The California Civic Health Index 2010 was just released (PDF). A compelling attempt to quantify people’s involvement in their local community.
The term “civic engagement” has become one of the more vague in public policy discussions. More than any other national organization, the Congressionally chartered National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) has sought to bring clarity to this very important subject through survey research and promoting civic participation. Their annual “Civic Health Index” studies American civic engagement on activities ranging from voting to volunteering to many in between. For the last three years, NCoC has also focused on California for one of its state-level reports. To help dfine the term, this year’s report is divided into “political civic engagement” (voting and registering to vote, discussing politics with friends/neighbors) and “social civic engagement” (volunteering, having dinner with family, working on community problems).
Vermont shows up in some of the charts comparing all 50 U.S. states (plus DC, etc.)…
6th – Discuss politics with family and friends (44%)
3rd – Participate in one or more non-electoral political activities (39%)
mid – Voter registration (71%) and turn-out (64%)
13th – Eat dinner with family and household members (91%)
As technology rapidly changes the landscape of social networks and norms, this report looks at the kinds of connectivity Californians have to their families, neighbors, and communities. In a recent essay that questioned the impact of internet-based social networks on social movements, Malcolm Gladwell speculates that although online connectivity makes it easy to proliferate ideas, the kind of collectivist action that was a hallmark of our Civil Rights Movement and other important social revolutions depends more on strong leadership and close, in-person relationships between movement participants. Whether or not Gladwell is correct, it is certainly true that our community relationships, news consumption, and methods of conceptualizing solutions are rapidly changing with the advent of new forms of communication. As Californians work to effect change in their communities, proliferation of information and forms of social interactions both will play a large role.
Over the last few years, the rate at which Americans report working with neighbors to improve the community has increased: 8.3% of Californians say they work with neighbors to improve the community, slightly below a national average of 8.8%.
In this measure of engagement, California ranks 33rd in the nation. On a less formal level, 13.8% of Californians exchange favors with neighbors a few times a week, while the average for the entire country is 15.9%. These informal actions are greatly affected by geography: Californians who live in rural communities are far more likely to regularly exchange favors (21.9%) than those in urban areas (11.9%).