2010 U.S. Social Forum Survey of Attendees:

Preliminary Report

 

v. 10-4-10, 3705 words

UCR Transnational Social Movements Research Working Group[1]

Gary Coyne, Juliann Allison, Ellen Reese, Katja Guenther, Ian Breckenridge-Jackson, Edwin Elias, Ali Lairy, James Love, Anthony Roberts, Natasha Rodojcic, Miryam Ruvalcaba, Elizabeth Schwarz, and Christopher Chase-Dunn

University of California-Riverside

Institute for Research on World-Systems

 

Irows Working Paper # 64 at http://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows64/irows64.htm
             

Short Summary of Results: Five hundred sixty-nine of the attendees at the 2010 USSF in Detroit filled out our survey. The survey was conducted at the Forum itself.  It is difficult to say how well those who were surveyed  are representive of the whole group of participants that attended the USSF10 in Detroit. We found that attendees tended to be young, with 60% being under 35 years of age. More than half were single and very few had children. There were significantly more women than men (54% and 46%, respectively). While just over half of attendees were white, groups of color do not appear to be underrepresented when compared to the United States population as a whole. Significantly more individuals reported being multiracial than in the U.S. population as a whole. 

There were more students (25% of respondents) and fewer full-time employees (33%) than one might expect. The group was highly educated, with more than one participant in four having a graduate or other advanced degree. The median household income of respondents is very similar to that of the U.S. as a whole (about $40,000 a year).  As might be expected, most respondents were from the US, although many were born outside the US and there were at least a few indeed attendees from Canada, Mexico and other countries.

Comparing the surveyed attendees at the USSF10 with those surveyed at the USSF07 in Atlanta, we find mostly similarities. But there are some differences as well. The percentage of women among our surveyed attendees was even higher at the 2007 USSF.  The respondents in 2010 were less employed and had less income than those in 2007.

 

How this Report Was Generated

 

Seven members of our UCR research team, with help from volunteers from the Documentation and Evaluation Committee, collected a total of 569 written surveys[2] from attendees of the 2010 U.S. Social Forum from June 22-26 2010 in Detroit, Michigan.  We targeted adults, but a few of our respondents were below the age of 18. Since minors were not part of our targeted population, we excluded these minors from the analyses below. Respondents completed paper copies of questionnaires. The survey sought information on respondents’ demographic and socio-economic characteristics, their political views, their affiliations with different types of organizations and social movements, and their political activities. Questionnaires were collected in Spanish and English.  A total of 569 usable questionnaires were collected, with 522 in English and 47 in Spanish.

A more detailed description of the sampling procedure can be found in the Appendix.

We have made an effort here to compare our survey results with the general population of the U.S. and with the results of our survey of attendees at the US Social Forum meeting in Atlanta in 2007 (a very similar survey was administered there). Except where otherwise noted, comparisons to the U.S. as a whole use data from the 2000 Census. While this is now somewhat dated, it is best to use a single well-respected data source for comparisons. The surveys for both the 2007 and 2010 USSF are also very similar to surveys that were made at the World Social Forum meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil and 2005 and in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007. These surveys have been carried out the Research Working Group on Transnational Social Movements at the University of California-Riverside.  Results are available at http://www.irows.ucr.edu/research/tsmstudy.htm and in the publications listed at the end of this preliminary report. The short time between the forum itself and the National Planning Committee’s October meeting means that the findings here should be seen as more preliminary than definitive.  A much more thorough research report will be produced soon and made available at our research web site.

 

How Did People Hear about the USSF? Why did they Come?

 

            Table 1 shows the results of an item that was requested by the USSF10 National Planning Committee to find out how attendees found out about the USSF10. A similar question is included on the post-meeting web survey, so we will be able to compare our results with the results obtained from the web survey.

 

Table 1: How Did Participants Find Out About the 2010 United States Social Forum?

 

Number of Respondents

Percent *

(Fellow) members of an organization or association

303

54%

Friends and/or acquaintances

263

47%

People at your school or work

157

28%

Alternative online media

151

27%

Online social networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)

131

23%

Advertisement, flyers, and/or posters

69

13%

Family member and/or partner

57

10%

Newspapers(s) (print or online)

38

7%

Radio or television

27

5%

Note: Respondents were allowed to select more than open option, so actual responses may not sum to 100%.

