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Connecting Political Discussion to Civic Engagement: The Role of Civic Knowledge, Efficacy and Context for Adolescents
Richardson, Wendy Klandl
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The relationship between participating in political discussion and civic engagement was examined using survey data collected for the IEA Civic Education Study from a large, nationally representative sample of adolescents in the United States. This study extends previous research by considering the extent to which political discussion occurring in different contexts relates to several kinds of civic engagement and by considering the influence of civic knowledge and efficacy as possible intervening factors. Interviews with a separate sample of 32 14-year-olds provided descriptive data that enriched the presentation of statistical findings with respect to the reasons adolescents see for their participation in discussion. Results from statistical analyses found that adolescents who report more frequent discussion of politics with peers, parents, and teachers, and perceive their class as a supportive environment for discussion are more likely to believe they will engage in civic activities as adults. This is the case for both conventional activities such as writing a letter to a newspaper about an issue and social movement-related activities such as participating in a non-violent protest. Furthermore, these adolescents were more likely to report that they are currently involved in civic-related organizations. The one exception is that adolescents' perception that their classroom supports the discussion of political issues is not related to their current involvement in civic-related organizations. Adolescents' civic knowledge was not related to their expectations for future or current civic engagement when controlling for political discussion, nor did it change the relationship between political discussion and civic engagement. When adolescents' reported a sense of competence in politics and in their participation at school, they were more likely to expect they would engage in civic activities as adults and report that they currently participate in a greater number of civic-related organizations. However, these indicators of civic efficacy did not moderate the relationship between political discussion and civic engagement. These findings affirm the positive role political discussion plays in promoting the civic engagement of young people. Learning more about the quality of political discussions in different contexts and adolescents' sense of competence in politics will help educators and parents strengthen this connection.