Methods: This study draws on online survey data collected between August and October 2020 from members of the National Association of Social Workers (N=132). Validated survey question scales were drawn from the American National Election Studies questionnaire, the General Social Survey, and the European Social Survey. A path analysis using Structural Equation Modeling was performed on the outcome variable of political participation (scale – 28 questions), with direct paths to it from five variables: political self-efficacy (scale – 5 questions), perception of social work education preparation (scale - 6 questions), political orientation (scale from 1 to 7), gender identity, and frequency of political discussion in their childhood home (scale from 1 to 4). Self-efficacy also served as a mediating endogenous variable, with all variables except political participation feeding into it. Variables for type of social work practice (micro, mezzo, macro) and race were dropped from the model because they were not significantly related to self-efficacy or participation.
Results: Three goodness of fit tests were used to evaluate model fit: The RMSEA of 0.000 was <0.05, indicating a close model fit. The CFI and FLI were both 1.000, higher than the 0.90 required for good model fit. Results show significant indirect-only mediation for education and female. That is, the more someone thinks their education prepared them, the higher they rate their self-efficacy (β=.145, ρ<.05). In turn, the higher a respondent rated their self-efficacy, the more they politically participated (β=.154, ρ<.001). Identifying as female rather than male was significantly related to a lower rating of self-efficacy (β=-.774, ρ<.05).
Political discussion in their childhood home and political orientation demonstrated both indirect (through self-efficacy) and direct significant relationships with political participation. Having had political discussions in the home during childhood is related to higher rating of political self-efficacy and higher political participation. The more conservative a respondent was, the lower they rated their self-efficacy and the lower they participated politically.
Conclusions: Social workers’ perceptions of how well their social work education prepared them for various forms of political participation was related to their political self-efficacy, which in turn was related to their political participation. This highlights the importance of social work education in building confidence and equipping social workers to participate politically, regardless of their level of practice, and with attention to gender identity and political orientation.