Civic awareness and engagement refers to how people feel, learn about, and take actions related to political, societal, or local issues. Measures of civic awareness and engagement include:
- Receiving civics education
- Voting, including presidential, midterm, and local elections
- Engaging with public officials and attending public meetings
- Keeping up with the news and posting views about it online
- Trusting government and local media
- The degree to which people feel they matter and can make an impact in their communities
- Obstacles and barriers to becoming engaged
Voting, Public Meetings, Contacting Public Officials, and Engaging with News
Overall, New Hampshire’s civic awareness and engagement is strong. Table 1 shows how New Hampshire ranks in comparison to other states.1
Data from the UNH Granite State Poll2 included questions about civic awareness and engagement related to:
- Trust in local government
- Trust in national government
- Trust in local media
- Whether the respondent received a civics education in grade school, such as how government works and how laws are enacted
- Whether respondents think they matter to other people in their community
- How much impact respondents think people like them can have in making their community a better place
- Whether respondents think they know how to become involved and participate in problem-solving in their community
- Whether respondents experience obstacles or barriers that make it difficult for them to be as involved in their community as they would like (including challenges related to work schedules or childcare, transportation, feeling they cannot make a difference, feeling unwelcome, or a lack of information and not knowing how to begin)
Results of the Granite State Poll indicate that:
- The majority of New Hampshire residents received civics education in school (81%), feel they matter to their community (76%), feel they can have an impact on making it better (77%), and trust local news media (57%).
- New Hampshire residents place some trust in local government (44%) but have much lower levels of trust in national government (14%).
- Just under half of New Hampshire residents (48%) say they face obstacles or barriers to community involvement. The most common obstacles are related to work schedules and childcare, inadequate transportation, or a lack of information or knowing how to begin.
Each of these indicators and findings will be discussed in greater detail later in the report.
Comparing Trends Over Time
In this section, we share some of the long-term trends related to civic awareness and engagement. As mentioned in our Technical Note, for various reasons we have different start and end points of longitudinal data, some of which has to do with the fact we are working with several different data sets in this report.
Granite Staters attend public meetings at higher rates than the national average, and this has been true for the past decade. See Figure 1.
When comparing U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey data from 2011 to 2017, civic health indicators have changed in the following ways:
- We are more connected with friends and family—Granite Staters are interacting with friends and family nearly 10% more than they were in 2011, up from 79.8% in 2011 to 89.2% in 2017.
- We are posting online considerably less—We have declined by nearly half in our use of the internet to express public opinions from 10.6% in 2011 to 5.8% in 2017.
- We are holding steady in contacting public officials—New Hampshire residents are contacting public officials at any level of government to express their opinions at about the same rates as they did in 2011 (16.9% in 2011 vs. 16.6% in 2017).
- We are holding steading in attending public meetings—Granite Staters attended public meetings at 16.3% in 2011 and 16.1% in 2017.
From 2001 to 2019, changes in the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey indicate the following:
- We trust national government considerably less than we used to—Trust in national government has fallen by more than half since 2001. In 2001, 30% of New Hampshire residents reported they trusted their government just “about always or most of the time,” but in 2019 this number declined to 14%. Further, the percent of New Hampshire residents who trust the national government “hardly ever” increased from 14% in 2001 to 40% in 2019.
- We trust local government less than we used to—Trust in local government also has declined. In 2001, 52% of New Hampshire residents reported they trust local government; in 2019, this decreased to 44%. Although New Hampshire residents are losing trust in government overall, trust in national government has declined much more rapidly than trust in local government. See Figure 2.
- We trust local media somewhat less than we used to—New Hampshire residents’ trust in local news media has fallen slightly in the last 18 years. In 2001, 61% of New Hampshire residents trusted the local news media some or a lot. In 2019, that declined to 57%.
Spotlight on Voting—Presidential, Midterm, and Local Elections
Overall, New Hampshire’s voting rates, whether in presidential, midterm, or local elections, are higher than national averages. There are some trends of note in recent years. Compared to prior elections, New Hampshire had the lowest voter turnout in over a decade in the 2016 presidential election, but one of the highest voter turnouts on record in 2020. In the 2018 midterm election, we had the highest voter turnout in forty years. These data suggest that although voting in national elections was declining since 2004, since 2018 we may be trending toward high voter turnout again for presidential and midterm elections.
Voter turnout in New Hampshire has been declining moderately since 2004, reflecting national trends. From 1996 to 2004, New Hampshire voter turnout trended upward, and in 2004 voter turnout spiked higher than it had been since 1980. However, since 2008, voter turnout has trended downward. In 2016, voter turnout was the lowest it has been since 2004.
