the Census to measure civic engagement

The United States Census is about to begin measuring civic health in its annual Current Population Supplement. Census had already measured voting and volunteering; the additional measures will be added because of a provision in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009 that requires a partnership between Census, the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, and the National Conference on Citizenship to assess the nation’s civic health. Because of the huge size of the Census surveys, we will be able to see levels of civic participation by state, by large city, and by demographic group, and investigate the relationships between things like education, health, and military service and civic participation.

This effort has been a goal of mine for more than a decade. In the late nineties, when I was Deputy Director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal, my job was to develop the Index of National Civic Health (INCH), which was comprised of about 40 indicators drawn from various public surveys. (It showed deep decline since the 1970s). In the current decade, the National Conference on Citizenship developed a similar index and began fielding an annual survey to collect the data. CIRCLE and I were deeply involved in their survey design and analysis. Various people involved in that effort were then able to get the index written into federal law and selected questions included on the annual Census surveys.

For now (according to federal websites), the items will be:

  • vote in last election
  • register to vote
  • volunteer
  • discuss politics with family or friends
  • read newspaper in print or online
  • read news magazines
  • get news from TV or TV news websites
  • listen to the news on the radio or radio websites
  • obtain news from other web sources
  • attend a meeting where political issues are discussed
  • buy or boycott a certain product or service because of the social or political values of the company that provides it
  • march, rally, protest, or demonstration
  • support a candidate by distributing materials, fundraising, donating, or other ways
  • belong to a school or neighborhood association such as PTA, or neighborhood watch
  • belong to a service or civic organization
  • belong to a sports or recreation organization
  • belong to a religious institution or organization
  • belong to any other organization
  • serve as an officer or committee member
  • attend group or organization meeting
  • eat dinner with other members of your household
  • do favors such as watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, house sitting
  • how many close friends do you have?
  • factual knowledge: who decides if a law is constitutional?
  • factual knowledge: overriding a veto

(These are not the actual questions, which are longer and more explanatory. These are just my headlines for the questions.)

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