Civic Language + Civic Education


In March, PACE released new data as part of its Civic Language Perceptions Project. The data shares results from a November 2021 nationally representative survey of 5000 Americans that asked their perceptions and associations related to 21 terms often used in “civic engagement and democracy” work. (A full recap of the survey and data release can be found here, including an outline of the words tested.)

The survey resulted in 16,000 pages of data, which means that PACE can’t–and shouldn’t–be the only group looking at the data and making meaning of what it is telling us about how Americans feel about these terms. For this reason, PACE is hosting a series of deep dive sessions in the immediate months following the data’s release. These deep dives are designed to share the findings that PACE is pulling out of the data on specific topics, but more importantly, to invite others to share what analysis they are pulling from the data and how it is impacting their work.

On April 13th, PACE hosted its first deep dive session, looking at the impact of civic education on civic language. You can find the recording of the session here and below and a link to the slide deck here. During the session, we also released a Civic Language + Civic Education infographic.

Data by Citizen Data. Design by Cameron Blossom. Find more at

Across the presented analysis and subsequent discussion, these learnings emerged:

  • Civic education is shown to have a great effect on how familiar respondents were to civic language terms and how they perceived civic language. Those who had civic education were 11% more likely to be familiar with the various terms tested than those who did not.
  • When asked what civic activities (voting, volunteering, etc) people thought were important to ensure democracy works… (1) people with and without civic education ranked activities the same, though in a slightly different order, (2) both groups thought voting was the most important activity, though there was a considerable differential between the two groups (75% for those with civic education; 57% for those without), (3) 20% of people without civic education thought none of the participatory activities were important to ensure democracy works (ranked 6th out of 14). That percentage dropped to 5% for people with civic education (ranked 13th out of 14), (4) the median number of activities selected was 3 for people with civic education and 2 for people without.
  • In terms of how people define the word democracy, people with civic education think it is best defined as a structure of government. That number goes down for people without civic education, and a slightly bigger percentage of people without civic education favor democracy as a form of self-governance or a way to prioritize marginalized voices.
  • In terms of how people define civic engagement, almost 60% of people with civic education think civic engagement is both a way to influence government and a way to help communities. People without civic education are a little more split and they have over double the percentage of people that selected “other.”
  • Across the ideological spectrum, perceptions of most terms are more positive among those who have civic education. This was true for terms like diversity and justice as well as liberty and patriotism and democracy and common ground. This seems like a promising finding supporting the need for civic education, and potentially suggests that civic education isn’t associated with more positive or negative views of “partisan” terms (those liked differently across political groups). Credit: Dr. Parissa Ballard, Wake Forest University.
  • Across the board, those without a civic class were consistently more likely than those with a civic education to say they have “No Opinion” about the different groups of people and terms that they were asked to associate. Drilling down, those with a civic education are more likely (30%) than those without a civic education to rate progressives/liberals (25%) more coldly (between 0–4). Conservatives are rated more warmly by those with a civic education (36% rated them between 7–10) than those without a civic education (30%). This may suggest that those with a civic education are somewhat more likely to be open to democracy language that they associate with conservatives than those without a civic education. Credit: Citizen Data.

We see this as the beginning of an important conversation in the field. In particular, these questions and topics were raised as potential areas for future exploration:

  • How do the various age groups that had civic education differ or align in how they perceive civic terms?
  • How can this data be utilized to push for policy change around civic education K-12 and higher education standards?
  • How might an adult civics class or workshop make a difference on civic language metrics?
  • How much does family engagement in civic education matter?
  • How might knowing whether civic education includes in and out of school learning impact this civic language data?
  • For whom are civic language issues a significant barrier, especially as it relates to solving the big problems in our democracy?
  • What other civic learning opportunities (other than civic or American government classes) influence language perceptions?

On these questions, and others, we are eager to continue learning with you. Please note that PACE is offering $500 mini-grants to support people who want to dig into the data and create something customized with it. We encourage you to apply today and share with your networks!

In addition, keep an eye on our Medium page and twitter as we publish more learnings on this topic, and please keep us updated on how this data is helping you and your work by emailing We look forward to learning from you!

To learn more about PACE’s Civic Language Perceptions Project, visit



Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE)
Office of Citizen

A network of foundations and funders committed to civic engagement and democratic practice. Visit our publication at: