CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
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The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Survey Measures of Civic Engagement

Circle and our colleagues and partners have developed and tested various measures of young adults’ “civic engagement” (including their political participation; their community service and local civic work; and their knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values). These measures are available for anyone to use without our permission. Different measures are appropriate for different ages and situation. CIRCLE staff can provide advice as needed.

Examples of measures from CIRCLE’s Civic and Political Health of the Nation Survey

  • Have you ever worked together informally with someone or some group to solve a problem in the community where you live? If YES, was this in the last 12 months or not?
  • Have you worked as a canvasser – having gone door to door for a political or
    social group or candidate?
  • In the past 12 months, did you contribute money to a candidate, a political
    party, or any organization that supported candidates?

Examples of measures from the Census Current Population Survey

Measures of political participation (CPS November 2008 Voting Supplement)

  • Did you vote in the election held on Tuesday, November4th 2008?
  • Were you registered to vote in the November 4, 2008 election?
  • What was the main reason you did not vote?

Measures of volunteering (CPS September 2007 Volunteering Supplement)

  • Since September 1st of last year, have you done any  volunteer activities through or for an organization?
  • How did you first become a volunteer? Did you approach the organization yourself, were you asked by someone, or did you become involved in some other way?
  • Who asked you to become a volunteer for this organization?

Measures of community engagement

  • Since September 1st, 2006, have you attend any public meetings in which there was a discussion of community affairs?
  • Since September 1st, 2006, have you worked with other people in your neighborhood to fix a problem or improve a condition in your community or elsewhere?

Examples of measures from the Civic Health Index 2009 Survey

Measures of political participation

  • Did you vote in the presidential election in 2008 (John McCain versus Barack Obama?)
  • Since the 2008 presidential campaign, have you done any of the following?: contacted, elected officials or the news media about any issue that was discussed during the campaign, tried to persuade freinds about an issue that was discussed during the campaign, tried to change local policies in a place like a school, workplace, college or neighborhood?
  • How often have you used the Internet to gather information about politics, a social issue, or a community problem?

Measures of volunteering

  • Since this time last year, have you done any volunteer activities through or for an organization?
  • Which organizations have you volunteered through or for in the last year?

Measures of community engagement

  • Are you a member of any nonprofit broad or committee that has a budget?
  • Have you allowed a relative to live in your home for a period of time because they needed a place to live?
  • Have you gave food or money to someone who isn’t a relative?
  • Have you submitted a letter or article for a magazine, newspaper or online publication?

Measures of civic knowledge

  • Some people seem to follow what’s going on in government and public affairs most of the time, whether there’s an election going on or not. Others aren’t that interested. How often do you follow what’s going on in government and public affairs?
  • Do you happen to know what job or political office is now held by Joe Biden?

Measures of social capital

  • Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services?
  • Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful or are they mostly looking out for themselves?

Examples of measures from CIRCLE working papers:

  • Measurement Models: Tapping Adolescents’ Civic Engagement, May 2007. This working paper (#55) by Constance A. Flanagan, Amy K. Syversten, and Michael D. Stout provides measures and scales pre-tested with 1,924 students ages 12-18.
  • Adolescent Development of Trust, September 2008: This working paper (#60) discusses what role trust plays among adolescents. Authors Connie Flanagan and Leslie Gallay from Penn State University developed measures of trust which were administered in the beginning of the semester, and then again at the end of the semester. These repeated measures were used in judging the role of trust in the lives of adolescents.
  • Democracy for Some: The Civic Opportunity Gap in High School, February 2008: This working paper (#59), written by Joseph Kahne and Ellen Middaugh studies high school civic opportunities and how demographics such as a student’s race, academic track and socioeconomic status “determines the availability of the school-based civic learning opportunity.” Their study used a survey to measure students experiences and their ability to: discuss current events, study important issues, interact with civic role models, work on service learning projects and engage in simulations.
  • Best Practices in Civic Education: Changes in Students’ Civic Outcomes, August 2007: This working paper (#57), written by Amy K. Syversten, Constance A. Flanagan & Michael D. Stout highlights “six promising approaches to civic education.” The teachers involved with the study used a variety of practices in their classes over the course of the Fall 2004 semester. Ultimately, these practices were aggregated to form three broader categories: Civic Skills, Civic Engagement and Awareness of Civic Issues & Concepts.
  • Developing Indicators and Measures of Civic Outcomes for Elementary School Students, June 2006: This working paper (#47), written by Bernadette Chi, JoAnn Jastrzab, and Alan Melchior discuss the importance of civic development for youths. Furthermore, it takes us step by step through the development of the new civic measures fr elementary school students.