In attempting to measure the state of political participation in America, we asked about participation in eleven forms of political activity ranging from working with fellow citizens to solve local problems, to participating actively in organizations that try to influence public policy, to volunteering for a political party or candidate. Fully 63% of all adults have done at least one of the following eleven activities over the previous twelve months:
Taken together, 34% of all adults did one or two of the above activities this year, while an additional 16% took part in 3-4 activities. A highly-engaged 13% of Americans have taken part in five or more of these activities in the last year.
Our results are consistent with previous research in finding that individuals with high levels of income and education tend to be much more likely to take part politically. As income and education levels increase, so does participation in a wide range of political activities, in particular, working with fellow citizens to solve community problems; attending political meetings; taking part in a civic or political group; attending a political rally or speech; working or volunteering for a political party or candidate; making political contributions; or getting in touch with public officials.
When we consider individual political acts, we sometimes find that a particular subgroup is especially active. For example, those under 30 and English-speaking Hispanics were especially likely to have attended an organized protest in the previous twelve months; suburbanites were more likely to have attended a political meeting on local, town, or school affairs; and fifty and sixty-somethings were especially likely to have contacted a government official. Otherwise, the group differences on the basis of gender, age, race or ethnicity, kind of community are much less substantial than the differences on the basis of income or, especially, education.
More than a third of Americans (36%) have gotten involved in a political or community group in the past year by doing at least one of the following: working with fellow citizens to solve a local problem; being active in a group that tries to influence public policy or government; or working or volunteering for a political party or candidate. Fully 83% of those who are involved in such groups have communicated with other group members in the past 12 months and they use a range of approaches to keep in touch. Some 51% indicated that they communicated with other group members online (using tools such as email, text messaging, or the group’s website) as well as offline (using face-to-face meetings, letters/newsletters or phone calls). An additional 5% communicated using only online tools such as email, and another 28% interacted with group members using only offline means: in person, by phone, or through letters or newsletters.
Face-to-face meetings and telephone communication are the two single most common ways that members of community/political groups communicate with fellow group members. Among those individuals who are involved in a community or political group:
- 63% have communicated with other group members by having face-to-face meetings
- 60% have done so by telephone
- 35% have done so through print letter or group newsletter
Nearly nine in ten community or political group members go online, and email has emerged as a key communications tool for facilitating group communications. Fully 57% of wired members of a community or political group communicate with other group members via email -- making email nearly as popular as face-to-face meetings and telephone communication. Furthermore, among those who are involved in a political or community group:
- 32% of internet users have communicated with group members by using the group’s website, and 10% have done so via instant messaging.
- 24% of social networkers have communicated with group members by using a social networking site.
- 17% of cell phone owners have communicated with group members by text messaging on a cell phone or PDA.