The research activities of the members of the Youth Politics Unit centre around a number of main themes:
Age differences in voter turnout
Research tracking patterns in the age gap in voter turnout between younger and older citizens and explaining both over-time and between-country trends has been published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, & Parties and Res Publica. This research shows that some countries, such as Canada, Great Britain and the United States, in recent years have witnessed a widening of the gap in turnout between younger and older citizens. This trend toward a widening generational divide is, however, not observed in all Western democracies. Over-time trends in the age gap – as a matter of fact – are decidedly varied.
Generational differences in political behaviour
A manuscript co-authored with Anja Neundorf (University of Nottingham) on the use of hierarchical models to assess generational differences was published in Electoral Studies as part of a special issue on statistical advances in Age-Period-Cohort research. Voters who come of age at roughly the same time share common influences because of the specific political context during their formative years. The literature assumes that cohorts that grew up in a highly-politicized context have a higher propensity to turnout to vote despite of any age or period effects. Research based on the US General Social Survey (1972-2010) shows that individual level characteristics explain the largest share of the variance in generational turnout levels. In the spirit of the learning approach to political behaviour, the context of the first election hardly plays a role in the turnout patterns of cohorts. It takes the collective experiences of at least two elections to form a pattern of turnout or abstention among citizens who came of age during the same period.
In a forthcoming book chapter entitled ‘The Compensation Effect of Civic Education: How School Education Makes Up for Missing Parental Political Socialisation’, Richard Niemi (University of Rochester), Anja Neundorf (University of Nottingham) and Kaat Smets demonstrate that that the most important school variables are the amount of formal civic education and the inclusion of group projects, but not classroom climate. Their research also shows that civic education can compensate for missing parental political socialisation with respect to political engagement but not for political participation.
The development of attitudes and behaviours over the life span
Research on the development of attitudes and behaviours over the life span co-authored with Anja Neundorf (University of Nottingham) and Gema García-Albacete (Autonomous University of Madrid) published in Acta Politica focuses on the origins and the development of political interest over the lifespan. More specifically, it examines the way in which parental socialization and life-cycle events affect the formation and growth of political interest during adolescence and young adulthood. Findings confirm the strength of parental socialization effects on interest levels during teenage years. While life-cycle events are not found to strongly affect the development of political interest during the formative years, the transition to adulthood is indeed a more critical period for those individuals who did not acquire high levels of interest from their family.