However, New Hampshire still votes in presidential elections at much higher rates than the rest of the nation, with 69% of eligible voters voting in 2016 compared with 61.4% nationally. In the 2016 presidential election, New Hampshire ranked 5th in the nation for voter turnout.
As is true nationally, New Hampshire residents tend to vote at lower rates in midterm elections. In 2018, New Hampshire ranked 16th in the nation in midterm voting and voted slightly more than the national average. Figure 4 shows how voters in New Hampshire and the United States have turned out for midterm elections since 1978.
Overall Trends in New Hampshire Voting
Across all elections:
- Women voted more often than men.
- People over 30 voted significantly more than did people who were 18‒29.
- The more education people had, the more likely they were to vote.
There were also a few notable differences in New Hampshire elections, including:
- In 2017, New Hampshire residents voted at higher rates than the national average in local elections for offices such as school board or city council (52.8% vs. 48.3%). We ranked 25th in the nation for voting in local elections.
- There are geographic disparities in voting, particularly for midterm elections. Rural people voted at higher rates than urban and suburban residents in the 2016 national election.
- In the 2018 midterm election, rural people voted at 21 percentage points higher than urban people did, but in the presidential elections, the gap between rural and urban voting was less than 3 percentage points. In local elections, suburban residents voted more than both rural and urban residents.
- In presidential elections, individuals with a higher income were more likely to vote, but there were no clear trends by income in midterm or local elections.
- Similar to national trends, voting in national elections is associated with higher turnout than elections for state or local offices. Presidential-year elections saw the highest turnouts, followed by midterm voting. Local voting drew the lowest turnout. Regardless of year or office, New Hampshire is above national averages in voter turnout.
Trends by Demographics
This section highlights similarities and differences among various population subgroups, as defined by educational achievement, income, residence, age, and gender.
There was a relationship between education and civic awareness and engagement outcomes. On almost every measure, higher educational achievement levels were associated with higher levels of civic awareness and engagement. Figure 5 shows the relationship between a variety of civic activities and education levels.3
The relationship between civic awareness and engagement and income yielded more mixed results. As seen in Figure 6, higher and lower middle-income residents4 demonstrated the strongest civic health outcomes overall, with higher income people more likely to vote in local elections, and attend a public meeting. People in lower middle-income groups are more likely than all others to engage with news, contact a public official, and post views online. They were also more likely than most others to vote in local elections.
People living in rural and suburban regions tended to demonstrate higher levels of civic awareness and engagement than did urban residents, as seen in Figure 7. For example, rural residents were more likely to vote in presidential and midterm elections, attend public meetings, engage with public officials, and post views online.
- Engagement with news tends to increase as age increases—and the Silent and Long Generation engaged with news at a notable 24 percentage points higher than did Millennials as well as 14.6 percentage points more than Generation Xers.
- Generation Xers are going to more public meetings—Generation Xers attend public meetings much more than Millennials and slightly more than Baby Boomers and the Silent and Long Generation.
- Millennials are contacting public officials at lower rates than other generations—Generation Xers contact officials 7.4 percentage points more often than Millennials and the Silent and Long Generation does so 14.7 percentage points more often than Millennials.
People under 30 voted at significantly lower rates compared to those who are over 30 in the 2016 presidential and 2018 midterm elections. Generational data were not available for these indicators. See Figure 9.
Women and men vary in their civic awareness and engagement—Women and men demonstrated some differences in civic engagement and awareness. Women voted in local elections more than men did. Men engaged with news more than women and attended public meetings and contacted public officials slightly more. See Figure 10.
A large majority (81%) of New Hampshire residents reported that they received education about civics, such as how the government works or how laws are enacted, when they were in elementary or secondary school.
There were a few notable differences among those who reported they had received civics education in school:
- Republicans (87%) were more likely to report that they had received civics education in school than were Democrats (78%) or Independents (84%).
- New Hampshire residents who had received civics education were more likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election (84%) than were residents who had not received civics education (70%).
- There was a relationship between civics education and education levels overall. Those who had a high school education or less reported lower civics education levels than those who were college educated, and the more schooling that people had, the more likely they were to report they had experienced civics education in K-12 school. See Figure 11.
A Closer Look at Trust in Government and Media
Earlier in the 2020 Index, we reported on the degree to which New Hampshire residents trust local and national government and local media. As with the other indicators, we see differences in who trusts and how much.
Trust in Government
- Those who report lower levels of trust in government overall include political independents, women, those who attained a high school education or less, people who did not vote in 2016, and North Country residents.
- New Hampshire residents who are right-leaning politically demonstrate higher levels of trust in national government than do independents or left-leaning individuals.
- Those who frequently attend religious services demonstrate more trust in national government.
