Does Sport Participation Foster Civic Engagement? Conflicting Findings from Self-Reported and Official Voting Data

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:33
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Heather MCLAUGHLIN, Oklahoma State University, USA
Promoted as a wholesome, character-building activity, many Americans ascribe to the belief that youth sport molds children into engaged citizens and future leaders. However, many sport scholars question whether empirical associations between sport and a number of positive outcomes can be attributed to socialization effects or differential selection into sport. More specifically, research on the relationship between sport and civic engagement has been limited, highlighting a need to further interrogate this claim. The present study uses longitudinal cohort data from the Youth Development Study (YDS) to examine whether high school sport participation is associated with young adult voter turnout. The YDS began in 1988 with a sample of ninth graders in the St. Paul, Minnesota public school system. Thus, I measure the effect of high school sport participation (1988-1991) on the odds of voting in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, when most respondents were 26 years old. Though voter participation among young adults across the nation is low compared to older adults, Minnesota boasts one of the highest voter turnout rates in the United States. Net of controls for demographic, background, and young adult characteristics, sport participants are 2.5 times as likely as non-participants to report voting in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. Consistent with past research (Braddock, Hua, and Dawkins 2007), young adult educational attainment is a strong mediator of this relationship, accounting for approximately 23% of the total effect of sport on self-reported voting. When YDS data is matched with official voting records from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, however, the effect of sport participation is not statistically significant, suggesting that sport participants may be more likely than their peers to overreport voting behaviors. These conflicting findings are discussed in the context of social desirability bias and current debates surrounding selectivity versus socialization.