during the same period. In this investigation, I develop an original theoretical frame by which to examine relationships between the 1972-2006 voter turnout patterns of 26th Amendment eligible voters and a large complement of educational and non-educational influences manifested during the end of high school and the years immediately following high school. Drawing upon multiple data sources, including a greatly under-utilized national survey series that is maintained under National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) auspices, I reaffirm the overall strength of educational attainment as a young adult voter turnout predictor while providing new evidence that attainment effects are attenuated by other educational and non-educational circumstances and traits. My results, which also reveal the dynamism of these influences in predicting young adult voter turnout, are suggestive of five areas in which the 26th Amendment can serve as a teachable moment to strengthen the democratic education mission through: (1) expanded post-high school enrollment opportunities; (2) energized high school citizenship training; (3) strengthened connections between the high school literacy and civics curricula; (4) improved use of technology to deliver civically relevant messages; and (5) more aggressive voter registration efforts on high school and college campuses.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Politics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 23, 2013