- Almost half (46%) of people who claim they do not trust the national government also did not vote in 2016. In contrast, 18% of people who claim they do not trust their local government also did not vote in 2016. This suggests trust in national government has more of a relationship to voting than does trust in local government.
- People who voted demonstrated rates of trust in the both the national and local government about ten percentage points higher than those who didn’t vote.6
- New Hampshire residents who received civics education (13%) place lower levels of trust in the national government than those who did not receive civics education (20%). Yet, those who did receive civics education (48%) were nearly twice as likely to trust local government than those who did not receive civics education (26%).
- As education levels increase, so does trust in local government. One-third (34%) of New Hampshire residents with a high school education or less trust local government compared with almost two-thirds (61%) who completed a professional or graduate degree.
Trust in Local Media
- Democrats (74%) were much more likely to trust local media than were Republicans (46%) or Independents (46%).
- Younger people (18-34 years old) were less likely to trust local media than were older generations, and the older that residents were, the more likely they were to trust local media.
- Women trust local media more than men do (64% versus 50%).
- Trust in local media was lower for those who did not vote. Twenty-six percent of people who did not vote in 2016 also indicated they did not trust the local news media, compared with 16% of people who did vote.
- Education levels and trust in local media appear strongly related—the more education people have, the more they trust local media. Those with a professional or graduate degree trusted local media at nearly double the rate (84%) than did those with a high school education or less (46%). See Figure 12.
Mattering to Your Community
For the first time, we asked New Hampshire residents if they believe they matter to their community.7 A version of this question has been asked in past years on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered nationally and in New Hampshire to 8th and 11th graders. For example, in 2017, the statewide average for young people who reported that they believe they matter to their community was 51.4%.8 We asked adult respondents in 2019 a similar question, thinking there may be a relationship between whether one believes they matter and whether and how they engage in civic life.
Overall, three-quarters (76%) of those surveyed believe they matter to other people in their community. However, feelings of mattering varied depending on the background of the person responding. Those who felt most strongly that they matter were politically right leaning individuals, people over 50 years of age, women, college graduates, and those who live in the North Country. As Figure 13 shows, believing one matters to their community varies somewhat across geographic regions.
The relationship between mattering and other indicators is also seen in these findings:
- Those who reported they had received civics education in high school agreed that they matter at much higher rates (80%) than people who did not receive civics education (56%).
- Women believe they matter (79%) somewhat more than men (73%).
- Older generations believe they matter at higher rates than do younger generations. People 50 to 64 years old (81%) or 65 or older (80%) strongly or somewhat agreed they matter more than people who were 35 to 49 (72%) or 18 to 34 (73%).
- Those with a high school education believe they matter at lower rates (65%) than did people with some college or technical school (84%), college graduates (81%), or those with a professional or graduate degree (77%).
- People who voted in 2016 (79%) believe that they matter to their community more than people who did not vote (64%).
Impact on Your Community
Over three-quarters (77%) of New Hampshire residents believe that people like themselves can have a big or moderate impact on making their community a better place to live. However, responses varied depending on the background of the individual—for instance, those who felt they could make the most impact include politically left leaning individuals, women, younger or middle-aged people, well-educated people, voters, people in the Seacoast region, those who attend religious services, and those who received civics education.
- Those who did not receive civics education were much less likely to think they could make an impact than those who received civics education. A notable 27% of individuals who did not receive civics education also felt they could make no impact at all on their communities. See Figure 14.
- Women (80%) were more likely than men (74%) to feel they could have a big or moderate impact.
- People who were 18 to 34 and 35 to 49 believe they could have an impact at higher levels (82%) than did those 50 to 64 (71%) or 65 or older (73%).
- There was a positive relationship between education levels and believing one could make an impact. Those with a high school degree or less believe they could make an impact at much lower levels than those with more education.
- Fifteen percent of those who did not vote in 2016 also believe people like them could make no impact at all on their community, compared with only 5% of people who did vote.
- Those who attend religious services at least weekly believe they could make an impact on their community at higher rates (84%) than those who attend a few times a year (77%) or never (73%).
Knowing How to Become Involved and Participate in Problem-Solving
A large majority (84%) of New Hampshire residents believe that they know how to become involved and participate in problem-solving in their community. As with other indicators, there was variability:
- Politically right leaning people are more likely than independents or left leaning people to report they know how to become involved and participate.
- People aged 18-34 were less likely than other age groups to report that they know how to get involved and participate in problem-solving.
- Individuals who voted in 2016 (86%) were more likely to respond positively than individuals who did not vote (74%).
- Those who received civics education were more likely (86%) than those who had not (73%) to report they know how to get involved and problem-solve locally.
