Most of NCoC’s descriptions describe outright average levels of civic engagement in 2008 and 2009: e.g., “89% of Americans sit down to dinner with members of their households several times each week”, “60% of citizens reached out to help their neighbors at least once a month, and 1 in 6 do so almost every day.”
Those figures are certainly true, and while the movements are not so large, probably more significant is that many measures have dipped slightly from 2008 to 2009.
For example, those having family dinners a few times a week or more dropped from 90.5% in 2008 to 87.9% in 2009 and those who did it everyday dropped from 70% to 67%. Those talking to neighbors a few times a week or more dropped from 46.8% in 2008 to 44.4% in 2009. Those doing favors for others a few times a week or more dropped from 16.9% to 15.4%. Those who boycotted a product or buycotted a product in the last year dropped from 10.4% in 2008 to 9.7% in 2009.
The only things increasing were respondents reporting that they had contacted or visited a public official in the last 12 months, which rose from 10% to 11.8% and those who reported communicating with family or friends by e-mail or the Internet a few times a week or more often, which rose from 53.3% to 54.9%. [And for sure more people in 2009 were connected to the Internet than in 2008.]
Respondents evinced supremely low levels of political knowledge. Only 45.3% in 2008 knew that the Supreme Court determines whether a law is constitutional. Only 31.4% in 2008 knew that it took a 2/3 vote of Congress to override a Presidential veto.
It’s possible that some of the declines from 2008 to 2009 may be a function of the economy; we are actively working with Chaeyoon Lim at University of Wisconsin to better understand what effect unemployment and the economy had on levels of civic engagement. But there might be other factors at work. Obviously two years of CPS data is not a trend, so it will be interesting to see what these numbers look like in 2010, and hopefully the downblips are temporary. Meanwhile we should redouble our efforts to get civicly engaged and start to turn this potential “mini-slump” around.