An empirical study evaluating the political participation of licensed social workers in the United States: a multi-state study
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The social work literature is full of studies and evaluations of direct practice interventions, but strikingly few have assessed how well social workers are faring in the policy arena. This study tests a major theoretical model, the Civic Participation Model (Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995), developed to explain why some citizens become involved in politics, while others do not. The study sample consists of 396 randomly selected social workers licensed in 11 states who completed a 25-30 minute telephone survey. Social workers were surveyed to determine: (1) to what degree social workers participate politically, and in which modes of political participation they typically engage; (2) the role of the following variables in explaining social workers’ political activity---resources needed to participate, psychological engagement, and attachment to recruitment networks (from Civic Participation Model, Verba and colleagues, 1995); and (3) social workers’ political ideology and political attitudes. The study found that the majority of social workers are politically active, and they are more engaged than the general public on many political activities. However, social workers have fairly low involvement in some political activities. The results indicate that the Civic Participation Model was significant and accounted for 43% of the variance. Being a NASW member, region type (urban), interest in local politics, political efficacy, family influences, political knowledge, and recruitment networks were each found to be significant unique predictors of political participation. These variables were positively correlated with higher levels of political activity. Being a NASW member and political interest were the strongest predictors of social workers’ political activity. The majority of respondents identify with the Democratic party and with a liberal political ideology; however, a sizeable minority identify themselves as Republican (13%), and with a Conservative ideology (21%). There was disagreement among social workers on some political issues. This study provides empirical support for the idea that being connected to social networks and having a psychological engagement with politics, not resources, are crucial factors in explaining social workers’ political participation. Implications for social work education are discussed.