Building Character in Children Can Improve Voter Participation As Adults, Study Finds

As primary voters head to the polls in nearly two dozen Connecticut communities, with relatively low turnout anticipated, a newly released academic study on connections between childhood character-building and adult voting participation is gaining some notice. A researcher at Duke University has found that data from years of national surveys of youth reveal “a strong relationship” between measures of character in youth and the subsequent likelihood of voting, even controlling for test scores and

The study appears to have identified a causal relationship: Disadvantaged elementary-school children around the country who were randomly assigned to receive character-building education two decades ago were more likely to vote as adults by 11 to 14 percentage points.

The research paper, by John B. Holbein of Duke University, is entitled “Childhood Non-Cognitive Skill Development and Adult Political Participation.” Matching participants to voter files, Holbein found that childhood intervention had a large long-run impact on political participation.”  Non-cognitive factors were seen as at least as critical as cognitive factors – and perhaps more influential on voting behavior later in life.

The results of the study “suggest a refocusing of civics education.”  The study, published on the Social Science Research Network, concludes that “specific programs that schools implement—including those targeting psychosocial skills—appear to have a large impact on civic participation later on. This finding has important policy implications.”character

In the last midterm election, in 2014, only 36.4 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot nationwide, the lowest turnout since 1942. To understand the causes of low turnout, the Census Bureau regularly asks citizens why they chose not to exercise their constitutional right, Jonah Lehrer points out on his website, summarizing that “the number one reason is always the same: ‘too busy.’ (That was the reason given by 28 percent of non-voters in 2014.) The second most popular excuse is ‘not interested,’ followed by a series of other obstacles, such as forgetting about the election or not liking any of the candidates.”

The Holbein study suggests there is more behind the lack of voting behavior than those oft-cited reasons would suggest.

Critical factors in character building are self-regulation and those involving social skills.  Components of self-regulation include, but are not limited to, grit or perseverance, emotion recognition and emotion regulation—the ability to understand and control individual affect; and inhibition, or the ability to avoid negative behavior and exhibit positive behavior.  Social skills involve the ability to work with others productively; components include the ability to communicate, build friendships, and solve group-based problems.ssrn

“Rather than focusing exclusively on the number of years a citizen spends in school, it is important to consider what context they were exposed to while in school… In a landscape of stagnant macro-level trends in participation and small estimates for many adult mobilization efforts, this finding should give scholars and policymakers renewed hope,” according to the study.

The research indicated that “interventions in early life can have large and long-lasting impacts on stubbornly low rates of political participation in adulthood. This finding suggests a reorientation of political socialization studies towards early childhood; a previously neglected critical period in the development of participatory predispositions.”  Similar research into the impact of non-cognitive learning has come away with consistent findings.

Looking ahead, the study suggests that “expanding our view in this way will help expand our understanding of why some people vote, while others do not, and how to design reforms to increase turnout, particularly among individuals with a low propensity to vote.”

National Conference in Hartford to Focus on Nonprofits, Philanthropy and Voluntary Action

The theme will be “Nonprofit and Voluntary Action in an Age of Turbulence” when more than 600 researchers, leaders and teachers from around the nation gather in Hartford later this week for the annual convention of ARNOVA – the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action.

As the leading organization supporting research and education in the fields of voluntary action, philanthropy, nonprofit management, and civil society, ARNOVA conducts its annual conference to create a public conversation on, as well as opportunities for presenting research about, pressing issues and vital opportunities facing the voluntary or nonprofit sector. It is considered to be both a showcase for the best and most current research, as well as a seed bed from which new research is born.

Scholars, practitioners and studenArnovats from the U.S. and beyond will exchange knowledge about voluntary action, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropy – and Connecticut will be well represented among participants.   David Nee, representing the Connecticut Data Collaborative and Terry Edelstein, nonprofit liaison to the Governor will be among the panelists for a plenary session of the Conference.  Among those attending the national conference close to home are Kyle Barrette (UConn), Mary Bernstein (UConn), Ron Cretaro (Connecticut Association for Nonprofits), Robert Fisher (UConn), Richard Frieder (Hartford Public Library), Maggie Gunther Osborn (Connecticut Council for Philanthropy), Reinaldo Rojas (UConn), Homa Naficy (Hartford Public Library), Nmarasimhan Srinivasan (UConn), Rebecca Thomas (UConn) and Jun Yan (UConn).

The three-day conference (Thursday-Saturday) at the Connecticut Convention Center will include more than 100 sessions attendees can choose to attend.  Frieder will lead a session highlighting the Hartford Public Library’s Immigrant and Civic Engagement Project.  Cretaro will conduct a session devoted to outlining Connecticut’s Collaboration with Human Services Nonprofits.  Rojas will present Community Development and Its Socioeconomic Impact in Latino Neighborhoods.

Over recent decades, the public conversation at the conference – held last year in Indianapolis - has evolved to address new developments in the fields, including social entrepreneurship, social economy an4 Arnovad all aspects of civil society, as well as to meet the needs of those who study and lead “the social sector.” ARNOVA’s Annual Conference is the largest gathering held regularly anywhere devoted to these matters, according to the organization.

Conference organizers report that roughly 80 percent of participants will be based in universities or colleges, and include leading scholars and teachers. Many also serve as community consultants and nonprofit board leaders. The remaining 20 percent will be staff or leaders of nonprofit or social-economy organizations, full-time consultants to those groups, and some who play other roles in the world of philanthropy.

