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Index shows poor voter engagement

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Indiana Lawyer Rehearing

On Sept. 14, results of the inaugural Civic Health Index were released to the public. The data shows that while Indiana is on-par with national standards in volunteerism, the state’s voter turnout and registration are among the lowest in the country.

The report measures family interaction, voting habits, involvement with social groups, and other areas to determine citizens’ level of engagement in their communities and with each other. Results are measured in relation to other states and the District of Columbia.

Indiana earned above-average marks for involvement in religious, school, sports, and other groups, with 36.2 percent of residents reporting involvement in such groups. Indiana ranked 21st in group associations. In 2010, 26.1 percent of Indiana citizens volunteered their time to help others; the national volunteerism rate is 26.3 percent.

Voter turnout in Indiana ranked 48th in the nation in 2010, with a rate of 39.4 percent. Only 61.2 percent of eligible Indiana citizens were registered to vote in 2010, putting the state in 43rd place for voter registration. The report also shows that Indiana ranks 48th in its analysis of citizens who discuss politics with each other.

U.S. Census Data – which provide the foundation for the report – show a connection between Indiana citizens who access news regularly and their level of community involvement. About 7-in-10 Indiana residents who access news on a daily basis via the newspaper, radio, television, or Internet sources reported doing a favor for a neighbor at least once per month. Of people who do not read a newspaper or listen to radio news daily, 5-in-10 reported doing a favor for a neighbor at least once a month.

Several organizations lent their support to the Indiana Civic Health Index, including the Indiana Bar Foundation, the Center on Congress at Indiana University, the Hoosier State Press Association, Indiana University Northwest, and the Indiana Supreme Court. The National Conference on Citizenship enlists researchers at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, who analyze the Census Current Population Survey data to create the final report.

On April 19, former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton announced the Civic Health Index project, just days after Congress passed a budget that cut $35 million for civic education. In April, Hamilton said: “Those of us interested in this project are concerned … because there is an awful lot of evidence that suggests an awful lot of Americans are less and less interested in civics, and if that’s the case, the entire democracy is in jeopardy.”

Since 2006, the NCoC has conducted a yearly national Civic Health Index. Comparing results of the indexes with research studies conducted in the 1970s and thereafter, the NCoC reports that most forms of civic engagement measured in the index – like voter turnout and volunteerism – have fallen over the past three decades. In 2008, the NCoC began offering state-level indexes. Ohio, California, and Florida were the first states to receive such a report, as they have every year since.

Rehearing "Effort seeks to revive citizens' civic interest" IL April 27-May 10, 2011
 

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