Civic Engagement

In his new book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam attempts to quantify what he views as the crumbling character of American civic life by taking a closer look at public attitudes and community participation. Among the 48 continental states, Massachusetts fares better than most. In Putnam’s composite index of “social capital,” which takes into account many measures of community involvement and cohesion, Massachusetts ranks a respectable 18th. The state also finishes in the top half of the nation in most individual measures. On average, Bay State residents attended 7.4 club meetings (24th) and held 12.2 at-home get-togethers (tied for 14th) in the last year; 24 percent went to at least one meeting on local matters (9th). Forty eight percent of Massachusetts residents felt “most people can be trusted” (18th) and 59 percent made it to the polls in the 1988 and ’92 presidential elections (tied for 14th).

Rank State Comprehensive Social
Capital Index †
1. North Dakota 1.71
2. South Dakota 1.69
3. Vermont 1.42
4. Minnesota 1.32
5. Montana 1.29
6. Nebraska 1.15
7. Iowa 0.98
8. New Hampshire 0.77
9. Wyoming 0.67
10. Washington 0.65
11. Wisconsin 0.59
12. Oregon 0.57
13. Maine 0.53
14. Utah 0.50
15. Colorado 0.41
16. Kansas 0.38
17. Connecticut 0.27
18. Massachusetts 0.22
19. Missouri 0.10
20. Idaho 0.07
21. Arizona 0.06
22. Michigan 0.00
23. Delaware -0.01
24. Rhode Island -0.06
25. Indiana -0.08
26. Oklahoma -0.16
27. Ohio -0.18
28. California -0.18
29. Pennsylvania -0.19
30. Illinois -0.22
31. Maryland -0.26
32. Virginia -0.32
33. New Mexico -0.35
34. New York -0.36
35. New Jersey -0.40
36. Florida -0.47
37. Arkansas -0.50
38. Texas -0.55
39. Kentucky -0.79
40. North Carolina -0.82
41. West Virginia -0.83
41. West Virginia -0.83
43. Tennessee -0.96
44. Louisiana -0.99
45. Alabama -1.07
46. Georgia -1.15
47. Mississippi -1.17
48. Nevada -1.43
Courtesy Robert Putnam
 

State Most People Can Be Trusted • Club Mettings Attended Last Year • • Times Entertained At Home Last Year • • Attended Meeting On Local Affairs in Last Year • • • Election Turnout 1988 & 1992 • • • •
Alabama 23% 6.4 9.5 14% 51%
Arizona 47% 6.8 11.6 23% 50%
Arkansas 29% 7.7 11.6 15% 51%
California 43% 7.3 11.6 18% 48%
Colorado 46% 8.1 11.4 21% 59%
Connecticut 49% 7.7 12.7 20% 61%
Delaware 24% 6.9 12.2 22% 53%
Florida 37% 7.4 11.8 14% 47%
Georgia 38% 6.5 9.3 10% 43%
Idaho N/A 8.1 10.9 N/A 62%
Illinois 44% 7.7 11.8 14% 56%
Indiana 43% 8.5 11.2 17% 54%
Iowa 56% 8.7 13.2 23% 62%
Kansas 55% 8.1 11.1 22% 58%
Kentucky 32% 5.7 10.1 18% 51%
Louisiana 33% 5.8 10.2 15% 56%
Maine N/A 8.1 12.6 23% 67%
Maryland 42% 7.3 11.2 11% 51%
Massachusetts 46% 7.4 12.2 24% 59%
Michigan 51% 7.2 12.2 21% 58%
Minnesota 63% 8.2 12.5 25% 69%
Mississippi 17% 6.0 9.9 13% 52%
Missouri 44% 7.9 12.1 20% 58%
Montana 64% 8.6 12.0 23% 66%
Nebraska N/A 9.8 12.3 25% 60%
Nevada N/A 4.5 9.5 N/A 47%
New Hampshire 62% 7.0 13.1 33% 59%
New Jersey 41% 8.1 12.4 14% 54%
New Mexico N/A 7.0 11.2 25% 50%
New York 40% 8.1 12.3 10% 49%
North Carolina 27% 6.9 10.3 13% 47%
North Dakota 67% 10.9 12.1 N/A 64%
Ohio 41% 7.9 11.3 16% 58%
Oklahoma 39% 7.4 10.6 18% 55%
Oregon 55% 7.5 12.8 25% 62%
Pennsylvania 44% 7.3 11.8 15% 52%
Rhode Island 52% 6.7 13.4 17% 56%
South Carolina 34% 7.0 9.9 14% 42%
South Dakota 56% 10.5 12.2 25% 64%
Tennessee 36% 6.5 9.6 15% 49%
Texas 33% 6.5 10.1 19% 47%
Utah 54% 6.0 9.5 29% 63%
Vermont 59% 7.9 12.3 N/A 63%
Virginia 38% 6.6 10.1 22% 50%
Washington 46% 8.1 12.5 21% 57%
West Virginia 30% 7.1 10.4 11% 49%
Wisconsin 52% 7.8 12.5 26% 65%
Wyoming 60% 8.1 10.4 N/A 57%
48 State Average 44% 7.5 11.4 19.1% 55%

 

Sources: •General Social Survey, 1974-96; • •DDB Needham Lifestyle archive, 1975-98; • • • Roper Social and Economic Trends archive, 1974-94; • • • •US Census Bureau.