“As people have pulled back out of civic life, out of community involvement, it has led to the rise of a form of political or ideological extremism dominating our political system.”
— David Campbell, political scientist
David Campbell is the Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. His research interests include American politics, civic engagement, political behavior, religion and politics, and education policy. More information can be found at David Campbell’s faculty page.
My research is focused on why people do—or, increasingly do not—get involved in politics.
About 20 years ago, there were a number of social scientists who wrote a number of works pointing out that the level of civic engagement within the United States was dropping. 20 years later we lament the political polarization that we see in the country. I would suggest to you that those two things are related. As people pulled back out of civic life, out of community involvement, it has led to the rise of a form of political or ideological extremism dominating our political system. So if we want to understand why it is that we have political polarization, I would suggest you to understand why it is we don’t have more civic engagement. And to understand why we don’t have more civic engagement, we also need to understand why it is that people are civically engaged.
One of the things that my collaborators and I have found is the religious community—the actual congregation, the group of people with whom you might worship—is an extremely potent factor in driving people into civic life. Another huge factor in explaining why people get involved in politics or in civic life is their education. I have focused on the norms that are formed within somebody’s sort of internal psyche when they’re in adolescence, the norm that one ought to participate in politics, that voting for example is a responsibility. And I have found that the ethos of the high school you attend is actually a very powerful factor in shaping, not just what you do while you are in high school, but what you do 10, even 15 years later.
As somebody interested both in the study of religion but also the study of schools and education, Notre Dame has really been a perfect fit because there are many other people here who study, in other ways, the roles that religion and schooling might play in either our civic life or in other aspects of society. And so I have felt Notre Dame to be a very natural fit for the sort of work that I do and I am glad that I’m here and that the institution has supported me in the work for that I’ve pursued.
Originally published by al.nd.edu on October 26, 2016.at