Monday, May 10, 2010

Sympathetic, but Confused

As I scoured the web for breaking studies or news about what people know, I came across this fairly standard letter to the editor available online of the Evansville Courier & Press.  The headline says it all -- education can increase voter turnout.  And then there are these graphs:
"We the People" educates students about the Constitution and American life, and "Project Citizen" enables students to identify a public problem and solve it through a policy-focused approach.

These programs have impact. In a 2008 American National Election Studies survey, students from these programs demonstrated greater retention of civic and political knowledge than their peers and engaged in greater participation in government affairs. But it's not just about increasing voter turnout. 
I'm baffled.  Not by the idea that such programs may improve retention of civic and political knowledge, but I'm fairly certain the 2008 ANES includes nothing about these programs. I went back and skimmed the codebooks.  Indeed there are political knowledge questions available in the data, but best I can tell (correct me if I'm wrong, someone) there is no way to tell whether respondents participated in any kind of educational programs.

And here's the fun part -- the 2008 ANES hasn't even released the political knowledge questions yet, at least in how they've coded correct or incorrect responses.  You can see the questions, but not the answers coded as correct or incorrect (however, you can see the redacted raw data, if you know where to look).


I suspect the author, an Evansville attorney, is confusing the programs and some other reported survey or published research.  There's nothing controversial about his notion, just that I'm fairly certain it's an apples and oranges use of data. 

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