Snapshot of American Political Action

Perhaps Americans contribute some of their time to another form of generosity, namely taking political action for charitable causes. As it turns out, this snapshot is the most dismal thus far, as the vast majority, 80 percent of Americans, spent no time taking political action for any charitable causes in the past year. An additional 6 percent did take political action in the past year but recorded no activity in the past month.15 In fact 8 percent of Americans spent one to five hours in the past month taking political action for charitable causes, and only a handful of Americans gave more time than that (see Figure 1.9). Thus while 21 percent of Americans spent time volunteering in the past month, only 13 percent spent time taking political action for charitable causes, a considerable drop in participation.

Mirroring our investigation in volunteering, we examine political action hours by availability status. The hours are so minimal that there are hardly any differences by work status, so the resulting pattern looks essentially the same as it does for volunteering.16 Overall, even when accounting for availability, the vast majority of Americans devote little or no time to taking political action, while a minority give substantial hours of time.

When we compare political action time to potential discretionary time, we again see a pattern similar to that of volunteering: 95 percent of Americans spend twice as much or more time on leisure as on political action each month. Only 4 percent spend about the same amount of time on both activities, and a mere 1 percent spend twice as much

Political action in past month, combined

figure 1.9 Political action in past month, combined.

or more time taking political action for charitable causes as they do on leisure.

In summary, the political action snapshot is even more dimmer than the volunteering snapshot, with 90 percent of Americans spending no time on political action in the past month. Financial resources again play a role but do not fully explain this dearth of action. Nor is this dearth entirely attributable to availability; as for volunteering, time spent on political action is severely outweighed by personal leisure time, with 95 percent of Americans spending at least twice as much time watching TV, surfing the Internet, or shopping as taking political action.

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