Is Civics Still Necessary? How Americans Engage with Citizenry

According to a C-SPAN survey conducted earlier this year, only 43 percent of likely U.S. voters can name a single Supreme Court justice. With the Dow hitting record highs and unemployment levels at record lows, this raises an important question: is civics still necessary? What role should it play in our society today?

Civics is defined the study of the rights and duties of citizenship, but the term is not often heard in modern conversation. In fact, Google estimates usage of the word “civics” in books actually peaked in 1928 (although a slight uptick began in the late 1980s). Today, its absence portends increasing political apathy and passivity around the obligations of citizenship.

Former President Barack Obama recently announced his foundation’s goal to “[promote] civic engagement for students and young adults.” David Simas, CEO of the Obama Presidential Center, stated, “[we’re] going to be focusing like a laser beam on this idea of active citizenship.” Such duties include effecting social and political change and engaging in scholarly civic pursuits to learn the country’s history and understand public policy issues.

In fact, promoting civics has been the impetus for several initiatives launched by people who occupied roles in the highest echelons of government. In 2009, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor established the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute to “[solve] important social, economic and political problems through civil dialogue leading to civic action.”

Citizenship also extends to humanitarian efforts. Former President Jimmy Carter embraced this back in 1984 when he established the Carter Work Project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Together, the groups build housing all over the world for families in need. Since that time, corporations have joined the effort by donating materials and/or their employees’ work time to help build housing alongside Habitat workers.

Former President George H.W. Bush founded Points of Light in 1989 to instill a culture of volunteerism. Spawned by his inaugural speech where he stated, “all the individuals and community organizations spread like stars through the nation, doing good,” Points of Light partners with companies, foundations and other non‑profits to connect people with volunteer projects across the globe.

Finally, in 2005, former Vice President Al Gore established the Climate Reality Project, an international environmental initiative focused on raising awareness about climate change and promoting ongoing solutions to it.

But while the civic initiatives of prominent and accomplished civil servants are laudable, it is important to note the contributions of everyday people as well. Here at Acxiom, for example, we see active citizenship displayed when employees contribute time and money to Backpacks for Education, the Community Pantry Food Drive, Adopt‑a‑Family, Holiday Cards for Troops, and many other programs.

In a recent Acxiom study on civic engagement, we mined Acxiom’s data to learn what citizenship looks like in action. A clustering analysis of over 1 million individuals revealed three types of citizens and the activities they are likely to undertake in their efforts to influence decisions in their communities and at the state and national levels. Our findings indicate that people across the demographic spectrum engage in citizenship activities where and how they can.

Click here to see the infographic for insights into the three citizen segments and the ways each puts citizenship into action.

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