NCOC Featured Discussion

Volunteering and Civic Life in America 2012 by the Numbers

January 9, 2013
On December 12th, NCoC and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) released Volunteering and Civic Life in America, providing national, state, city and geographic data on the ways in which Americans are engaged in their communities. Some findings show great promise—the national volunteer rate reached a five-year high and there are upward trends in the rates at which Americans help each other informally, by looking after one another’s kids or helping a neighbor in need. Other findings, however, show critical room for improvement. Over the next several weeks, NCoC will highlight some of the key findings of the 2012 report.

In 2011, NCoC and CNCS successfully advocated for the inclusion of several new civic health indicators in the November 2011 Current Population Survey (CPS), administered by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These included:
• Voting in local elections (such as mayor or school board)
• Using the internet to express opinions about political or community issues
• Communicating with family and friends
• Trust of neighbors
• Confidence in institutions (corporations, the media and public schools)

The two new political indicators—voting in local elections and using the internet to express opinions—show important areas for growth.

When asked how frequently they vote in local elections, nearly a third of all Americans said they never do (32.5%), while a third said they always do (33.2%). The other third were split among rarely voting in local elections (9.7%) and sometimes voting (24.6%). When looking at how this indicator varies across states, there is a striking gap of roughly thirty percentage points between the highest and lowest states. In Mississippi, 78.2% of residents report they always or sometimes vote in local elections, relative to just 46.6% of Texas residents reporting the same.

When looking at the frequency with which Americans use the Internet to express their opinions on political or community issues, there is strikingly low participation.

A full 72.1% of Americans report that they never do, with only 8.0% report doing so frequently (defined as basically every day or a few times a week). Some Americans reported doing so a few times a month (5.4%), once a month (4.1%), or less than once a month (10.4%). The gap between the highest and lowest ranking states on this measure is also pronounced. In Nevada, 14.3% of residents report using the Internet to express opinions about political or community issues frequently (a few times a week or more) relative to only 4.9% of South Carolina residents.
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