What Is Civic Health?

There are obviously lots of ways one might define civic health. The National Conference on Citizenship–a Congressionally-chartered organization dedicated to “strengthening civic life in America”–has promulgated one of them. The Conference works through a nationwide network of partners, and one of the projects those state partners pursue is the production of a periodic, state-specific  “Civic Health Index.”

The Index measures the chosen behaviors of citizens in the relevant state, and compares the results to national figures. Indiana has just completed publication of its latest Index, available at the link, with results based upon data from 2017.

As the panel presenting the results put it, there’s good news and not-so-good news.

Indiana’s iteration of the Civic Health Index has been co-chaired by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard and former Indiana Representative Lee Hamilton. In a forward to this year’s publication, Hamilton notes that–in addition to civic information–Americans need to know the values that underlie productive civic dialogue. He lists those values as mutual respect and tolerance; the humility to know that sometimes we’re wrong; the honesty to keep deliberations open and straightforward…and “of course, the civility that allows us to find common ground despite our disagreements.”

If only!

The data is interesting. Indiana does well on the indicators of involvement chosen by the Commission: posting political and social issues on social media sites, reading or watching the news, contacting public officials, and even (I was surprised) “talking and spending time with people of different racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds.” Hoosiers volunteer, donate and do favors for neighbors in numbers that compare favorably to those in other states.

When it comes to voting, the news isn’t so good.

First, midterm elections. In 2010, Indiana ranked 43d in the percentage of eligible voters registered (65%), and 48th in voter turnout (39%). In 2014, those percentages were 64% and 35%, earning the state ranks of 30th and 47th, and in 2018, we ranked 37th in voter registration (65%) and worked our way up to (whoopee!) 43d in turnout (49%).

In the last presidential year, 2016, we ranked 40th (68.8%) in registration and 41st (58.3%)in turnout. (I can’t help thinking that Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering plays a significant role in depressing voter turnout.)

This year, for the first time, the Civic Health Index included two “action items.” The Indiana Bar Foundation, which directs production of the Index and is deeply engaged in civic education, announced plans to convene a task force to evaluate current civic education practices in the state and recommend improvements.

The second action item addressed the need to improve both registration percentages and voting turnout in the state.

With respect to that goal, Bill Moreau, a prominent local lawyer who will retire from active practice this year, announced that he and his wife are creating “The Indiana Citizen,” a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation devoted to civic engagement–and especially voting. The site will offer the sort of information–about registration, polling places, candidates and issues–that we used to get from local newspapers, before their decline.

Maybe, if the Indiana Citizen can raise enough money to afford the sort of informational campaign they hope to mount, we can improve Indiana’s abysmal turnout–and do a bit of educating along the way.


  1. Putting Randall Shephard on the Commission puzzles me. He wrote the decision that allowed voucher money to go to religious-based schools, accepting the rationalization of the legislators that the money goes to the parents, not the schools. He also wrote the decision that let legislators give themselves a raise by tacking the item onto a different bill, even though the state Constitution requires that bills deal with one item only.

    That does not suggest to me that he understands Civic Health.

  2. There was also a questionable arrest result when Shephard was in line for the Supreme Court appointment. The arrest took place in a cheap motel in a seedy section of Indianapolis and the ultimate result was his appointment to the Indiana Supreme Court. I consider this “civic information” which should not get lost when high level appointments are considered which will effect the general public in the state of Indiana.

  3. A state’s civic health index is determined by how it measures up to the nation’s civic health index…could the bar be set any lower? Like compared to a tapeworm I’m a pretty clean person.

  4. “Madam, we have a republic…if we can keep it.” – Ben Franklin.

    Voting is how a democratic republic is maintained. Indiana’s pitiful voting data reflects also how red states fail their civic and patriotism test. It should also be noted that those red states, especially in the South, lead the nation in percentage of government funds vs. what they pay into the Federal government….and yet…. the “citizens” still tend to reward those politicians who want to keep them poor and ignorant.

    The other side of that is the purposeful decay of public education and the terrible degradation of civics learning in most states, but especially in those red states mentioned above. The correlations are obvious.

  5. While Bill Moreau’s nonprofit civic foundation is commendable, I don’t have faith that it will reach the eyes of Indiana’s population that most needs to view the info.

    Until the extreme gerrymandering in Indiana that gives GOP incumbents complete control of our legislature is stopped, I have to agree with the younger generation’s statement that their votes don’t count. At least in the Rural areas they don’t count.

    The Koch brothers knew what they were doing a few decades ago when they decided their best way to get the power and control they wanted was to gain control of State legislatures. By investing in candidates who have been willing to obey their directives via passing state bills to reduce clean water, air and soil regulations and to defund public education by stealing their designated tax dollars and give that money to private religious schools.

    Their financial investments have rewarded them and their fellow thieves very well. They then fund and market the state legislature member campaigns for those who want to move up the ladder to Congress. Their evil plan has accomplished what their goals.

    Back to Indiana voters – as a rural resident I cannot argue with local people who say there is no reason to waste their time on voting because their votes won’t count. If we rural people don’t actually have any choices on the ballots because there are only GOP candidates that we disagree with, then there really is no reason to go to the polls.

  6. The root cause is deeper. ..stats from 2019 national survey by the Public Affairs Council:

    “Politicians more concerned about being re-elected than making best decisions”

    Agree – 75% DEM, 72% GOP

    “Politicians use money and power to make money for themselves/family members”

    Agree – 73% DEM, 67% GOP


  7. Voter turn out will continue to be low as long as districts are horribly gerrymandered and citizens perceive their vote to be meaningless.

  8. As noted here gerrymandering and voter suppression are two methods to deter eligible voters from voting. The other issue is the total lack of local reporting on political issues. If we have low information voters, where do you get information??

    Partisan web sites or social media exist to skew information in one direction or another. We end up with voting with the tribe, that is voting blue or voting red. Who knows, who is the best candidate??? It is an easy choice for the Partisan’s vote for the tribal colors. A vast number of eligible voters are not affiliated with either party – they are independents.

    Without information – how do you make the intelligent choice???

  9. My question for the Indiana Bar Association is:

    Why don’t they leverage their knowledge and power by urging or demanding Indiana’s GOP controlled legislature to stop gerrymandering voter districts that favor their donor’s wishes by allowing an independent committee to redraw districts that would give citizens the power to elect people that will actually represent our interests instead of representing only special interests.

    Making this one very important change would encourage more people to run for office because they could actually have a chance of being elected. Giving citizens the opportunity to have choices at the voting booth is the most important change needed to encourage people to vote because only then will they believe that their vote truly counts.

    Our GOP controlled state legislature does not represent the citizens in their districts and they really don’t care.

  10. Pete – knowing “The Resistance” – the day after Trump is re-elected and many of them refused to vote for anyone except Bernie or Liz….too little, too late…

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