Civics initiative: Trickle-down and trickle-up

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A new initiative from The Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy is looking at how much kids influence their parents and how parents influence their kids when it comes to civic education and engagement.

New Evidence on Trickle-Down and Trickle-Up Influences in Civic Education and Engagement uses K-12, birth, and voting records for over 580,000 students to compile descriptive evidence on how trickle-down and trickle-up socialization influences civic engagement.

We welcomed Liam Julian, Director of Public Policy at The Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy.

“We’ve long known that the family plays a huge role in political socialization, but traditionally the idea had been that it’s all trickle down, in other words, that your parents are going to be influencing you,” Julian said. “But we were suspicious if it’s only one way, and we wanted to look more into that.”

The “New Evidence on Trickle-Down and Trickle-Up Influences in Civic Education and Engagement” looked at over 580,000 individual students and their families over time and discovered fascinating information about both trickle-down (mother-to-child) and trickle-up (child-to-mother) civic engagement effects.

“It’s not just this idea of passing the torch in civic education, where parents are preparing the next generation. We need to start thinking of children as their own civic actors, having their own civic potential,” Julian said.

The initiative looked into students who became eligible to vote in either the 2012, 2016, or 2020 elections.

Among the findings:

  • Children whose mothers voted in the previous presidential election were 20.3 percentage points more likely to vote in their first election.
  • A child who voted in their first age-eligible election is associated with a 5.3 percentage point increase in the probability a mother votes in the next presidential election.

The findings looked closely at non-white families and those in lower socio-economic brackets.

“Educators should take note, policymakers, and parents too because those trickle-down effects are also pronounced, so if you’re a parent, remember what you are modeling for your child in civics is what you can expect,” Julian said.

Liam Julian, Director, Public Policy, Sandra Day O'Connor Institute for American Democracy

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