Enhancing democracy: can civic engagement foster political participation?
Objective: The aim of the present manuscript is to address Tocqueville's hypothesis that voluntary associations and volunteering are breeding grounds for democratic virtues and skills and thus enhance political participation.
Methods: Data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) data set spanning the years 1991-2008 are analyzed using multivariate panel data regression techniques to assess the effect of voluntary association membership/activities on political participation in the UK.
Results: It is found that organizational activity (more than mere membership) positively impacts on political participation but these effects are smaller than usually found and depend on types of associations and degree of activity. Sensitivity analyses support the finding the political interest more strongly predicts political party support than associational activities. Further support for causal interpretations is scant.
Conclusion: Some evidence for Tocqueville's hypothesis can be found for the UK during the sample horizon but the effect is sensitive to model specification and issues of reverse causation remain.