Study: Hoosiers Engage With Their Community -- Until It's Time to Vote
(INDIANAPOLIS) - An IU study finds Hoosiers are more involved in their communities than most states -- except when it comes to voting.
The Civic Health Index is a joint effort of IU, the Indiana Bar Foundation and the Indiana Supreme Court. The survey finds Hoosiers the second-most-likely to talk politics online, the eighth-most-likely to read or listen to the news, and 18th in making political donations. Yet voter turnout in 2016 was the 10th worst in the nation. And while last year's off-year turnout was Indiana's highest for a midterm election in 32 years, it paralleled a surge in voting nationally, leaving Indiana the nation's eighth-worst in turnout.
Bill Moreau, chief of staff under former Governor Evan Bayh, says there's more than bragging rights at stake. He says falling turnout damages the notion of representative democracy -- and if it falls far enough, people might start to question the legitimacy of a close election.
Moreau has formed a nonprofit, The Indiana Citizen, to lift turnout from the bottom 10 in the country to the top 10 next year. That would require a 20% jump in turnout, or about half-a-million voters.
Moreau says studies indicate what drives people to the polls is issues they care about. Indiana Citizen will create a website with nonpartisan information on who's on your ballot and where they stand. It should go live in time for the May primary.
The Civic Health Index endorses the top-10 goal, the first time it's made specific recommendations in the four reports since it was created in 2011. Former Attorney General Greg Zoeller says there's enough data now to be confident there's a trend, not juust a one-time aberration.
The report's other recommendation is to create a task force to study how to do a better job teaching civics. Former Chief Justice Randall Shepard says a population that better understands democracy is more likely to engage with it. The index notes Illinois and California both overhauled their civics curriculum in the last six years after forming a task force to study the options. Bar Foundation executive director Charles Dunlap says the organizers of the index will establish a diverse task force and hold meetings around the state before issuing recommendations next fall.
Indiana's turnout has fallen in two straight presidential elections, to its lowest point in 20 years. Hoosier turnout has been below the national average in every federal election since 2002.
(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)