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Working paper

WP156: Deliberate disengagement: How education decreases political participation in electoral authoritarian regimes

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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 legitimates 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.

Kevin Croke

Kevin Croke is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health.

Guy Grossman

Guy Grossman is an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Horacio A. Larreguy

Horacio A. Larreguy is an assistant professor in the Department of Government, Harvard University.

John Marshall

John Marshall is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government, Harvard University.