Interested Bystanders Research Release

Interested Bystanders Research Release

For the past year or so, I’ve been working with a team at the Google Civic Innovation portfolio – John Webb, Chris Chapman, and Charlotte Krontiris – to understand what motivates everyday Americans to do things that are civic.

I’ve shared some press on this work before, but I’m thrilled to finally be able to share the full findings report and an accompanying deck on the Google Politics blog.

See below for some top insights, and please consider reading the full report for a more expansive set of insights, some Bystander “archetypes” that drove internal product ideation, and the results of a quantitative survey that pioneered the use of discrete choice modeling to conduct a “market segmentation” of the civic spectrum.

Top insights

  • According to our research, almost half of the United States adult population could be considered “Interested Bystanders” – 48.9% of people are paying attention to issues around them, but not actively voicing their opinions or taking action on those issues.
     
  • There is a misalignment between how Interested Bystanders think they should engage civically, and the ways they actually engage. Interested Bystanders are not taking the political actions they say they value. On the flip side, they underrate what they are actually doing now as civic actors. While Interested Bystanders associate the political aspects of civic life with conflict, shame, and negative experiences, they are attracted to the aspects that are about community involvement and social relationships.
     
  • While Interested Bystanders say that power comes from having a voice, they are disinclined to share their own opinions. Additionally, many Interested Bystanders are uninterested in hearing the opinions of other people.
     
  • While many Interested Bystanders believe they have the most power at the local level — either because they have greater ability to influence others in their immediate circles, or because they feel proportionally more important in a smaller population — most participants reported voting only at the national level, indicating a tension between their voting choices and their own sense of efficacy.
     
  • When they do take civic action, Interested Bystanders do things that meet the public interest most often when it aligns with their self interest. They tell us that they are most often motivated by one of three reasons: 1) they have personal or professional experiences to bring to bear, 2) they have personal interests at stake, or 3) they wanted the satisfaction of an emotionally meaningful experience.
Personal Democracy Forum 2015: Understanding America's Interested Bystanders

Personal Democracy Forum 2015: Understanding America's Interested Bystanders

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