New Survey Benchmarks Levels of Civic Engagement

A group of three dozen community foundations has released the largest-ever survey on civic engagement in America. Among its findings, the Social Capital Community Benchmark identified widespread religious involvement and a general tolerance of cultural diversity as two of the most important components of civic engagement.

The survey, a national sample of 3,000 respondents in 40 communities around the country, revealed large differences in a number of categories. In ethnically diverse cities like Los Angeles or Houston, for example, college graduates are four to five times more likely to be politically involved than residents with a high school degree, while in more homogoneous states such as Montana or New Hampshire, the educational gap among the politically active is less than half as large.

The survey also found that levels of civic engagement -- how much residents trusted, socialized, and joined with others -- predicted the quality of life and happiness far better than levels of community education or income. In the five communities reporting the highest levels of trust of others, 52 percent of residents gave their community a top rating as a place to live; in the five communities reporting the lowest levels of social trust, only 31 percent felt that positively.

"At a time when President Bush began his presidency by asking us to be 'citizens, not spectators' and to serve our nation 'beginning with your neighbor,' the survey shows that we have opportunities to work towards those goals through a variety of community civic experiments," said Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone: Collapse and Revival of the American Community," and principal investigator for the Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America, a project of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, a co-sponsor of the survey.

To learn more about the survey and its findings, visit:

"Americans? Civic Engagement Reveals Quality of Life and Happiness Highest in Socially Connected Communities" The Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America Press Release 03/01/2001.