                * Respondents were allowed to select more than one option, so responses do not sum to 100%.

 

When asked which of the channels of information above was most important, respondents placed the most importance on fellow members of organizations or associations (20%), and friends or acquaintances (16%). While some respondents rated people at school or work (9%) or online social networks (5%) as most important, no other choices were selected by more than 4% of respondents.

Networking and information-sharing and learning the biggest reasons why the respondents say they attended the USSF10.

 

Table 2: Reasons for Attending the 2010 United States Social Forum

 

Number of Respondents

Percent*

Learn about the issues and share information

450

81%

Network, meet people, or join a group

419

75%

Organize, plan actions, or carry out joint initiatives

327

59%

Get inspiration

305

55%

Learn about other cultures or enjoy performances

226

40%

Fun or leisure

177

32%

Research

141

25%

Work

125

22%

Recruit new members

88

16%

Document it or cover the story

89

16%

Help with interpreting

38

7%

Other

48

9%

Note: Respondents were allowed to select more than open option, so actual responses may not sum to 100%.

* Respondents were allowed to select more than one option, so responses do not sum to 100%.

 

Who Attended the Forum?

 

Basic Demographics

Regarding age, Table 5 shows that 60% of the attendees in 2010 were between the ages 18 and 35 years old, and half of all respondents were between the ages of 18 to 29.   Compared to the US as a whole, the 18-34 age group, which accounts for less than 30% of the total population, was significantly overrepresented at the 2010 US Social Forum. The 2010 USSF appears to be a somewhat “younger” gathering that the 2007 USSF, although these differences are modest.

 

Table 3:  Age Structure of 2010 and 2007 US Social Forum Participants

 

USSF 2010

USSF 2007

US Census 2000

18-19

 4%

 4%

  7%*

20-24

28%

20%

7%

25-34

28%

31%

14%

35-44

12%

15%

16%

45-54

 9%

12%

13%

55-59

 5%

 7%

5%

60-64

 6%

6%

4%

65-74

 6%

 4%

7%

75-84

  1%

 2%

4%

85>

<1%

0

1%

Median Age

29

31

35

Note: *Includes the age group 15-17; those under the age of 15 make up 21% of the US population.

 

Women’s representation in the 2010 US Social Forum sample is slightly higher than the US general population, but compared to the 2007 US Social Forum, women were slightly less represented in 2010.  Compared to the 2007 US Social Forum, men’s participation increased by 4% in 2010; however, males were slightly underrepresented at both forums when compared to the general US population.      

 

Table 4:  Gender of 2010 and 2007 US Social Forum Participants

 

USSF 2010

USSF 2007

US Census 2000

Female

56%

61%

51%

Male

41%

37%

49%

 

As mentioned in the summary above, significantly more women than men attended the USS10. But this difference was even greater among our respondents at the 2007 USSF meeting in Atlanta. We do not know if our sample of attendees was biased toward women or if there were really more women. It would be helpful in the future to have registration data that would enable us to compare our sample with the actual list of registered attendees.

            Regarding sexual orientation Table 4 shows a similar pattern at both the 2010 and 2007 USSF, but reliable data for the in the U.S. as a whole is lacking.

 

Table 5: Sexual Orientation Gender of 2010 and 2007 US Social Forum Participants

 

USSF 2010

USSF 2007

Heterosexual

66%

68%

Queer

11%

12%

Bisexual

5%

6%

Homosexual

5%

6%

Other/Declined to Answer

13%

8%

 

Family and Household Information

Regarding household type and size, most respondents at the 2010 USSF reported being single, as we can see in Table Six.

 

Table 6: Current Relationship Status of 2010 US Social Forum Participants

 

USSF 2010

Single

54%

Married

16%

Cohabitating

12%

Divorced

6%

Widower

2%

Separated

2%

Note:  Respondents were allowed to select more than open option, so actual responses may not sum to 100%.

