Texas Conference on Civic Life Puts Spotlight on State’s Civic Health

November 19, 2013 |

As Texans, we all have opinions about what’s biggest and best about our state. You might be surprised to learn that when it comes to civic engagement, Texas is struggling compared to other states. Did you know that Texas ranks:

  • 51st for voter turnout? (includes District of Columbia)
  • 49th for contacting elected officials?
  • 44th for discussing politics a few times a week or more?
  • 42nd for voter registration?
  • 42nd for volunteering?

One bright spot is social connectedness, with Texas ranking 16th in the U.S. This includes hearing from friends and family frequently, talking with neighbors, trusting neighbors and exchanging favors with neighbors.

These findings and more are the focus of the Texas Civic Health Index, the first-ever non-partisan, statewide analysis of political and community engagement. It was compiled by the Annette Strauss Institute on Civic Life in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship. This groundbreaking report was the focus of the first-ever Texas Conference on Civic Life, held on the University of Texas at Austin campus on Saturday, November 9. The purpose of the conference was to gather citizens from across the state to talk about the future of civic engagement and how we can all contribute to improving our state’s civic health.

Attendees included college students and faculty, political and nonprofit professionals, business professionals and community advocates. The roster of speakers featured

  • Dr. Regina Lawrence, Director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life
  • Dr. Lance Bennett, Director of the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement
  • Dr. Peter Levine, Director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement
  • Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the National Conference on Citizenship
  • Larry Schooler, President of the International Association for Public Participation
  • Keye Dannenbaum, Founder and CEO of ElectNext
  • Evan Smith, Editor-in-Chief and CEO of the Texas Tribune
  • The Honorable Chuck DeVote, Vice President of Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Ann Beeson, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities
  • Dr. Sylvia Manzano, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions

Discussions were structured around the following thought provoking questions: What does “citizenship” mean in the age of modern technology? How can we re-build our civic infrastructure? What will it take to get younger citizens involved?

One important takeaway is that we can start small. There are incremental steps: vote, write a letter to your elected officials, attend a public or community meeting, help your neighbor and become informed about news and current events.

There are 13,445,285 registered voters in Texas with an overall state population of 26 million. Texas voters just approved nine state constitutional amendments on November 5. The statewide voter turnout was about 8% of registered voters. In other words, just over 1 million people took part in making decisions could affect all 26 million Texans.

According to Texas Civic Health Index, the top two reasons reported by Texans for not voting in 2010 were “too busy, conflicting with work” (27.4%) and “not interested, felt my vote didn’t matter” (16.9%). With primary elections coming up in March 2014, it’s time to start thinking about our collective responsibility as citizens to be engaged in both the political process and in our communities.

Casie Wenmohs
Former Raise Your Hand Texas Community Ambassador
Austin and Central Texas

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