Connecticut residents are more likely than the rest of the country to volunteer and attend a public meeting, but a civic health report released Tuesday found several areas in need of improvement.
According to the report, which was put together by the Secretary of the State, Everyday Democracy, the National Conference on Citizenship, and DataHaven, deep inequalities in income in Connecticut have a negative impact on civic engagement.
“The stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor in our state — the so-called ‘Two Connecticuts’ — is as evident in statistics on voting behavior as it is in educational opportunity,” the survey states. “Despite a generally higher level of educational attainment in our state, people who are poor or who have lower levels of formal education participate less in our government at all levels.”
And while Connecticut residents demonstrate significantly stronger levels of engagement when it comes to volunteering and charitable giving, the state performs relatively poorly in other measures of engagement, such as registering to vote, belonging to a school or community association, joining a church group or other religious group, and having confidence in corporations.
About 65 percent of Connecticut voters were registered to vote for the 2014 midterm elections and only 46.5 percent voted in that election. In the 2012 presidential election 70.5 percent were registered to vote and 62.7 percent voted, which was down 4.5 percent from the 2008 election. Only 13.8 percent said they’ve contacted a public official and 63.5 percent said they always or sometimes vote in local elections.
“One of the most obvious metrics of civic health is voting,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, said. “In recent years, we’ve made great improvements on voting access and convenience. However, democracy does not begin and end on Election Day. Strong communities depend on citizens who are working with each other as well as their elected officials.”
Merrill said the report should be a call to action to the wider community to make the necessary changes to improve engagement.
The first Civic Health Index survey was released in 2011. Merrill said since that time the state of Connecticut has gone to online voter registration and Election Day registration, but the state has yet to see the results from that in the data being collected.
“Our voting registration numbers are much lower than they should be for a state with the wealth that we have,” Merrill said.
The report also found participation varies between racial and ethnic groups and that white adults are the most civically engaged. African Americans also demonstrate strong involvement in community groups and political action. The report found that more needs to be done to engage the Latino community in voting.
Only 47 percent of Latinos voted in the 2012 presidential election. That’s compared to 65.8 percent of whites and 62.2 percent of African-Americans.
Martha McCoy, executive director of Everyday Democracy, said this is a year when people are invested in “political divides” and people are working at “convincing us we have nothing in common with people on the other side of the divide.”
She said it’s going to take work to maintain communities and civic engagement during this time of political divides.
Merrill said the data in the report will help “identify areas of democratic participation that are in need of improvement and to focus our energies toward making them better.”
She said she doesn’t think the state has done a good job of educating its citizens about what it means to participate and how to do it effectively.