Go Ahead, Mess With Texas - Pacific Standard

Go Ahead, Mess With Texas

Texans are the least politically-engaged Americans.
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(PHOTO: EUTHMAN/FLICKR)

(PHOTO: EUTHMAN/FLICKR)

A study by Austin's Strauss Institute for Civic Life has found Texans to be the least-involved citizens in America.

Called the Texas Civic Health Index, the study (PDF) used census data to look at voter participation in the 2010 midterm elections and additional research on how Texans interact with each other outside of politics.

The researchers found that just under 62 percent of Texans were registered to vote in 2010, while the national average was 65 percent. And that number of registered Texans is down from 2008 when it was just over 68 percent.

Voter turnout in Texas, which hovers around the mid-30s, has been below the national average in mid-term and presidential election years since 1972, according to the study. Texans ranked 49th in tendency to contact public officials with comments or concerns between elections. (Vermont ranked first, for some reason.)

The study also looked at "civic health" through means of engagement other than the ballot box, including attendance at public meetings, solving problems with community organizations, and volunteering. It found that Texans are unusually connected to their neighbors. From the report:

Overall, 43 percent of Texans say they talk frequently with their neighbors, ranking Texas 32nd in the nation. And Texas is 16th in the nation for the rate of people who exchange favors with their neighbors a few times a week or more (15.4 percent). This statistic may indicate that some people provide service to their communities in ways that aren’t usually considered volunteering, but that nevertheless strengthen social cohesion and well being in communities.

However, the finding contains a "however":

However, Texas ranks 47th in the nation in terms of neighborhood trust, with 49.7 percent saying they trust all or most of the people in their neighborhood. Nationwide, 56.7 percent of Americans say they trust all or most of their neighbors. This apparent disconnect between levels of trust and rates of helping neighbors is striking.

The delicate use of "striking" is, well, striking. What could cause people to be friendly toward, but not trusting of, the family next door? Back to the report:

Given the dramatic growth in the state’s immigrant population, a considerable challenge in Texas is how to integrate these new and potential citizens into the life of the state. At the same time, the challenges immigrants face often necessitate strong social networks; strong social connectedness is often required in order for immigrants to move to the U.S. and establish themselves—networks that may be opportunities for building other forms of civic engagement.

Texas is home to 26 million people, or eight percent of the American population, according to census figures cited in the Austin study. Its population has grown 3.6 percent per year since 2010, driven in large part by foreign immigration. It is the second-largest state in the union. Census forecasts predict the state's population to grow by about a third, to 36 million residents, by 2040.

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