Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version

Spring 3-7-2023


Trinh, C. (2023, March 7). Public Distrust, Political Participation, and the Role of Student Government. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Christine Trinh 2023.


The turn of the 21st century presented a government led by public distrust. More and more people are growing skeptical of the government due to its previous actions, as well as overall longstanding disdain and misinformation, passed on through generations. Like many other fields, political participation is expected to be heavily influenced by rising public distrust in the government. However, there is hope in mitigating public distrust to increase political participation. Previous studies have proven civic engagement, specifically in student government at the collegiate level, leads to creating higher public trust and a wealth of political understanding and knowledge. We predict civic involvement during one’s youth will build a background of political knowledge providing greater political engagement during adulthood, and ultimately, increasing political participation among communities. In our experiment, we test the efficacy of student government as a mode of civic education by measuring the level of voter turnout at the national level, state level, and among various state counties. Our independent variable is the degree of political participation without a specified civic education channel. Our dependent variable is the degree of political participation when a civic education channel is identified—that being involved in student government at the collegiate level. Our research compares voter turnout across six election cycles at the federal and state level to understand the impact civic education has on mitigating public distrust and inducing political participation. The results suggest a positive relationship exists between civic education through student government involvement and political participation in the form of voter turnout. We recognize voting is only one facet of political participation.