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Only One Percent of Americans Are Really Politically Active Only One Percent of Americans Are Really Politically Active

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The Next Economy | Big Questions

Only One Percent of Americans Are Really Politically Active

Americans love community activism—by other people. Very few are engaged in civic activities themselves.

photo of Peter Bell
May 9, 2014

This article is part of a series on the May 2014 Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll.

Forty-one percent of Americans do not participate very often in any of 10 bedrock activities of American civic and political life, according to the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor survey.

At the other end of the spectrum, just 1 percent of Americans engage very often in eight or more of the activities—from attending town hall meetings to volunteering in the community to giving money to a cause or political candidate. Those Americans with higher incomes or with college degrees are much more likely than those with low incomes or without college degrees to report engagement in at least one of the civic activities. 

 
Individually, many of these 10 activities are popular. For example, 65 percent of Americans say that they volunteer in their community very often or somewhat often. But in combination, such activities are uncommon. Just 12 percent of Americans engaged in more than three activities "very often," an indication that for most Americans, civic and political engagement, other than voting in elections, is occasional and narrow in scope. 
These findings add texture to one of the survey's clearest findings, which is that 72 percent of Americans say that the major social changes in this country have come from average Americans pushing government to change, rather than government taking the lead. The catch is that even moderately engaged Americans are not average. At the moment, at least, they are rare.

Individually, many of these 10 means of engagement are popular. For example, 65 percent of Americans say that they volunteer in their community very often or somewhat often. But very few seem to have the time or inclination for broad civic participation. Just 12 percent of Americans engaged in more than three activities "very often," an indication that for most Americans, civic and political engagement—other than voting in elections—is occasional and narrow in scope. 

That finding offers texture to two of the survey's clearest results. First, a full 70 percent of Americans believe that the country needs "major changes." Second, three-quarters say that the major social changes in this country have come from average Americans pushing government, rather than government taking the lead.

But there's a catch: The average American is not very engaged in the usual ways activism is measured. Even those who are moderately engaged are—at least for the moment—rare.

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