The Effects of Controversial Classroom Debates on Political Interest: An Experimental Approach

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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For decades, scholars have argued that civic education practices, such as debates on controversial issues, have the capacity to enhance civic outcomes, including political knowledge, attentiveness, and interest. This study bridges the literature on political science education and political behavior by employing an experimental approach to assess the link between a specific civic education practice (controversial debates) and a cited indicator of political behavior (political interest). Three hundred and forty-one students in 13 American Politics classrooms at a four-year higher education institution were randomly assigned to a controversial debate curriculum. Our findings show that the treatment had no effect on political interest for the treatment groups as a whole, a finding that challenges our hypothesis that debates on controversial issues could increase political interest. Our findings also point to a relationship between taking an American Politics course and increased political attentiveness for nonwhite students.


Published online: 03 Jun 2022.