New research report explores changes in civic participation at state and national levels
A renewed interest in civic life and the activities that strengthen social ties and keep communities strong has surged over the last few years. Today, the Do Good Institute, together with the Civic Innovation Center, released its latest report, “Maryland Civic Health Report: A Look at Civic Engagement in Maryland and the U.S.” which explores how the state's civic indicators, like volunteering and voting in local elections, have changed from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s.
“Civic life in Maryland has changed in subtle but distinctive ways over the last two decades, as it has throughout America,” according to Nathan Dietz, senior researcher for the Do Good Institute. “This report gives us an opportunity to update and extend previous research about the way Marylanders engage in civic activities. More importantly, it advances possible explanations for why the national volunteer and giving rates declined slowly but steadily over this time period.”
This report extends the research published in a 2010 report on Maryland’s civic health by showing state and national trends. This report’s civic health indicators are broken into six categories including service, political action, participating in a group, social connectedness, staying informed and trust and confidence in institutions. Key findings from the report include:
- Service: Maryland ranks in the top half of all states for each of the four service measures (volunteering, giving to charity, working with neighbors, and attending public meetings where current affairs are discussed); and Maryland’s participation rate is higher than the national average.
- Political Action: Both the electoral indicators (voting and registration in congressional and presidential elections) and the non-electoral indicators (contacting an elected official, buying or boycotting a product or service because of the political stances of the producer), Maryland generally ranked in the top 25. The exception is voting in local elections - Maryland ranks 44th among states in the percentage of adults who vote at least sometimes in these elections.
- Participating in a Group: Marylanders are especially likely to participate in certain types of groups, particularly school groups and neighborhood and community associations (ranking fifth).
- Staying Informed: The percentage of adults who talked about politics with family and friends frequently (a few times a week or more often) declined significantly in the U.S. and in 33 states, including Maryland. However, Maryland’s state rank fell from 3rd in 2008-2010 to 15th in 2011 & 2013.
- Social Connectedness: Maryland ranks lower than the average for several indicators – especially exchanging favors with neighbors frequently. Maryland was one of 21 states to experience significant declines and its state ranking dropped from 25th to 43rd.
- Confidence in Institutions: Marylanders are significantly less likely than Americans overall to feel that they can trust most or all of their neighbors - ranking 44th. However, when it comes to education almost all (86.6 percent) Maryland adults say that they have at least “some” confidence in public schools.
Maryland’s civic health statistics suggest that residents are at least as likely as other Americans to participate in traditional civic activities – like volunteering and giving to charity, participating in groups, voting in national elections – but have a harder time establishing and maintaining good relations with their neighbors. These findings suggest that many Marylanders are active participants in associational life, but they are less likely to engage in activities that promote neighborliness and social cohesion.
Paul Brown, director, Civic Innovation Center said, “Civic health is an indicator of how effectively a community solves public problems, and this report is an important window into understanding the challenges and opportunities facing Maryland communities.”
The report’s findings raise questions about why civic life in Maryland is the way it is, and what we can do to improve the current state of affairs. While Marylanders are willing to voluntarily work together in groups of their own choosing, they struggle to form productive relationships with their neighbors that would strengthen social cohesion within diverse communities. The challenge for Marylanders – residents, community leaders, and policymakers alike – will be to use the strengths of the state’s civic life to improve its overall civic health.
The Maryland Civic Health Report uses data featured in recent U.S. Census Bureau research and data collected from the Current Population Survey (CPS) Supplement on Volunteering (Volunteer Supplement). Between 2002 and 2015, the CPS Volunteer Supplement collected national statistics on volunteering through or for an organization. In 2008, the Supplement also began to collect data on giving to charity.
The full report is available for download at go.umd.edu/mdcivichealth.