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.”
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.