Getting My Research Project Started

  • Course: Data Management and Visualization by Wesleyan University
  • Assignment: Developing a Research Question and Creating Your Personal Code Book (Week 1)
  • Working Title: Trust, Optimism and Civic Participation in A Cross-Sectional Study

1. Data Set and Research Question

  • Data Set: Outlook on Life Surveys
  • Research Question: Is it possible to establish a relationship between trust, optimism and civic participation in the data from the Outlook on Life Surveys, and if so, how is this relationship shaped?

2. Topics of interest

When looking at the total voting age population the United States have a low voter turnout compared with the global average[1]. Voter turnout in most European countries has been declining since the 1980s[2][3]. This leads to a de facto legitimatory deficit of de jure democratic governments.

I am particularly interested in the question as to what may be possible causes for a generally low or declining voter turnout. Voting is one form of civic participation, but I want to look into other forms of civic participation as well.

After looking through the codebook for the Outlook on Life Survey, I first want to look into in the association of trust towards institutions and other people, and optimism.

>> Primary topic of interest: Trust and Optimism

In a second step I want to analyze how these constructs relate to civic participation.

>> Secondary topic of interest: Trust, Optimism and Civic Participation

I am not sure yet which variables I will use regarding these constructs, so for now I will include all of the following variables in my personal codebook.

3. Codebook

3.1 Trust in institutions

  • W1_K1_A: [The government in Washington ] How much do you think you can trust the following institutions?
  • W1_K1_B: [The police ] How much do you think you can trust the following institutions?
  • W1_K1_C: [The legal system ] How much do you think you can trust the following institutions?
  • W1_K1_D: [Public schools ] How much do you think you can trust the following institutions?

3.2 Trust in people

  • W2_QN1: Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?
  • W2_QN2: Do you think more people would try to take advantage of you if they got the chance or would they try to be fair?

3.3 View Of The Future: Optimistic vs Pessimistic

  • W1_F1: When you think about your future, are you generally optimistic, pessimistic, or neither optimistic nor pessimistic?
  • W1_F1A: Are you extremely [optimistic/pessimistic], moderately [optimistic/pessimistic], or slightly [optimistic/pessimistic]?
  • W1_F2: And when you think about the future of the United States as a whole, are you generally optimistic, pessimistic, or neither optimistic nor pessimistic?
  • W1_F2A: Are you extremely [optimistic/pessimistic], moderately [optimistic/pessimistic], or
    slightly [optimistic/pessimistic]?
  • W1_F6: How far along the road to your American Dream do you think you will ultimately get on a 10-point scale where 1 is not far at all and 10 nearly there?
  • W2_QE1: When you think about your future, are you generally optimistic, pessimistic, or neither optimistic nor pessimistic?
  • W2_QE1A: Are you extremely [optimistic/pessimistic], moderately [optimistic/pessimistic], or slightly [optimistic/pessimistic]?
  • W2_QE2: And when you think about the future of the United States as a whole, are you generally optimistic, pessimistic, or neither optimistic nor pessimistic?
  • W2_QE2A: Are you extremely [optimistic/pessimistic], moderately [optimistic/pessimistic], or slightly [optimistic/pessimistic]?
  • W2_QE3: How far along the road to your American Dream do you think you will ultimately get on a 10-point scale where 1 is not far at all and 10 nearly there?

3.4 Social capital

  • W1_L1_A: [A professional association ] Indicate whether you have participated in the activities of this group in the past 12 months.
  • W1_L1_C: [A cultural organization that puts on plays, music or dance concerts, attends concerts, theater or museums together] Indicate whether you have participated in the activities of this group in the past 12 months.
  • W1_L2_1: [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] Are you a member of any of the following groups/organizations/movements?
  • W1_L2_2: [National Urban League] Are you a member of any of the following groups/organizations/movements?
  • W1_L2_3: [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] Are you a member of any of the following groups/organizations/movements?
  • W1_L2_4: [Tea Party Movement] Are you a member of any of the following groups/organizations/movements?
  • W1_L2_5: [Occupy Wall Street Movement] Are you a member of any of the following groups/organizations/movements?
  • W1_L2_REFUSED: [Refused] Are you a member of any of the following
    groups/organizations/movements?
  • W1_M5: How often do you attend religious services?
  • W1_M6: Aside from attending regular services, in the past 12 months have you been an active member of your church or place of worship?
  • W2_QN3 Do you have any neighbors that you know and talk to regularly?
  • W2_QN4 About how many neighbors do you talk to regularly? Would that be just one, two or three, four or five, or more than five?
  • 3.5 Voting Behaviour In Elections

    • W1_A4: In 2008, John McCain ran on the Republican ticket against Barack Obama who ran on the Democratic ticket. Do you remember whether or not you voted in that election?
    • W1_A5A: Who did you vote for?
    • W1_A5B: Who would you have voted for?
    • W2_QB1A: Which one of the following best describes what you did in the elections that were held November 6th? (Missing Data: 30.2 %)
    • W2_QB1B: If you had to guess, would you say that you probably did vote in the elections, or probably did not vote in the elections? (Missing Data: 99.3 %)
    • W2_QB1C: How about the election for President? Did you vote for a candidate for President? (Missing Data: 99.8 %)
    • W2_QB1D: Who did you vote for? (Missing Data: 99.9 %)
    • W2_QB2A: How about the elections for other state and local offices, did you vote a straight ticket or did you vote for candidates from different parties? (Missing Data: 30.2 %)
    • W2_QB3: How often would you say you vote? (Missing Data: 30.2 %)

    Commentary: W2_QB1A and W2_QB1B refer to Presidential United States elections on November 6th 2012.

