Three in Five Americans Support Required Public Service

Team Of Volunteers Picking Up Litter In Suburban Street

A recent Harris Poll finds that over half of adults (59%) agree that some sort of public service should be required of Americans, whether at the community, state, or national level.  Strong majorities of U.S. adults believe that requiring public service would be good for both communities (81%) and the country at the national level (77%).  Interestingly, though Democrats and Republicans tend to disagree with each other on most topics, this issue shows bipartisan support. 

  • Roughly three in five Republicans (58%), Democrats (61%), and Independents (58%) agree that some sort of public service should be required, and approximately four in five each agree that a public service commitment would be good for communities (83%, 84%, & 79%, respectively).
  • Majorities of each also believe requiring public service would be good for the country at the national level, though Democrats are slightly more gung ho (82% Democrats vs. 76% Republicans & 75% Independents).

However, there are elements to this concept that give Americans pause.  In particular, U.S. adults are split down the middle on whether a public service requirement would be a breach of Americans’ civil rights (50% agree/50% disagree).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,244 U.S. adults surveyed online between March 11 and 16, 2015.

Types of service

Asked to imagine that some form of public service was an American requirement, adults weighed in on what types of activities should count towards fulfilling that obligation. 

The top choices include working in a food bank/soup kitchen (67%) and cleaning up public areas (66%), followed by working in a shelter or with a program intended to help the homeless (60%), working in an animal shelter (57%), assisting at a hospital (53%), and participating in mentoring programs (53%). 

Half of Americans (50%) agree that working to help victims of domestic abuse should count towards such a requirement, with more women than men (54% vs. 45%, respectively) supporting this option.

On the other end of the spectrum, roughly or close to a third would approve of medical donations (such as blood or bone marrow donations – 34%), teaching at a school (32%), or working at a religious center or house of worship (31%) counting towards the obligation.  Doing humanitarian work in a foreign country earned the smallest amount of support, selected by only 22% of the population.

Money matters

So where do money and public service mix?  Seven in ten adults believe Americans should be able to lower their tax liability by providing “over and above” levels of public service (71%).

On the other hand, only 43% of adults believe that if public service were required, there should be an option to pay money toward subsidizing a program instead of participating.  52% of Millennials and 47% of Gen Xers support being able to pay instead of participating, but only 36% of Baby Boomers and 35% of Matures feel the same.

Commitment issues

Most Americans believe the public service requirement should be fulfilled over a limited amount of time (76%), though it’s worth noting that a fourth believe some form of service should be expected on an ongoing basis (24%).  A majority (60%) supports service periods of less than a year, more specifically with four in ten saying it should be less than 6 months (39%) and two in ten saying 6 months to less than 1 year of service (21%).  Smaller subsets favor 1 year to less than 2 years (12%) and between 2 and 5 years (4%).   

If public service were required over a limited period of time, over four in five Americans feel the commitment should amount to less than 10 hours per week (85%), with 26% believing it should be closest to 5 hours per week and 59% asserting that closer to 2 hours a week should be required. 

How old is old enough?

At 13 you become a teenager and by 17 (or earlier, depending on your state) you can drive a car.  18 year olds can enlist in the military and those 21 and over can drink alcohol.  But at what age do Americans believe you’re old enough to be expected to participate in public service?  According to roughly two in five adults, mandatory public service should begin between the ages of ten and fifteen (38%). Another three in ten each believe the start of service should wait until a person is sixteen or seventeen (29%) or eighteen or older (33%).

 

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 TABLE 1

REQUIRED PUBLIC SERVICE

 “On a different topic, how strongly do you agree or disagree that Americans should be required to participate in some sort of public service, whether at the community, state, or national level?”

Base: All Adults

 

Total

Party Identification

Rep

Dem

Ind

%

%

%

%

Agree (Net)

59

58

61

58

Strongly agree

23

22

24

24

Somewhat agree

36

36

37

34

Disagree (Net)

41

42

39

42

Somewhat disagree

20

19

19

22

Strongly disagree

21

23

20

21

Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.

 

 


TABLE 2a

TYPES OF PUBLIC SERVICE

By Education and Gender

“If public service were required of Americans, which of the following would you see as valid options for meeting, or applying toward, such a requirement?  Even if you don’t think public service should be required, please select those you feel would be valid forms of public service if there were such a requirement.  Please select all that apply.”

Base: All Adults

 

Total

Education

Gender

High School or Less

Some College

College Grad

Post Grad

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Working in a food bank/soup kitchen

67

66

66

63

76

60

73

Cleaning up public areas

66

65

68

63

69

66

65

Working in a shelter or with a program intended to help the homeless

60

57

62

57

68

55

64

Working in an animal shelter

57

58

58

55

57

50

63

Assisting at a hospital

53

51

53

52

63

51

55

Participating in mentoring programs

53

47

54

56

68

50

55

Working in a center or program to help victims of domestic abuse

50

47

54

46

57

45

54

Teaching in an extracurricular capacity (e.g., tutoring, coaching)

45

39

42

50

65

44

46

Answering calls for crisis hotlines

41

39

43

38

49

36

45

Military service (e.g., Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard)

39

35

38

41

54

44

34

Medical donations (e.g., blood, bone marrow, platelets)

34

35

34

34

37

32

36

Teaching at a school

32

28

30

31

53

31

33

Working at a religious center or house of worship

31

32

30

31

27

29

32

Humanitarian work in a foreign country

22

15

22

27

36

24

20

None of the above

11

11

11

14

7

13

10

 


TABLE 2b

TYPES OF PUBLIC SERVICE

By Political Philosophy

“If public service were required of Americans, which of the following would you see as valid options for meeting, or applying toward, such a requirement?  Even if you don’t think public service should be required, please select those you feel would be valid forms of public service if there were such a requirement.  Please select all that apply.”