- Women (86%) were slightly more likely than men (82%) to say they know how to be involved in their communities.
- As education level increases, respondents are more likely to report that they know how to get involved. See Figure 15.
Obstacles and Barriers to Engagement
We asked New Hampshire residents if they felt there were obstacles or barriers that make it difficult for them to be as involved with their community as they would like to be. In 2019, just under half of New Hampshire residents (48%) said that they face obstacles or barriers to community involvement, somewhat higher than the proportion who reported facing obstacles or barriers in 2001 (40%).
Those who felt they faced barriers or obstacles were asked whether they experienced any of the following, and to what degree. Figure 16 shows how important those barriers are.
Figure 17 compares responses in 2001 and 2019 on this question. Generally, residents experienced greater barriers to engagement in the 2019 survey, with the exception of “lack of information.”
How Voting Connects with Barriers and Obstacles
There was a notable relationship between those who did not vote in 2016 and those who reported that they experienced barriers or obstacles to getting involved in their community. Fifty-three percent of those who did not vote in 2016 felt there were obstacles and barriers that made it difficult for them to become as involved in their community as they would like, compared with 47% of people who did vote. Figure 18 shows the relationship between voting and obstacles/barriers. Of particular note is the fact that almost all of the people who did not vote in 2016 (97%) reported that a demanding or inflexible work schedule or childcare issues was an obstacle in their community involvement. People who did not vote in 2016 were also more likely to report transportation as a barrier to engaging in their community. In general, we see a relationship between voting behavior and experiencing barriers to other forms of civic engagement.
Other Trends Related to Obstacles and Barriers
- Republicans reported fewer barriers and obstacles to getting involved than those who identified as Democrat or unaffiliated.
- Women reported more barriers to involvement than did men, in particular reporting that work schedules and childcare were very important barriers. Women also reported feeling more unwelcome than did men.
- New Hampshire residents with a high school education or lower reported more barriers or obstacles to engagement overall, particularly related to work schedules, childcare, not knowing where to start, and feeling they would be unable to make a difference.
- People under 49 tended to report more barriers than did people over 49. Most of these barriers were felt most acutely by those 18 to 34; however, those 35 to 49 struggled in particular with work schedules and childcare, and those 65 or older reported feeling they could not make a difference.
- Regional barriers and obstacles tended to vary, although Manchester, Connecticut Valley, and the Massachusetts border regions reported more barriers than those in other regions.
- Although questions are often raised in New Hampshire about the challenges of transportation in rural areas, Manchester residents reported the most transportation challenges compared to all other regions, followed by the Seacoast. In fact, 36% of Manchester residents claimed transportation was a very important barrier, compared with only 16% of residents in the North Country or in the Central/Lakes Region.
- North Country residents (41%) reported feeling they could not make a difference at much higher rates than those who lived near the Massachusetts border (25%), Connecticut Valley (21%), Manchester area (17%), Central/Lakes Region (16%), or Seacoast (16%). North Country residents were also more likely to report feeling unwelcome than those in other regions.
- Individuals who did not have civics education in school experienced more barriers and obstacles to community involvement than did those who had civics education. In particular, 80% of those who did not have civics education reported that a lack of information or knowing where to start was a barrier compared with 57% of those who did have civics education. Those who did not have civics education (76%) were also much more likely than those who did (46%) to feel they could not make a difference.
. See Technical Note for more information about our data sources. All data in Table 1 are from the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Voting in New Hampshire, 2018, except for the presidential voting, which is from 2016.
. The UNH Granite State Poll data were run by the UNH Survey Center and included questions from the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey as well as some original questions the researchers of this report created. See the Technical Note for more information.
. Unfortunately, we were not able to examine data of those with less than a high school education because the percentage of individuals with less than a high school education in New Hampshire were very small. However, this is important data to explore, and we suggest that future studies try to look at intersections between less than a high school education and civic outcomes.
. Higher income individuals were categorized as those earning $75,000 or more, Middle income as $50,000-$74,999, Lower Middle income as $35,000 to $49,999, and Lower income as less than $35,000.
. The generational breakdown is: Millennials, born 1982-1995; Generation X, born 1981-1965; Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964; and, Silent and Long Generation, born before 1930-1945. There were not generational data available for the presidential and midterm voting categories.
. For instance, for those who voted in 2016, 16% expressed trust in local government, but for those who did not vote, only 7% expressed trust in local government. 45% of those who voted in 2016 expressed trust in national government but for those who did not vote, only 36% expressed trust in national government.
. The exact wording of the question was “Do you agree or disagree that you feel like you matter to other people in your community?”
. 2017 Youth risk behavior survey results. New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/hsdm/documents/hs-summary-yrbs-results-2017.pdf.