Study shows Texans enjoy yet barely interact in their communities

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More than 82 percent of Texans like living in their communities, yet only 43 percent of Texans interact with neighbors at least once a week, according to a report by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. 

The research institute’s mission is to “understand and overcome civil disengagement.” The report, released on Feb. 14, highlighted the strong positivity Texans and Americans feel among their communities but also the troubling level of disengagement that accompanies it. 

The report showed more than half of Americans and Texans are not members of any group or organization in their community. According to the report, the lowest participation of respondents was in charitable or service organizations at under 10 percent and the greatest participation was in religious organizations at more than 26 to 28 percent for Americans and Texans, respectively.

The study also addressed how one’s political affiliations tie into their community engagement. Both Republicans and Democrats were close in their engagement with charitable or service organizations but Republicans were more likely than Democrats to engage in other groups such as sports leagues, neighborhood associations and most of all, religious organizations.

Institute director Susan Nold said the report’s overall figures of community participation showed troubling signs.

“While I am pleased that most Americans and Texans have positive feelings toward their communities, I am concerned by the levels of disengagement captured in this survey,” Nold said in an email. “Group membership is not a reality for most Americans and Texans.”

The report also showed Americans and Texans rarely have political disagreements with one another, though the person they talk to most about politics are typically their spouse, partner or significant other. Less than 10 percent of the sample discussed politics with their neighbor.

The low level of political disagreement was portrayed more strikingly along party lines.

“In Texas, 68 percent of Republicans rarely disagree while 64 percent of Democrats rarely disagree,” the report showed.

Nold said technology may contribute to the creation of an insular environment for political discourse.

“These findings are of concern because we live in an age when people can feel totally connected to others and to the world without even leaving their homes,” Nold said.

However, Nold said there are encouraging signs in the data in that more education leads to more community engagement.

“Proponents of education will find good news in this report because throughout the report we see that those who are more educated are also more engaged in their communities,” Nold said. “Without question, education is a catalyst for accessing many of the advantages of one’s community.”