Greater Civic Knowledge Discourages Elective Office-Holding
When ISI surveyed its random sample of 2,508 adults in April 2008, 164 responded that they had been elected to government office at least once in their lifetime, about 6.5% of the sample. This select group of Americans had the dubious distinction of scoring 5 percentage points lower on the ISI Civic Literacy Exam than the national average: 44% vs. 49%. Notably, only 32% could accurately define the free enterprise system; only 46% knew that Congress has the power to declare war; and only 49% could identify all three branches of the federal government. This deficiency was not spurrious, and in regression analysis, the civic literacy gap due to office-holding widened to 6%.
So, what is really behind this relationship between civic knowledge discouraging elective office-holding? In order to determine correlation, multivariate regression analysis was employed to determine which aspects of a person's background positively or negatively encourages one to run successfully for public office. This statistical analysis reveals that scoring higher and higher on our civic knowledge exam was only one of two variables that actually discouraged individuals from running for office. The frequent playing of video games was the other variable that was found to deter elective office holding. Simply put, the more you know about American government, history, and economics the less likely you are to pursue and win elective office. Perhaps, if elected officials placed a higher premium on civic knowledge, this troubling anomaly would not exist. Nevertheless, it certainly is disheartening to learn that the more you become acquainted with America's history and institutions, the less inclined you are to make the sacrifice and stand for public office. Whether this is more of an indictment on current incentives in our political process, or the educational training of office-holders, must be left to individual interpretation.
So what factors do encourage someone to go ahead and take the elective plunge? Surprisingly, it is not the usual litany of race, gender, religious identity, region, ideology, or education level, which were all found to be neutral factors. Of the 38 possible variables, only the following six exerted a positive influence on pursuing and winning public office:
- Greater age
- Higher income
- Frequently attending religious services
- Frequently reading websites
- K–12 teacher
- College teacher
TThe first two variables are rather self-explanatory, as it has long been the case that American politicians have tended to be older and more affluent than their constituents. And membership in a church or synagogue has also been a common denominator for many elected officials over the course of American history. The more interesting finding has to be the correlation between the teaching profession and office-holding, perhaps indicative of the close contemporary relationship that exists between the education field and the American state. While the legal profession continues to dominate local, state, and federal legislative bodies, teachers have certainly increased their presence recently in lawmaking institutions.