                * Respondents were allowed to select more than one option, so responses do not sum to 100%.

 

The pattern in current relationship status for 2010 USSF respondents was very similar to that of respondents for 2007, although there were slightly different options. In 2007, single remained the most common (55%), followed by married (24%), although no option of cohabitating was offered to respondents in 2007. Direct comparisons to the US population as a whole are somewhat difficult, but we can say that significantly more individuals, over 15, in the general population (54%) are married, and that not as many individuals fall into categories that would correspond to “single” - the never married (25%) or separated (2%).

A large majority respondents at the 2010 USSF (81%) reported having no children under the age of 18. Respondents who did have children typically had just one or two, with only a handful of respondents having three or more children.  These figures are similar to the 2007 USSF (82% had no children), but appear to differ from the US as a whole, where almost a quarter of the population (24%) have a child under 18, either their own or those of a relative, living in the same house.

The average number of persons in the 2010 USSF respondent’s household was 3.19. This is a little larger than the mean household for the US as a whole (2.59 persons).

Patterns in Work and Levels of Income

Respondents at the 2010 USSF were less likely to indicate they were employed full-time, and somewhat less likely to be employed part-time or self-employed than were respondents at the 2007 USSF. The increase in unemployed respondents does not, however, seem to account for this decrease. Effects of the economic recession are dealt with in more depth in the last section of this report.

 

Table 7: Current Employment Status of 2010 and 2007 US Social Forum Participants

 

USSF 2010

USSF 2007

Employed Full-time

33%

46%

Student

25%

 28%

Employed Part-time

16%

18%

Unemployed

13%

9%

Self-employed

11%

16%

Employed Temporarily

9%

10%

Dependent on Family income or savings

6%

10%

Volunteer

12%

15%

Note:  Respondents were allowed to select more than open option, so actual responses may not sum to 100%.

               

The median household income was between $40,000 and $51,000. (Respondents were given categories, as opposed to being asked to report a specific dollar amount.)  This is very similar to the US as a whole, with a median of $41,992 (although for the year 2000). Both of these are noticeably higher than the median of  $35,000 for the 2007 USSF.

Education Levels

            The attendees of the 2010 USSF show a high level of education when compared to the US population as a whole, and the differences are most apparent in the fact that almost three times as many individuals with graduate or professional degrees are at the 2010 USSF (and 2007 as well) when compared to the population at large.  Differences are striking at the other end of the spectrum as well: those with high school diplomas or less make up nearly half of the US population but just over 10% of USSF attendees.

 

Table 8: Level of Education of 2010 and 2007 US Social Forum Participants

 

USSF 2010

USSF 2007

US Census 2000

High school diploma, or less

11%

11%

48%

Some college, no degree

16%

20%

21%

Bachelors

30%

25%

16%

Graduate or professional degree

28 %

28 %

9%

 

In terms of field of study, most USSF attendees have had training in the social sciences (38%), while the arts (9%) and the “Other” (14%) were the next most common fields of study. This is very similar to the 2007 USSF, but data for the US as a whole are not readily available or comparable.

Race and Ethnicity

African American, Indigenous, and Asian representation in the USSF closely resemble their representation in the general US population. Latinos were slightly overrepresented in the 2010 USSF at 14.5% (compared to 12.5% in the general US population), while whites are somewhat under represented (54% at the USSF and 69% in the US population). Individuals identifying as multiracial represent 2.4% of the American population, however, 9.5% of the attendees at the 2010 USSF classified themselves as multiracial. Compared to the 2007 USSF, Whites were more represented at the 2010 forum, and, in general, the 2010 was slightly less racially diverse than the 2007 forum.

