Maryland ahead of national average in civic health evaluation

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  • Dale Eisman

But Free State fared lower than expected considering income and education levels

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The first-ever look at Maryland’s civic health – how state residents work together for the common good – shows a Free State that fared above average in each of nine major indicators evaluated, but scored lower than researchers anticipated due to the state’s higher-than-average median income, strong education systems and location.

The Maryland Civic Health Index looked at volunteerism, social connections, voting habits and political engagement, among other indicators. Perhaps not surprisingly given its proximity to the nation’s capital, the civic health indicator Maryland scored highest on was talking politics. Nearly 46 percent reported talking about politics with family and friends, higher than the national average of about 39 percent, and 5th highest among all states. The state’s weakest indicator of civic health was the frequency with which Marylanders dine at night with family. About 87 percent of Marylanders said they eat dinner at least a few times a week with family or other household members, lower than the national average of 89 percent, and 47th overall.

Other results show:

Nearly 30 percent of Marylanders are involved in volunteerism, a participation rate of about 3 percent higher than the national average of 26.8 percent and 23rd overall.

About 9 percent work with neighbors, slightly higher than the national average and 26th overall.

More than 68 percent of Marylanders voted in the 2008 presidential election, compared to the national average of nearly 64 percent, 11th overall among states. The voting registration rate in Maryland was even higher for that same election, with about 74 percent of residents registered to vote, compared to 71 percent of the national average and 18th overall.

About 16.6 percent exchanged favors with a neighbor, slightly higher than the national average and 27th among all states.

Some 28 percent engaged in one or more non-electoral political acts, higher than the national average of 26.3 percent and 24th overall.

About 40 percent of Marylanders belong to a group, compared to the national average of 35 percent and 15th overall.

“Civic health is an important measure of the well being of a community,” said Brad Rourke, president of The Mannakee Circle Group and author of the report. “Our nation is founded on the idea of self-rule, which means we need an active citizenry that engages with one another and with public life. This report looks at a number of aspects of civic health, so we can begin to see how to improve over time.”

The 31-page report was prepared by the Mannakee Circle Group, the Maryland Commission on Civic Literacy, Common Cause Maryland, and the National Conference on Citizenship. It is based on analysis of state data from the National Conference on Citizenship’s America’s Civic Health Index, and conversations with Marylanders throughout the state in summer and early fall of this year. The process culminated with the state’s Civic Literacy Summit on Oct. 23 that brought together hundreds of educators, students and political and organizational leaders at Anne Arundel Community College to look at components of the state’s civic health and make recommendations for moving forward.

“Leaders in Maryland recognize that our communities become stronger, more resilient, and more capable of taking on today’s toughest challenges when volunteering and service are at the core of our economic development framework,” said David B. Smith, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship. “We hope this data will empower leaders in Maryland to use this data as vehicle to foster citizen-centered solutions moving forward.”

“It’s encouraging to see Maryland faring strongly in a number of categories in this report,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “The key is to now build on the results so more people are voting, registering, volunteering and participating in their communities, which makes for a stronger democracy.”

“The Civic Health Index is important to all Maryland citizens,” said Marcie Taylor-Thoma, vice-chair of the Commission on Civic Literacy. “We believe it should shape the goals of our commission for the next year.”

The full report is available here.