ARNOVA’s work benefits all of society by helping generate the knowledge and perspectives that can make organizations and enterprises more effective. With a focus on teaching, we are also playing a key role in preparing the next generation of leadership. Special projects we carry out have directly addressed the needs of nonprofits and foundations in developing new knowledge and sustaining important conversations vital to refining and improving their practices and services. In short, a wide range of organizations and individuals seeking to serve the public good are strengthened by the work of ARNOVA and its members.

Among the conference sponsors are the UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Public Policy and the Hartford-based law firm of Reid and Riege.

Photo:  David Nee, Terry Edelstein, Ron Cretero, Richard Frieder

Statistics Conference to Hear Projection of 2013 Boston Marathon Finishes

An analysis by a specially-convened team of academic researchers to project the finish times of runners at the 2013 Boston Marathon, will be presented publicly for the first time at the New England Symposium on Statistics in Sports, to be held on September 21 at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

The Symposium is a meeting of statisticians and quantitative analysts connected with sports teams, sports media, and universities to discuss common problems of interest in statistical modeling and analysis of sports data. The symposium is part of a year-long series of programs and events around the world during the International Year of StatisticsBoston-Marathon-logo-2015-1024x1024

The scheduled presentations include a statistical model for predicting the finish times of individuals who were running in the 2013 Boston Marathon but were unable to complete the race when it was abruptly halted after bombs exploded near the finish line last April.  That research was done at the request of the Boston Athletic Association, organizer of the Boston Marathon.

The researchers will explain how multi-year data was analyzed “to create projected times for this year's runners and discuss some features of the resulting projections.”  The BAA opted not to use the statistical model that was developed and provided to the race organizers, choosing instead to use a direct extrapolation of an individual’s time at the point the race was stopped - a result that was, in most cases, more favorable to the runners than the more complex analytical model developed by the research team.  Runners were provided those times within two months of the Marathon.

Just over 5,600 official entrants who were unable to cross the Boylston Street finish line on April 15 when the race was stopped at 2:50 p.m.  Of those, 2,611 are from Massachusetts and 726 are international participants, according to the Boston Athletic Association. In total, residents of all 50 U.S. States (and four U.S. territories), and 47 countries are among this group.  Richard Smith

The lead researcher was Richard L. Smith, the Mark L. Reed III Distinguished Professor of Statistics and Professor of Biostatistics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is also Director of the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute, which is supported by the National Science Foundation.  Smith has previously run in the Boston Marathon, as have three members of his research team.

The researchers included Dorit Hammerling of the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina;  Matthew Cefalu and Francesca Dominici of the Department of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health; Jessi Cisewski of the Department of Statistics, Carnegie Mellon University; Amy Grady of the Department of Statistics and Operations Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Charles Paulson of Puffinware LLC, State College, PA; and Giovanni Parmigiani of the Department of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health  and Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.

Smith said that while the BAA decision is “perfectly understandable,” the statistical model his team developed has been credited by the BAA as being helpful in their decision-making, and has both merit and validity that would be of interest to statisticians, runners and sports fans. The model has potential for future use in projecting runners’ finish times from intermediate times during the race, and the research teaNESSISm intends to focus their Symposium presentation on that potential.

The research team analyzed the times of individual runners from the 2010 and 2011 Marathons (2012 data was not used because the day was unusually hot, unlike 2013) at various points of the 26-mile course and developed a statistical model the projected the finish for every 2013 runner based on how similar runners finished in the previous years.  Many runners, for example, tend to slow, but at differing rates, in the race’s final miles.  Others have a strong finish.  The “sophisticated” analysis was developed to offer a more elaborate extrapolation of what individual finish times might have been.  The researchers provided the BAA with a “complete file” indicating a projected finish for each runner.

“It was an interesting challenge, and we were pleased to be asked by the BAA to work on this project,” Smith said.  “Their decision makes perfect sense, but we are proud of our work and the way in which it came together.”  Smith said that in addition to the first-time presentation at the Symposium, the team plans to publish their work in a professional journal.

The group of official entrants who were prevented from completing the race includes 2,983 women and 2,650 men, and ages range from 18 to 82.  A month after the race, the B.A.A. announced that all of the official entrants who did not finish would be invited back to participate in the 2014 Boston Marathon, to be held on April 21.  A special registration period for those individual closed last Thursday, and more than 4,500 runners have signed up.  As part of a rolling registration process, registration for runners who have qualifying times opens on September 9.

The BAA has also announced that the 118th Boston Marathon field will be increased to 36,000 due to increased interest in next year’s race.  Traditionally, the field numbers about 25,000.  Last year, just over 400 participants from Connecticut were registered for the race.  The largest field in recent years was in 1996, for the 100th anniversary of the race, when 38,708 individuals registered.

“We understand many marathoners and qualifiers want to run Boston in 2014, and we appreciate the support and patience that the running community has demonstrated because of the bombings that occurred this past Spring,” said B.A.A. Executive Director Tom Grilk.

The conference co-chairs of the New England Symposium on Statistics in Sports are Mark Glickman and Scott Evans.  Glickman is Senior Statistician at the Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research and a Research Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Boston University.  Evans is a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Biostatistics at Harvard’s School of Public Health.   Registration is now open for the Sept. 21 symposium.

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