 

Table 9:   Race and Ethnicity of 2010 and 2007 US Social Forum Participants

 

USSF 2010

USSF 2007

US Census 2000

Black

11%

13%

12%

Middle Eastern

<1%

1%

-

South Asian

2%

3%

-

Indigenous

<1%

<1%

1%

Latino/Hispanic

14%

15%

13%

East Asian

3%

1%

4%

White

54%

49%

69%

Pacific Islander

<1%

<1%

<1%

Multiracial

10%

10%

2%

Other

3%

6%

6%

 

Religious Preferences and Orientations

When asked about their religious preferences those sampled at the 2010 USSF most often chose Spiritual (20%), followed by Catholic (12%), Agnostic (11%), and Atheist (11%). The combined choices of Protestant and “Other Christian,” make up just less than 10% of respondents, and no other single answer (including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism) was chosen by more than 5% of respondents.

Although it might be fair to characterize the 2010 USSF attendees as an unreligious group based on the fact that just under half the respondents (49%) said religion was extremely, or very unimportant, it should also be pointed out that a fair number of respondents (18%) fell at the other end (saying religion was very important).

            At the 2007 USSF the pattern was much the same, although the questions asked were somewhat different, so the results are not be strictly comparable.  Agnostic (13%) and Atheist (10%) were common, as was Catholic (15%) and Protestants and other Christian (12%). In terms of intensity, most (50%) said they were not religious, with some (32%) being somewhat religious and few (12%) being very religious.

 

Points of Origin

            The vast majority (87%) of our sample reported being US residents, although there certainly were attendees from other countries, with Canada (2%) and Mexico (1%) being the next two most common. A small but notable number (8%) reported being from the greater Detroit area. This very similar to the 2007 Forum, where 90% of attendees were form the US,

At the same time, however, the 2010 US Social Forum saw a higher proportion of foreign-born participants (at 18% of attendees) than in the US as a whole (11% of the general population).

How has the Financial Crisis Affected USSF Attendees?

 

            Three questions asked about how events, largely stemming from the recent economic crisis, had affected respondents, their households, and their organizations since 2007. These questions were not asked in 2007, and comparing to the U.S. as a whole is difficult because the nature and dates of statistics do not allow for good comparisons. However, to take just two responses- home foreclosures and job losses- it appears that in 2009 about three percent of US households experienced a foreclosure and about nine percent of the US labor force was unemployed. It would seem then, both individually and at the household level, respondents at the 2010 USSF report that they were hit harder in terms of jobs losses and home foreclosures.

 

Table 10: Impact of US Recession on Individuals Attending the 2010 US Social Forum

 

Percent

Unemployed

35%

Reduced Working Hours

22%

Reduced/Skipped Meals

18%

Changed Home

17%

Pay Cut

16%

Increased Working Hours

14%

Eviction

5%

Home Foreclosure

3%

Note: Respondents were allowed to select more than open option, so actual responses may not sum to 100%.

               

Table 11: Impact of US Recession on Households of 2010 US Social Forum Participants

 

Percent

Unemployed

51%

Reduced Working Hours

36%

Pay Cut

29%

Changed Home

20%

Increased Working Hours

16%

Reduced/Skipped Meals

12%

Home Foreclosure

11%

Eviction

10%

Note: Respondents were allowed to select more than open option, so actual responses may not sum to 100%.

               

We also asked respondents how the economic downturn had affected their organizations, and not surprisingly many repotted losing resources or shifting the types of issues that they were working on.

Table 12: Impact of US Recession on Political Organizations Reported by 2010 US Social Forum Participants

 

Percent

Lost Material Resources

43%

Shifted the Issues worked on

31%

Shifted Goals and Priorities

24%

Shifted the Other Kinds of Orgs. Worked with

24%

Spend More Time Responding the Members Needs

19%

Membership Participation has Increased

13%

Gained Material Resources

5%

Other/Don’t Know

23%

Note: Respondents were allowed to select more than open option, so actual responses may not sum to 100%.

 

Suggestions from Respondents

            The survey also gave respondents an opportunity to suggest changes they might like to see in how the forum was planned and conducted. Many respondents did make such suggestions, and some of the common themes that emerged were as follow:

How Workshops were Organized and Conducted:

-Fewer workshops with coordination between facilitators of similar topics

-Transparent goals about what they want to achieve

-Better communication about canceled workshops

-Repeat workshops

-Spread workshops on the same topic out throughout the week

-More large group or networking events

-YouTube videos of workshops

-More complete descriptions of each event/workshop

-More diversity in active organizers not just presenters.

