Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy

We are partisans for democracy

What does it mean to be a partisan for democracy? We don’t take sides on the political spectrum, but we do defend the rights everyone has as a democratic citizen — from voting to protesting to consuming information from a free press that serves as a check on political leaders.

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy draws from the humanities and social sciences to examine democracy from multiple angles. This cross-discipline collaboration is evident in our research, education, and outreach efforts.

We educate the next generation of democratic citizens through our Nevins Fellows program, monitor attitudes toward democracy with the Mood of the Nation poll, and host speakers and events that bring people from diverse backgrounds and points of view together to discuss the role of democracy in our society.

We make all of this happen in partnership with our centers of excellence, the Center for American Political Responsiveness and the Center for Democratic Deliberation, and many other organizations throughout the College of the Liberal Arts and the broader Penn State community.

Stay Informed:

Democracy Works Podcast

December 4, 2023 - 10:00 am

Two of our Penn State colleagues join us this week to discuss their recent findings on the connection between state-mandated civics tests and voter turnout. Jilli Jung, a doctoral student in education policy and Maithreyi Gopalan, assistant professor of education and public policy, recently published the paper “The Stubborn Unresponsiveness of Youth Voter Turnout to Civic Education: Quasi-Experimental Evidence From State-Mandated Civics Tests” in the journal Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 

In the paper, Jung and Gopalan study the Civic Education Initiative, a framework adopted by 18 states since 2015 that requires high school students to take a test very similar to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Civics test. They found that voter turnout among 18-24 year olds largely did not increase in states that adopted the Civic Education Initiative compared to states that did adopt it. The reason for this, they argue, is that the knowledge of civic facts alone is not enough to motivate someone to vote for the first time. 

In this episode, we discuss how to structure civic education that could increase voter turnout and lead to more engaged democratic citizens. For more information on this work, check out the CivXNow coalition, which is made up of hundreds of organizations across the country that are working to strengthen civic education. 

Jung and Gopalan also recommend the following books and papers to anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into the role of civic education in a democracy:

Making Young Voters: Converting Civic Attitudes into Civic Action

Refocusing Civic Education: Developing the Skills Young People Need to Engage in Democracy

I  Will Register and Vote if you Teach Me How: A Field Experiment Testing Voter Registration in College Classrooms

The Impact of Democracy Prep Public Schools on Civic Participation


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