Two of the main drivers of activism in groups appear to be people’s sense of their own ability to make a difference and their sense of trust in others. We did not probe either issue in great depth in this survey, but we did take simple readings. On the issue of personal efficacy, we asked respondents, “Overall, how much impact do you think people like you can have in making your community a better place to live — a big impact, a moderate impact, a small impact, or no impact at all?” Some 30% said they felt they can have a big impact; 39% said they can have a moderate impact; 22% said they have a small impact; and 10% said they felt they have no impact.
To get a glimpse into people’s sense of trust, we asked, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” Some 44% said most people can be trusted and 50% said “you can’t be too careful.”
In both the case of personal efficacy and the case of trust, those who felt they could have a big impact and those who thought most others could be trusted were more likely to be active in groups, more likely to be connected to multiple groups, more likely to spend more time in volunteer and group activities, and more likely to report positive personal and societal outcomes from their group experiences.
Technology users were more likely to say they trusted others: 49% of internet users said that, compared with 27% of non-internet users; 49% of those who connect to the internet wirelessly said others could be trusted, compared with 28% of those who do not connect wirelessly. And technology users were more likely to say they felt they could have a big impact on their communities: 33% of internet users said that, compared with 21% of non-users; 36% of wireless internet users said they could have big impact, compared with 23% of those who do not connect to the internet that way.
Clearly, a personal sense that one can have impact will likely propel some people into group activities aimed at personal fulfillment and civic engagement. In addition, the degree to which people are interested in others, can work with others, and can find benefits in social connection could also influence their willingness to become active in groups.