CRF Blog

The Performing Arts and Civic Participation

by Damon Huss

Results of a new study published by CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) indicate that a high-school student’s involvement in performing arts activities is a great predictor of increased voting activity in early adulthood. In CIRCLE Working Paper #73, CUNY professor of sociology Reuben J. Thomas and Stanford professor of education Daniel A. McFarland demonstrate that there is “more evidence that extracurriculars do have an impact on adult political behavior, specifically in speeding the onset of voting.”


Activities vary in the extent to which civic skills and engagement are learned in them; service clubs and student council may directly do this, while musical groups may seem to have nothing to do with civics or politics. But even less blatantly political activities like the performing arts can be venues for civic learning, by teaching skills in public speaking, and engaging with dramatic material that often has strong civic and political themes. Even when there is no political content at all to the activity, students may still be learning political engagement by developing what Bandura (2001) calls “collective efficacy,” the perception that the members can work together to affect their environment. Any activity that improves students sense of being able to make a difference can increase their likelihood of voting, regardless of the overt mission of the activity.