Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Assessing the Predictors of Political Engagement among Northern Irish Youth

Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Assessing the Predictors of Political Engagement among Northern Irish Youth

Article excerpt

Introduction

The precept that a politically engaged society is an essential characteristic of a 'healthy' democratic society drives this study. This report is interested in exploring the political engagement of Northern Irish youth and the factors that might predict it. The supposition that a politically engaged society is a well-functioning one is not without precedent. Flanagan & Sherrod (1998) have argued that "political participation by citizens is considered a prerequisite for successful democratic societies" (p. 447) when presenting an overview of youth political development in America from the 1950's onward. Changing the focus from America to Northern Ireland, the Institute of Conflict Research (2004) has noted that, "involvement in the democratic process among young people in Northern Ireland has been poor" (p. 4), referencing survey and interview data, and past research. Jowell & Park (1998), and Smyth & Scott (2000) have also been instances of work focused within Northern Ireland claiming that the youth there are not politically engaged. The question of Northern Irish youth political engagement is actually an inquiry into the health of the six counties' democracy.

The purpose of this secondary data-driven study was exploratory in trying to uncover these different predictors of political engagement among Northern Irish youth using an expansive survey given to a randomly selected sample of 16 year-olds from Northern Ireland. This survey was the 'Young Life and Times Survey' (YLT) and has been conducted annually by Access Research Knowledge - Northern Ireland (ARK, 2012a) for more than a decade. The survey's purpose was breath across a wide range of topics rather than depth vis-a-vis politics in particular. Consequently, unavoidable limitations arose and placed this study in the exploratory realm because the study was limited in the construction and choice of its employed variables.

This study's novelty and associated value despite the aforementioned constraints, came from the observation that the bulk of the mixed methods/quantitative works on this issue (specifically within Northern Ireland) had seen only descriptive statistics used (e.g. see Institute of Conflict Research, 2004; Finlay & Irwin, 2004) and these inquiries therefore acted as introductory forum studies. This report explored deeper. Political engagement and its predictive factors were defined theoretically and then operated into a multi-linear regression model where the latter's ability to predict the former, via inferential statistical principles, was considered. By focusing on creating a causal explanation relative to this issue where significance, power, other considerations facilitate generalizable and testable claims (Connolly, 2007), this report presented a trustworthy reference point for further investigation into the issue. The model, specifically, ascertained the predictive power of the four relevant/available constructs or predictors: 1 - gender (Carroll 2001; Schwindt-Bayer, 2006; Burns, 2007; Gallego, 2007; Norris, 2002), 2 - income (Oliver, 2001; Brady, 2004; Solt, 2008), 3 - educational attainment (Highton & Wolfinger, 2001), and 4 - social connectedness (Jarvis, Montoya & Mulvey, 2005) had vis-a-vis political engagement among the YLT's (ARK, 2012a) respondents. A comprehensive literature review established these four constructs as the study's predictors. The implications of the study suggested that further research: 1- operate and explore the predictive factors therein or 2 - expand on it adding more predictors to the ones established in this undertaking.

Presentation of Research Questions

There are two research questions that drove this inquiry and govern the aforementioned purpose of the study:

1. What is the association between these noted predicators and engagement in politics among Northern Ireland's youth?

2. What is the relative predictive strength among these constructs? …

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