It is well documented that ‘big government’ does not represent the interests of the ordinary person, so much so, that it is taken to be true by many. The general public, and young people, in particular, are often perceived to have 'switched off' and given up on civil engagement as a way to challenge this lack of representation. But is that really the case?

A recent report from Pew Research highlights a surprisingly high number of American adults (48%) take part in civil engagement groups or activity. This figure rises above 60% for higher income and higher education groupings. Higher figures than you might expect if you listened to mainstream media.

The growth in the use of social media networks to engage politically and civilly has also increased rapidly since 2008. Facebook and Twitter make it easier to spread the word and organize an event at a moment's notice, thus eliminating the stress of traditional advertising methods for some organizations. However, even as online platforms have grown more prominent in political affairs, Americans’ day-to-day political conversations still mostly occur offline.

Research Figures Worth Considering:

48% of adults directly take part in a civic group or activity.

This includes anyone who did one or more of the following six activities:

35% worked with fellow citizens to solve a problem in their community

22% have attended a political meeting on local, town, or school affairs

13% have been an active member of a group that tries to influence the public or government

10% have attended a political rally or speech

7% have worked or volunteered for a political party or candidate

6% have attended an organized protest

39% of adults recently contacted a government official or spoke out in a public forum via offline methods.

This includes anyone who did one or more of the following activities that might take place in either online or offline spaces:

22% of American adults have recently signed a paper petition; 17% have signed a petition online.

21% recently contacted a government official about an issue that is important to them in person, by phone, or by letter; 18% have done so online, by email, or by text message.

7% have recently called into a live radio or TV show to express an opinion about a political or social issue; 18% have commented on an online news story or blog post about this type of issue.

3% of American adults have sent a letter to the editor to a newspaper or magazine by regular mail; 4% have done so online, by email, or by text message.

In total, nearly three-quarters (72%) of all American adults were recently engaged in the civic and political issue.

Ensuring these levels of participation continue or increase it is important to eliminate barriers to engagement:

1. Institutional barriers: complex institutional structures and bureaucracy tend to be a deterrent for involvement as they make participants feel powerless.

2. Lack of resources: educational and financial elements are shown by the research to be a factor in participation rates.

3. Psychological barriers: lack of confidence to participate, lack of knowledge, lack of trust, perceptions of typical participant, a lack of faith in
the engagement process at the local decision-making level.

4. Discrimination and prejudice: resistance to certain groups being involved in the civil engagement process.

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