skip to main content
Smaller U.S. Cities Generate More Loyalty and Passion

Smaller U.S. Cities Generate More Loyalty and Passion

by Ian T. Brown and Bob Torongo

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new Gallup study of 26 American cities, conducted in conjunction with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that residents of smaller cities such as Boulder, Colorado, and Charlotte, North Carolina, are more likely to recommend their city as a place to live than residents of larger cities such as Philadelphia and Detroit. Overall, residents in Bradenton, Florida, were the most likely to recommend their city, while residents in Detroit and Gary, Indiana, were the least likely.


When asked how proud they are to live in their city, again fewer residents in the larger cities surveyed strongly agreed that they were proud to live in their city than did residents in smaller cities. In Philadelphia and Detroit, less than one in three residents strongly agreed, compared with 46% in Boulder and 57% in Bradenton.

The 26 U.S. communities Gallup surveyed are the original cities where the Knight brothers operated their newspaper company, Knight-Ridder, Inc. The Knight Foundation continues to promote community change in pursuit of the Knight brothers' legacy.

In these cities, Gallup asked respondents a total of 70 questions about their city life, including services and infrastructure the community offers, how civically involved residents are, emotional wellness, how open the community is to different types of people, and how socially connected individuals are to family and neighbors in the city. The answers to these questions were used to measure residents' loyalty and passion for their city and create an overall community attachment score.

The overall community attachment measure thus goes beyond an individual's satisfaction with his or her community and extends to the passion and pride he or she gets from living there. Further, Gallup finds that in communities with higher community attachment, recent GDP and population growth were also higher.


The findings are relevant to cities such as Minneapolis that are now actively seeking to improve their image as a good place to work and live in the hopes of becoming more economically competitive. As leaders try to transform the city's image into a creative hub for advertising firms, increasing community attachment could mean attracting new talent, which could potentially drive innovation and economic growth. The findings also underscore the need to measure the progress of communities and societies through behavioral economic measures far more comprehensive than what traditional economic measures allow.

Gallup's findings reveal that among the communities surveyed, 24% of residents were attached, meaning highly loyal and connected to the community where they live. Forty percent of respondents were not attached, and another 36% were neutral. Gallup saw little change in community attachment levels between 2008 and 2009 despite the economic downturn.


Gallup also finds a relationship between community attachment scores and net migration in the communities surveyed. Communities scoring in the top quartile of community attachment experienced positive population growth resulting from migration ( .78%), while communities scoring in the bottom quartile experienced a decline in population (-.28%). The third quartile does buck the trend as a result of high population growth last year in Charlotte, North Carolina.


The relationship between community scores and net migration does not necessarily imply direct causality, but could show that residents who are attached to their community may be recommending their city to friends and associations, thus attracting new residents. Living in a place that has an increasing population (as opposed to decreasing population) could also compel residents to have more positive feelings about their community.

Bottom Line

As American cities work to improve their image, city leaders may continue to seek metrics other than GDP per capita to assess their residents' quality of life. New metrics, such as community attachment, serve as a compelling complement to traditional economic indicators and work to better identify what motivates individual wellbeing. The true measure of progress may be a balance of financial success along with less tangible assessments of individual health, wellbeing, social connections, and overall happiness.

Read the full report, including detailed city profiles and interactive mapping of the results, on the Soul of the Community Web site.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with at least 400 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 17-April 25, 2009, in 26 Knight Foundation communities. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3 percentage points in Akron, Ohio, to a high of ±7 percentage points in Miami, Florida. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Dawn Royal contributed to this report.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030