Conference Paper Midwest Political Science Association Conference, April 15-18, 2004, Chicago, Illinois
Using fixed effects panel analysis to investigate correlations between civic membership and political engagement: causation or self-selection?
This study uses several waves of the British Household Panel Survey to test theories that posit an increase in political engagement as a consequence of participation in civic organizations. Fixed effects analysis is used to test for evidence of causal mechanisms by controlling for a problem that typically plagues cross-sectional analyses: unobserved heterogeneity between persons. These results are compared to pooled crosssectional analyses of the same data that, controlling for standard background and socioeconomic factors, show a strong cross-sectional correlation between civic membership and political engagement that is similar to many other studies. The comparison between the analyses raises serious questions about whether many of these relationships are really causal. In most instances, we cannot reject the null hypothesis that they are due to selfselection on the basis of fixed effects, that is, the differences that persist between individuals as a consequence of their particular personality types, orientations, and other factors. Nevertheless, there are notable cases in which causation does seem likely. First, joining religious and possibly a variety of other civic groups may have a sizable positive impact on voting behavior. Second, joining a union appears to have a strong impact on one’s sense of closeness to the Labour party. In addition, quite modest effects on political interest are also suggested by the data, which is consistent with the idea of “situational” effects such as encountering new mobilization or information flows as a consequence of civic membership.