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Secretary Merrill Releases First-Ever Index of Connecticut’s Civic Health

October 26, 2011
East Hartford, Connecticut

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill today joined national partners from Everyday Democracy and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) in releasing the first-of-its-kind index of Connecticut’s Civic Health.  The 2011 Connecticut Civic Health Index used data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and analyzed by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) to gage statistics on a wide range of indicators of civic health including but not limited to: volunteering, voter turnout, belonging to groups, social connectedness through the internet, donating to charities, and taking a leadership role in the community.  Overall, Connecticut scored better than the national average when it came to voter registration and voter turnout, scored highly in terms of internet connectedness, and ranked 6th in the nation for the percentage of people – 58.4% -- who donate to charity. 

“This groundbreaking study for the first time quantifies what all of us who work in public service have wanted to know for some time – that is, how connected do we as a state feel to our communities?” said Secretary Merrill, who as Connecticut’s chief elections official has made improving Connecticut’s civic health one of her top priorities.  “It is clear that while in some ways we are very tied to each other, in other areas we in government need to do a much better job of reaching out to our citizens and involving people in the role of community leadership.  People need to know the benefits of getting involved in their communities and why it is important if we are to preserve our high quality of life.”

Martha McCoy, executive director of Everyday Democracy, said, “Civic health might seem like a ‘feel good’ extra, but evidence shows that it is fundamental to solving public problems. The findings in this report show us where we can build on opportunities and begin closing disparities in participation. Having a voice, being heard, and working together are essential to creating communities and a state that work well for all residents.”

“We feel it is important to use data to understand how individuals are connecting to each other and taking action on issues that matter to them,” said Kristen Cambell, Chief Program Officer of NCoC. “By taking a data-informed approach to understanding our communities, businesses, government, and nonprofits can use civic information to inform decision making, direct investments, develop public policy and create public-private partnerships.”

A quick look at some of the numbers:

Indicator

2010 CT Percentage

Ranking

National Average

Volunteering

31.1%

15th

26.3%

Voter turnout-2010*

49.3%*

17th

45.5%*

Voter turnout-2008*

67.2%*

20th

63.6%*

Voter registration-2010

66.6%

21st

65.1%

Working with neighbors

7.3%

37th

8.1%

Exchanging favors with neighbors

14.6%

32nd

15.2%

Talking politics with friends, family

28.3%

17th

26.0%

Social Connectedness through the internet

59.9%

12th

54.3%

Donating to charities

58.4%

6th

50.0%

Eating dinner with family

87.4%

35th

88.1%

Belonging to groups

36.9%

18th

33.3%

Taking a leadership role in the community

10.8%

21st

9.1%

*U.S. Census voter turnout figures based on percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots, as opposed to Connecticut Secretary of the State figures reporting percentage of registered voters who cast ballots

Among the interesting findings: women tend to participate more than men in school, neighborhood or community associations (18.1% compared to 10.7%) while men tend to participate more in civic associations (9.7% to 7.7%) and in sports or recreational associations (15.1% compared to 11.5%) than women.  Also, African Americans and Asian Americans are more likely to be engaged in school, neighborhood or community associations than Latinos and slightly more than Whites.  The Index also found that there are strong correlations between higher levels of wealth and education with higher rates of political participation.  In fact, only 6.5% of people with annual incomes under $35,000 are likely to visit or contact a public official.

Secretary Merrill, partnering with Everyday Democracy and NCoC, has convened a Connecticut Civic Health Project Advisory Group to address the issues brought up in the 2011 Connecticut Civic Health Index.  The group is a diverse panel of stakeholders representing community, volunteer and civic organizations as well as institutions of higher learning, religious and business groups.  Its goal is to study the indicators produced by the 2011 Connecticut Civic Health Index numbers and design public policy solutions to build on the strengths shown in Connecticut and address some of this state’s shortcomings.  Ultimately, it is the hope of the Civic Health Project Advisory Group to lead the way towards enhancing connectedness and higher civic participation in all of Connecticut’s diverse communities.

Secretary Merrill added, “I am very grateful to the hard work done to produce this watershed study of our state.  In the coming months, I and members of the Civic Health Advisory Group will be travelling the state taking this message of what the character of Connecticut is and how we can all work together to solve the major challenges we face as a society.  We need to re-engage many citizens of our state with a sense of ownership in their communities and I really hope to start a powerful dialogue with anyone who will listen.  I look forward to hearing some interesting thoughts.”

A link to the 2011 Connecticut Civic Health Index and executive summary can be found online on the website of the National Conference on Citizenship at http://ncoc.net/CTCHI where the public can view civic health indices from other states and compare Connecticut’s results to national and state-by-state surveys.  The report is also available on the Secretary of the State’s website www.sots.ct.gov.

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