The Costs of the Forum

-More accessible transportation

-More food options

-Cheaper housing

-More information about airport shuttles

Connectedness

-More regional forums

-More connection to WSF

-Create socially conscious partnerships

-More local participation (including elected officials)

Communication and Logistics

-Use of Smartphone app

-Make it part of the media at global, national, and community levels and use social media.

-Expedited registration process

-More volunteers/info booths

 

References

Chase-Dunn, Christopher, Ellen Reese, Mark Herkenrath, Rebecca Giem, Erika Guttierrez, Linda Kim, and Christine Petit. 2007 [forthcoming].  “North-South Contradictions and Bridges at the World Social Forum,” in NORTH AND SOUTH IN THE WORLD POLITICAL ECONOMY, edited by Rafael Reuveny and William R. Thompson. Blackwell.

Chase-Dunn, Christopher and Ellen Reese 2008 “Global party formation in world historical perspective” in Katarina Sehm-Patomaki and Marko Ulvila (eds.)

Global Party Formation. London: Zed Press.

Smith, Jackie, Marina Karides, et al. 2007. The World Social Forum and the Challenges of Global Democracy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Chase-Dunn, C.  and R.E. Niemeyer 2009 “The world revolution of 20xx” Pp. 35-57 in Mathias Albert, Gesa Bluhm, Han Helmig, Andreas Leutzsch, Jochen Walter (eds.) Transnational Political Spaces. Campus Verlag: Frankfurt/New York

Chase-Dunn, C.  and Terry Boswell 2009 “Semiperipheral devolopment and global democracy” PP 213-232 in Owen Worth and Phoebe Moore, Globalization and the “New” Semiperipheries, Palgrave.

Chase-Dunn, C  and Matheu Kaneshiro 2009 “Stability and Change in the contours of Alliances Among movements in the social forum process” Pp. 119-133 in David Fasenfest (ed.) Engaging Social Justice. Leiden: Brill.

Reese, Ellen,  Christopher Chase-Dunn, Kadambari Anantram, Gary Coyne, Matheu Kaneshiro, Ashley N. Koda, Roy Kwon and Preeta Saxena 2008 “Research Note: Surveys of World Social Forum participants show influence of place and base in the global public sphere” Mobilization: An International Journal. 13,4:431-445.

 

APPENDIX: Data and Survey Procedures

The logic of statistics requires that generalizations about a whole population (the attendees of the USSF10) require that a sample of attendees should be truly random. But in order to select a completely random sample it would be necessary to have a full list of all participants at these meetings. That was unavailable. The survey was 8 1/2 pages long, and usually took more than 30 minutes to complete. Given the time and resource constraints, it was logistically impossible to survey every fifth person as briefer surveys of social movement participants have done. Instead, we collected as many surveys as we could, often during times when people were waiting in lines. To maximize the representativeness of our sample, the survey was mainly conducted at the registration lines, but we also collected surveys at a broad range of venues where all participants were welcome: the lobby area, workshops, evening plenaries, the People’s Movement Assemblies, organizations’ tables, and cultural performances.

Despite our best efforts to obtain a representative sample, it is likely that certain sampling biases resulted, partly due to the number of surveys that we brought with us in each language. We may have over-sampled Spanish-speaking participants and participants with fewer responsibilities and more free time. In a few cases, we read the survey questions and assistes participants in responding. But we probably under-sampled attendees that could not read, were not literate in Spanish or English, or those who were uncomfortable with completing a written survey.  Despite these sampling biases, our survey results will provide one of the best available portraits of participants at the 2010 US Social Forum.  We may correct for sampling biases by weighting our results based on the registration data that we have been able to obtain.



[1] We thank the 2010 USSF National Planning Committee, UCR Institute for Research on World-Systems, UCR Program on Global Studies, UCR Graduate Student Association for financial support for this project. Correspondence regarding this report should be directed to Professor Christopher Chase-Dunn (chriscd@mail.ucr.edu). For further information about this survey and our results, see: http://www.irows.ucr.edu/research/tsmstudy.htm