Civic Engagement in America: Highlighting the Increasing Opportunities to Affect Change

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Civic engagement can be described as working to improve the civic life of communities and developing the skills and knowledge necessary to create a positive difference. Today, Americans have access to increasing opportunities to affect change in their communities. Pew Research Center indicates that 60% of people who engage in political activity on social media have sent an e-mail to a government official or signed an online petition, compared to the national average of 34%. From voting to supporting and defending the Constitution, obeying laws, and participating in the local community, civic engagement can take on many forms. And fortunately, public officials are listening and responding.


To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Rutgers University Master of Public Administration program.

How the factors influencing civic engagement have caused a dramatically increased level of political involvement.

Raising Voices in the Digital Age

Much has changed in recent years. Greater numbers of individuals with access to digital technology and social media has helped raise the voice of the individual and encourage civic engagement and political participation. There are plenty ways for people to get involved, including joining community organizations, election campaigning or simply paying attention to the news.

Civic and engagement and political participation have always allured a segment of the public. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in 2012, 48% of American adults were active members of a civic group, 35% cooperated with community members to solve a community problem, and 22% had participated in a local civic discussion.

In 2017, civic activity increased dramatically. In January 2017, a single Senate office received 46,000 voter emails – a 4,500% increase over the previous January. In one day, the office of a congressional leader noted 1.3 million phone calls to their line. In April and May of 2017, the average attendance of town hall civic meetings jumped from 20 – 50 constituents to 281. For the year, congressional offices reported an increase of 150 – 300% in successful attempts to contact voters, with most of the success front-loaded to the year’s first half.


Factors Driving Civic Engagement

From education levels and ethnicity to electoral system features and social factors, individuals are either discouraged or encouraged from participating in politics. Though several studies have examined these factors, the results of the 2016 presidential election showed that these factors aren’t always predictors.

Electoral system features like proportional representation, compulsory voting, simple voter registration processes, voting taking place on a rest day, and concurrent ballots increase voter turnout rates. Certain population features also play a role. For instance, as the population increases, the voter turnout drops – something that’s amplified when the minority share also increases. Higher levels of voting also occur in populations with higher stability.

Civic and political engagement and participation are also higher when perceived discrimination rights affect voting rights, rules for nationality and citizenship, and formal advice-gathering liaisons with minority or migrant groups. It should also be noted that first- generation immigrants are less likely to be registered to vote than later generations.

Additionally, education emphasizing voting in school classes is typically a predictor of young peoples’ future voting intentions. Students attending schools offering civic training in skills are more likely to participate in boycotts, sign petitions, and keep up with political news. Yet this is not necessarily concrete: In the 2016 presidential elections, a higher voter turnout among white people without college degrees and substantial drops in black and Latino turnout helped Trump secure Florida.

Finally, demographic and social factors play a role. Those with higher levels of socioeconomic status have higher levels of political and civic knowledge and participation. Adolescents with parents interested in political and social issues also demonstrate a higher level of political and civic interest.


The Effect

Angry voters may have elected President Trump. Yet since then, activists haven’t stopped protesting against gun violence, threats of Dreamer deportation, and gender inequality. With anger driving citizens to protest on streets and social media, other measures like automatic registration are helping to increase civic engagement.

With automatic voter registration, citizens who have contacted state agencies like motor vehicle departments will be automatically registered unless they decline. Those supporting the plan point to its money-saving benefits, as well as its capacity to reduce error and fraud. When the plan was implemented in Oregon, the state saw higher turnout among young, poorer, and less urban people.

Protests are also on the rise. The Crowd Counting Consortium has estimated that in 2017, between 5.9 million and 9 million people were involved in more than 8,700 protests. Key issues that have brought out protestors include: DACA, regarding the support of undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children; the #metoo movement, regarding sexual harassment; and March for Our Lives, regarding stricter gun laws. Each of these movements have help push forward various forms of issue-related change of both a political and social nature.

In America today, political activism is increasing. With greater numbers of Americans protesting sexual harassment, racism, gun violence, and deportation laws, qualified public administration officials will be needed to respond to constituents’ questions, comments, and protests. A graduate degree in public administration could help prepare students to make a difference at local, state, and national levels.