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Deliberate Disengagement: How Education Can Decrease Political Participation in Electoral Authoritarian Regimes

Kevin Croke, Guy Grossman, Horacio Larreguy () and John Marshall

American Political Science Review, 2016, vol. 110, issue 3, 579-600

Abstract: A large literature examining advanced and consolidating democracies suggests that education increases political participation. However, in electoral authoritarian regimes, educated voters may instead deliberately disengage. If education increases critical capacities, political awareness, and support for democracy, educated citizens may believe that participation is futile or legitimizes autocrats. We test this argument in Zimbabwe—a paradigmatic electoral authoritarian regime—by exploiting cross-cohort variation in access to education following a major educational reform. We find that education decreases political participation, substantially reducing the likelihood that better-educated citizens vote, contact politicians, or attend community meetings. Consistent with deliberate disengagement, education’s negative effect on participation dissipated following 2008’s more competitive election, which (temporarily) initiated unprecedented power sharing. Supporting the mechanisms underpinning our hypothesis, educated citizens experience better economic outcomes, are more interested in politics, and are more supportive of democracy, but are also more likely to criticize the government and support opposition parties.

Date: 2016
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