The Gift of Time: The Impact of Political and Human Nature Perspectives on the Decision to Volunteer

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Title: The Gift of Time: The Impact of Political and Human Nature Perspectives on the Decision to Volunteer
Author: Holsopple, Elizabeth Hatch
Advisors: Andrew Taylor, Chair
Robert Entman, Member
Oliver Williams, Member
Abstract: This study examines the relationship between a person's volunteer activity and their attitude toward government involvement in social programs, feelings of efficacy in the political system and interest in politics in general. The connection between political views and volunteering is an important one to consider when evaluating public outcry against government intrusion into what some claim is a community's prerogative to take care of their own. Does the outcry emanate from citizens who shoulder responsibility for communal problems and involve themselves in its activities and needs? In addition, the analysis tests part of Robert Putnam's Social Capital Theory by evaluating its role in determining who volunteers in America. It seeks to prove that an individual's positive feelings of trust, helping behavior and fairness in others are a motivating force behind his or her decision to volunteer. Finally, the study attempts to confirm that those who read the newspaper more and watch television less are more apt to give time back to their communities. Survey data from the 1996 General Social Survey was used to create an index measurement of the dependent volunteering variable. Next, indexes were created to gauge both a person's feeling of efficacy within the political system and their attitude towards government's role in supporting social programs. When tested against the dependent variable, survey respondents' views regarding personal efficacy within the political system, faith in American democracy in general, and support for government responsibility in multiple social areas did not play a significant role in determining whether or not a person volunteered. Supporting existing literature, however, interest in politics in general did have a positive and significant relationship to volunteering. The same volunteer index was tested against various factors that were considered to approximate aspects of Putnam's theory. Time spent watching television did not have an impact on the level of volunteering among respondents to the survey. Similarly, frequency of reading the newspaper did not increase one's propensity to volunteer, despite the findings of Putnam which positively associated news reading with stronger levels of social trust and group membership. The variable asking respondents whether people are helpful most of the time, versus people look out for themselves, did not have a significant effect on the dependent variable. However, an individual's opinion that it is important to teach children to help others yielded the strongest positive standardized coefficient within its particular model than all other independent variables tested in the analysis. Finally, the feeling that people are fair and can be trusted had a small, yet significant, effect on the volunteer variable. In keeping with Putnam's argument, trust makes volunteering more likely, and that increased involvement in one's community — in theory — could encourage an even greater level of community efficacy and trust.
Date: 2001-04-19
Degree: MA
Discipline: Political Science

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