5 Things About Americans’ Slipping Sense of Duty

Connie Cass, ABC News, December 29, 2014

Americans are a little less likely to ask what they can do for their country these days.

An Associated Press-GfK poll found that the sense of duty has slipped since a similar survey three decades earlier. Civic virtues such as staying informed or serving on a jury don’t seem as important as they once did, especially among the younger generation.

The findings fit with research that’s been worrying many experts who study civic engagement or advocate for teaching more about civics in school.

“I don’t see any recovery,” said Rutgers University Professor Cliff Zukin. “The people who were 40 two decades ago aren’t as engaged as the people who were 60 two decades ago. This generational slippage tends to continue.”

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An Associated Press-GfK poll repeated questions asked in 1984 about six civic-minded activities: voting, volunteering, serving on a jury, reporting crime, knowing English and keeping informed about news and public issues.

Of the six, only voting and volunteering were embraced about as strongly as three decades ago, when NORC at the University of Chicago posed those questions to Americans on the General Social Survey, but volunteering doesn’t rank very high on the list for many.

While just 28 percent say volunteering is “a very important obligation” that a citizen owes the country, three-fourths of Americans consider voting central to citizenship.

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Despite some sliding, Americans still think U.S. citizenship carries some duties as well as rights.

About 9 out of 10 say that reporting a crime you witness, voting in elections, knowing English and serving on a jury when called are at least “somewhat important” obligations.

And each of those is still rated “very important” by a majority. It’s just that, except in the case of voting, those majorities have slipped by an average of about 13 percentage points.

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In every category except volunteering, adults under 30 were less likely than their elders to see any obligation, and also felt less obliged than young people of the past.

In 2014 about a fourth of them said there’s no duty to keep informed, volunteer or speak English.

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Americans don’t feel much pressure to keep up with news and public issues anymore.

Only 37 percent think that’s very important, down from a majority, 56 percent, in 1984.

In fact, a fifth say there’s no obligation at all to stay fully informed.

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