    3.6 Civic Participation

    • W1_L1_B: [A political party, club, or association] Indicate whether you have participated in the activities of this group in the past 12 months.
    • W1_L3: In the last twelve months, have you worked with others or joined an organization in your community to do something about some community problem?
    • W1_L4_B: [Attended a protest meeting or demonstration ] Please indicate if you have done any of the following activites in the last 2 years.
    • W1_L4_C: [Taken part in a neighborhood march ] Please indicate if you have done any of the following activites in the last 2 years.
    • W1_L4_D: [Signed a petition in support of something or against something ] Please indicate if you have done any of the following activites in the last 2 years.
    • W1_L5_A: [Helped in a voter registration drive ] Please indicate whether or not you have engaged in these political activities in the last TWO years? Have you…
    • W1_L5_B: [Given people a ride to the polls on election day ] Please indicate whether or not you have engaged in these political activities in the last TWO years? Have you..
    • W1_L5_C: [Given money to a political candidate ] Please indicate whether or not you have engaged in these political activities in the last TWO years? Have you….
    • W1_L5_D: [Attended a fund raiser for a candidate ] Please indicate whether or not you have engaged in these political activities in the last TWO years? Have you…
    • W1_L5_E: [Handed out campaign material or placed campaign material on cars ] Please indicate whether or not you have engaged in these political activities in the last TWO years ? Have you…
    • W1_L5_F: [Signed a petition supporting a candidate who was running for office ] Please indicate whether or not you have engaged in these political activities in the last TWO years? Have you…
    • W1_M8: Have you talked to people about political matters at your church or place of worship?

    4. Literature

    Search terms used: trust, optimism, social capital, community, civic engagement, civic participation, activism, democracy.

    • Putnam, R. D. (1996). The strange disappearance of civic America. Policy: A Journal of Public Policy and Ideas, 12(1), 3.

      Robert D. Putnam argues that American society has become disconnected. Trust in other people has fallen, which has led many to recoil from civic life and social ties. Lower participation “in many conventional voluntary assiciations” and “sharp declines in many measures of collective political participation” are observable (based on data from General Social Surveys). The decline in trust and social capital is strongly linked to the fall in civic engagement. “The culprit is television. […] TV viewing is strongly and negatively related to social trust and group membership […] heavy viewers are more likely to be loners.” Television absorbs free time and destroys social capital by time displacement and effects on the outlooks on viewers: “heavy watchers are unusually skeptical about the benevolence of other people – overestimating crime rates, for example.“ Possible effects on children are as follows: “[…] heavy television watching probably increases aggressiveness […] probably reduces school achievement, and [.] it is statistically associated with ‘psychosocial malfunctioning’ […].”

    • Uslaner, E. M. (1998). Social capital, television, and the “mean world”: Trust, optimism, and civic participation. Political psychology, 19(3), 441-467.

      “When measures of optimism were used as determinants of trust in the estimation of a simultaneous equation model, the effects of television vanished. There is no support for the argument that television makes us less trusting because of the content of the shows we watch, or for the argument that television makes us withdraw from civic engagement because of the amount of time consumed by viewing.”

      “[.] there is plenty of evidence that optimism leads to trust, which in turn plays an important role in fostering civic engagement.” However “Because I made no attempt to link trust, optimism, and civic engagement over time, I have not solved Putnam’s (1996) puzzle of the ‘strange disappearance of social capital.’”

    • Center, R. (2006). Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, 2000.

      Nearly 30,000 people included the largest-ever survey on the civic engagement of Americans: “In the survey, we look at how connected we are to family, friends, neighbors and civic institutions on a local and national level. These connections – our Social Capital – are the glue that hold us together and enable us to build bridges to others.”

    • Putnam, R. D. (2007). E pluribus unum: Diversity and community in the twenty‐first century the 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture. Scandinavian political studies, 30(2), 137-174.

      Based on the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey Robert D. Putnam concludes that: other things being equal, more diversity in a community is associated with less trust both between and within ethnic groups, putting into question both the contact hypothesis and conflict theory in inter-ethnic relations.

      Lower trust is also associated with:

      • lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media;
      • lower perception of political self-efficacy;
      • lower frequency of registration to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups;
      • higher political advocacy, but lower expectations that it will bring about a desirable result;
      • less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action;
      • less likelihood of working on a community project;
      • less likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering;
      • fewer close friends and confidants;
      • less happiness and lower perceived quality of life;
      • more time spent watching television and more agreement that “television is my most important form of entertainment”.

    5. Hypotheses

    1. Trust and Optimism are strongly related.
    2. Trust and Optimism are strongly related to Civic Participation.

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