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LA County residents want to give back but they need direction, new poll shows

Citizens need a guide who can help them see how they can make a palpable difference, says USC’s poll director

Despite a strong desire to be active in their communities, many Los Angeles County residents are not involved because they don’t know what they can do and they don’t feel they can make an impact, according to a California Community Foundation/USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Eighty percent of respondents said they are willing to volunteer more in their communities to build a better LA County, and 65 percent said they would be willing to donate more money to noteworthy causes. However, only 29 percent described themselves as somewhat active in their community while 34 percent described themselves as not very involved but wished that they were.

Thirty-nine percent of LA County residents reported that one of their top reasons for not personally getting involved in their communities is because they are unsure of what they can do, and 31 percent reported that they didn’t feel that they could make a difference.

Providing residents with more apparent avenues to impact their communities could prove beneficial for nonprofit and civically minded organizations, said Dan Schnur, director of the CCF/USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Angelenos are motivated to get more involved in their communities, but they want to know that they can make a difference,” Schnur said. “What they need is a tour guide — someone who can help them to see how they can make a real difference.”

Antonia Hernández, president and CEO of the California Community Foundation, said, “We must raise awareness about the complex needs of LA County, find common ground across our diverse communities and provide residents with meaningful opportunities to contribute so that everyone is inspired to a play role in building a better region.”

Not enough time

The poll also found that it’s not only a lack of knowledge that holds people back; it’s a lack of time and motivation. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they are too busy and don’t have enough time to pitch in, and 42 percent reported they just don’t have enough money to contribute.

LA County residents’ motivations for getting involved in the community tend to be personal and individual rather than community-based, according to the poll.

Forty-four percent of residents said they would get more involved in their communities if they knew it would directly help their family, friends and neighbors; 24 percent reported they would pitch in if asked by a personal friend. Overall, 46 percent of LA County residents said they are motivated to action because doing so makes them feel good and 40 percent reported that it stems from a personal sense of compassion. Sixty-seven percent said they would get involved if they knew that their efforts would make a difference.

“LA County residents are results-oriented in their engagement, choosing to get involved in their communities most when they see that such involvement makes a tangible difference,” said Ben Winston, senior associate of the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “But their motivation is also very personal: Residents’ primary motivation for engaging is that, beyond helping others less fortunate, it makes them feel good and compassionate.”

Added Schnur, “People need to be shown that getting involved on behalf of a broader and collective activity can have the same benefits as personal action.”

When asked about different actions they could take to strengthen their communities, LA County residents consistently reported they believed these activities are only “somewhat effective.” For instance, 47 percent of residents said that donating clothes or other items is somewhat effective compared to 27 percent who said it is very effective; 43 percent reported that helping organize a local event is somewhat effective compared to 22 percent who said it is very effective. Residents do believe that voting in elections does make an impact: 44 percent found it to be “very effective.”

Latinos feel a greater sense of community and optimism

LA County residents report that their community identity is greater at the local level than in broader geographies.

A majority of residents — 52 percent — reported that they more closely agree with the statement “I consider myself first and foremost a member of my local neighborhood” compared to 48 percent who said they consider themselves “first and foremost a part of the county of Los Angeles.”

Residents are nearly split on the overall direction of the county. Fifty percent report that things in the county are going in the right direction while 49 percent said that things are seriously off track. However, residents are more optimistic about their neighborhoods, with 63 percent reporting that their neighborhoods are going in the right direction while 37 percent think they’re on the wrong track.

When it comes to the future of the quality of life in LA County, 46 percent of residents report that they think things will be worse off in five years, compared to 35 percent who think things will be better off. Latino residents were more optimistic about the future of the county, with 43 percent reporting that things will be better off versus worse off. Forty-nine percent of white residents reported that they believe things will be worse off versus better off.

In comparison, when residents were asked what they would most like to change about the county, they pointed to the community (40 percent), transportation (37 percent) and the economy (18 percent).

From a personal standpoint, traffic is the top concern for 55 percent of respondents. Physical safety of oneself and family members ranked next among 35 percent of the residents, followed by personal finances and making ends meet (31 percent) and crowded, substandard or unaffordable housing (31 percent).

In terms of positive qualities in LA County, 69 percent of residents report that there are a lot of opportunities to get involved in the county; 60 percent said that the quality of life is high; and 59 percent feel that people generally share their goals and values. In contrast, 70 percent of residents felt that people only look out for themselves, 54 percent felt that people do good deeds to make themselves look good rather than because it’s the right thing to do and 52 percent reported that people in their neighborhoods are not involved.

The California Community Foundation/USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and American Viewpoint, which polled 1,500 adult residents of Los Angeles County.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have registered to participate in Research Now’s online surveys and polls. The data has been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of adults in LA County. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the panel rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including but not limited to sampling error, coverage error and measurement error.

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LA County residents want to give back but they need direction, new poll shows

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