Photo credit: Marvin Shaouni.
Our mission at Knight Foundation is to help people become informed and fully engaged in the lives of their communities so that democracy will thrive.
But what does it mean to be fully engaged? Does it mean helping a neighbor? Wearing the colors of your favorite local sports team? Attending a neighborhood festival or local arts event? Volunteering for and donating to good causes? Staying current on local issues? Expressing your point of view on social media or in a letter to the editor? Voting in local elections?
It could mean all of that and more.
But for argument’s sake, we can likely agree that sure signs of full engagement in a community would include knowing that a majority of community members who are eligible to be citizens are citizens; who are eligible to vote are registered; cast a ballot in local elections and feel informed about their choices; and feel responsibility for the civic commons and express that in a practical way.
Unfortunately, we know that few communities attain this level of engagement. One sign is most telling: While voter turnout in presidential elections rose to 57.5 percent in the 2012 election, the typical turnout for recent mayoral elections in large U.S. cities is a mere 25.8 percent. And the future doesn’t look particularly promising, with market research showing that today there is very little overlap between those who always vote in local elections and young, college-educated citizens.
What can be done to nudge behavior to encourage engagement? Rather than the exception, how can robust acts of citizenship become the default behavior?