Although social work has a robust history of political advocacy, few studies have examined the effects of political ideology on the political engagement of social workers. While social workers are called upon to advocate for just and equitable policy, this ethical mandate may be understood and or realized differently based upon ideology. This study sought to examine the political ideology and political engagement of licensed social workers after the 2016 presidential election. The questions guiding the study, include:
- How do licensed social workers describe their political ideology?
- How engaged are licensed social workers in political activities?
- How does political ideology influence engagement in political engagement of licensed social workers?
This study utilized a cross-sectional survey design and is part of a large, national study of the political participation of licensed social workers. Email addresses of licensed social workers were obtained through the licensing boards of 24 States and the District of Columbia. A total of 133,656 usable email addresses were obtained, from which a random sample of 44,552 was drawn. Invitations to participate in the study as well as a link to the electronic survey were sent to the sample. The survey consisted of approximately 86 questions, including Likert-type, demographic, and open-ended questions. A total of 3,033 surveys were collected.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents identified as liberal, while 29% identified as moderate, and 13% identified as conservative. Indicative of these political ideologies, 13% of licensed social workers reported voting for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election while 79.7% voted for Hilary Clinton, (the remaining 7.3% voted for third party candidates or were not eligible to vote). Respondents reported high rates of voter registration (98.3%) and always voting in federal elections (91/7%). However, their engagement in other political voice activities varied, with less involvement reported for conflictual or time-intensive activities (for example only 1.2% of respondents provided public testimony).
Political ideology significantly influenced the role social workers’ believed they should play in challenging structural issues. A one-way ANOVA revealed a significant difference in respondents’ agreement with the statement that “…it is important to try to change larger social conditions…” based on political affiliation (F(2,2508)=107.741,p=.000). A Tukey’s post hoc test revealed that those who identified as Democrat were significantly more likely to agree strongly with the aforementioned statement than were those who identified as Republicans (1.9 ±1.1, p=.000) or Independent (1.4 ±.9, p=.000). Results of a one-way MANOVA further illuminated the role of ideology in influencing engagement of social workers in specific political activities.
The results of this study indicate that licensed social workers hold more diverse political ideologies than might be assumed, with nearly a third of social workers claiming a moderate ideology. Results also illuminate the role that political ideology has in determining the political engagement of social workers. These findings suggest political ideology must be considered in efforts to encourage social workers to engage in social or political action.