Kenneth Scheve: Foundations of a New Democracy: Schooling, Inequality, and Voting in the Early Republic

September 11, 2022

Dean Acheson Professor of Political Science and Global Affairs and FAS Dean of Social Science Kenneth Scheve has a new article in the American Political Science Review entitled “Foundations of a New Democracy: Schooling, Inequality, and Voting in the Early Republic.”


Democratic theorists have long argued that states can create more resilient democracies through education. Educational investments are thought to produce more economic equality and instill in citizens greater capacity and responsibility to participate in politics. Using a geographic regression discontinuity design and township-level data from Antebellum New York State, we examine whether state funding for common schools led to higher voter turnout as well as higher earnings and lower inequality. Our estimates support the view that a participatory democratic culture emerged not only because of initial favorable endowments but also because of subsequent government decisions to fund education. New York townships that received more school funding later had higher median earnings, lower earnings inequality, and higher levels of voter turnout. Our findings support the view that maintaining democracy requires active investments by the state, something that has important implications for other places and other times—including today.