What is civic engagement and how do Floridians stack up against the rest of the country?
That is a question that the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida has been asking, and with their Civic Health Index, they found that the state of Florida ranks below the national average on nearly every measure of civic health. The Institute used data supplements from the Current Population Survey to review involvement in civic activities ranging from volunteering and donating to charity, to voting or being a member of a community organization, to measure how civically engaged Floridians were compared to other Americans, and in every category we fell below the national average.
Dr. Racine Jacques, a lead analyst at the Lou Frey Institute, said that the goal of the Civic Health Index is to help people recognize what civic health looks like in Florida, so that we can take steps to improve engagement. Dr. Jacques said that, for many of the measures they looked at, such as calling a public official or being a member of a community organization, it is unsurprising that Florida was doing poorly because those numbers have been declining across the country. However, she said that the Institute was surprised at metrics such as donating to charity, where less than half of Floridians reported having donated at least $25 to a charitable organization in the past year, a number that falls well below the national average.
Dr. Jacques believes that reviewing the Civic Health Index is a great place for communities and organizations that care about promoting civic engagement to start. It allows us to compare not only what other states are doing well and attempt to implement those policies, but also allows for comparison of different cities within Florida.
This lack of civic health and engagement is exactly the kind of issue we are trying to change at the Commission on Local Debates, and we believe that our goals of transparency, accessibility, and accountability can inspire people to be more engaged in civic life throughout their community. By ensuring that local debates have standardized, high quality formats, and by working to ensure that those debates are accessible to voters, CLD ensures that voters know who the candidates running for elected office are and what they stand for.
This engagement in local debates can spill over by making constituents more aware of the issues that are affecting their community, thus motivating them to find solutions to those problems.