Paulsen, Tine, Kenneth Scheve, and David Stasavage (2022). Foundations of a New Democracy: Schooling, Inequality, and Voting in the Early Republic. American Political Science Review, Published online 08 September 2022. DOI:10.1017/S000305542200079X.
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.