Increasing Youth Political Engagement with Efficacy Not Obligation: Evidence from a Workshop-Based Experiment in Zambia

Elizabeth Sperber, O’Brien B. Kaaba, Gwyneth McClendon

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In many places around the world, young voters participate in politics at low rates. What factors might increase youth political participation? We investigate one possibility: exposure to a religious message that emphasizes the possibility of change through faithful action. We argue that this message, which is common in religious groups that attract large numbers of youth around the world, addresses several barriers to political participation by young voting-age adults. Working in collaboration with the major religious coalitions in Zambia, we randomly assigned young adults (18–35 years old) into civic engagement workshops. Identical informational material, based on pre-existing, non-partisan curricula, was presented in each workshop. Workshops then concluded with one of two randomly assigned, pre-recorded Christian motivational messages based on existing religious programming in Zambia. In some workshops, the concluding message emphasized a Christian obligation to work towards the greater good. In other workshops, the message emphasized the power of faith to make change in the world. We found that the power of faith message moved workshop participants to be more willing to participate in protest, to disavow political violence, and to criticize other people who choose not to participate, relative to pre-workshop measures and to an information-only condition. By contrast, the message focused on an obligation to the greater good did not change political participation, resulting in lower willingness to participate in politics than the power of faith message. We discuss implications for youth political participation and the study of religion and politics.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1933-1958
    Number of pages26
    JournalPolitical Behavior
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Dec 2022


    • African politics
    • Experiment
    • Political participation
    • Religion
    • Youth

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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