Base: All Adults

 

Total

Political Philosophy

Conservative

Moderate

Liberal

%

%

%

%

Working in a food bank/soup kitchen

67

66

67

67

Cleaning up public areas

66

63

66

69

Working in a shelter or with a program intended to help the homeless

60

56

60

64

Working in an animal shelter

57

52

59

60

Assisting at a hospital

53

50

53

56

Participating in mentoring programs

53

49

52

60

Working in a center or program to help victims of domestic abuse

50

43

52

55

Teaching in an extracurricular capacity (e.g., tutoring, coaching)

45

38

47

50

Answering calls for crisis hotlines

41

37

40

50

Military service (e.g., Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard)

39

45

37

36

Medical donations (e.g., blood, bone marrow, platelets)

34

32

34

39

Teaching at a school

32

24

33

40

Working at a religious center or house of worship

31

38

29

24

Humanitarian work in a foreign country

22

16

20

32

None of the above

11

10

12

11


TABLE 3

LENGTH OF PUBLIC SERVICE

By Education and Gender

“If public service were required of Americans, which of the following best describes how long you think participation should last?”

Base: All Adults

 

Total

Education

Gender

High School or Less

Some College

College Grad

Post Grad

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Limited Time (NET)

76

72

80

77

76

79

73

Less than 6 months

39

39

43

37

25

37

40

6 months to less than 1 year

21

20

21

21

27

21

22

1 year to less than 2 years

12

8

11

16

18

14

9

2 years to less than 5 years

4

4

5

2

6

6

2

Some form of service should be expected on an ongoing basis

24

28

20

23

24

21

27

 


TABLE 4

HOURS OF PUBLIC SERVICE

By Generation and Gender

“If public service were required of Americans over a limited period (as opposed to on an ongoing basis), which of the following best fits with the number of hours you’d expect to be required per week?”

 

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials (18-37)

Gen X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

10 Hours Or More Per Week (NET)

15

12

12

18

20

19

11

40 hours per week

3

3

1

4

3

4

2

20 hours per week

2

2

1

3

3

3

2

10 hours per week

9

6

9

11

14

11

8

Less Than 10 Hours Per Week (NET)

85

88

88

82

80

81

89

5 hours per week

26

23

25

29

26

29

23

2 hours per week

59

65

64

53

54

52

66

Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.

 

 

TABLE 5

AGE TO START PUBLIC SERVICE

By Whether Respondents Support Mandatory Public Service

“If public service were required of Americans, which of the following best describes at what age you think such a requirement should begin?”

 

 

Total

Public Service Requirement

Agree

Disagree

%

%

%

10-12 years old

15

17

12

13-15 years old

23

27

18

16-17 years old

29

32

26

18-20 years old

21

16

28

21 years of older (NET)

11

8

16

21-25 years old

5

5

6

26 years or older

6

3

10

Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.


 

TABLE 6a

PUBLIC SERVICE STATEMENTS – SUMMARY GRID

“How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”

Base: All adults

 

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

%

%

%

%

%

%

Requiring public service would be good for communities.

81

40

42

19

11

8

Requiring public service would be good for the country at the national level.

77

36

41

23

13

9

Americans should be able to lower their tax liability by providing “over and above” levels of public service.

71

23

47

29

16

13

Requiring public service would be a breach of Americans’ civil rights.

50

22

28

50

26

23

If public service were required, there should be an option to pay money toward subsidizing a program instead of participating.

43

12

31

57

27

30

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 


TABLE 6b

PUBLIC SERVICE STATEMENTS – SUMMARY OF AGREE

By Generation, Parental Status, and Religious Status 

“How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation 

Parental Status

Religious

Millennials (18-37)

Gen X
(38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Parent of Child Under 18

Parent of Child 18+ Only or Not a Parent

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Requiring public service would be good for communities.

81

79

80

84

82

81

82

84

78

Requiring public service would be good for the country at the national level.

77

75

77

79

77

78

78

80

74

Americans should be able to lower their tax liability by providing “over and above” levels of public service.

71

75

70

69

66

74

70

73

68

Requiring public service would be a breach of Americans’ civil rights.

50

60

53

44

38

60

48

49

52

If public service were required, there should be an option to pay money toward subsidizing a program instead of participating.

43

52

47

36

35

50

42

43

44

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

 


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between March 11 and 16, 2015 among 2,244 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

 

The Harris Poll® #29 June 2, 2015

By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst