Special to The Sun
Though the just-released Oklahoma Civic Health Index shows the state ranks 30th in the nation for discussing politics, the state ranks eighth in eating dinner with family, revealing an opportunity for increased civic engagement.
A team of faculty and student researchers from the University of Central Oklahoma discussed these findings and more as they presented the report at the Oklahoma State Capitol Dec. 4.
The report explores a broad set of civic indicators across the state and relative to national trends.
“We see value in exploring the civic health of Oklahoma through the lens of civic skills and voter education, and hope this report encourages new dialogue and action across the state. We invite everyone to invest in the civic health of Oklahoma’s citizens and communities as we prepare the next generation of informed and engaged citizens and leaders of our democracy,” said Patricia Loughlin, director of Central’s American Democracy Project.
The report shows room for increased engagement throughout the state, along with some indicators of progress since the first report was released in 2010. Other key findings include:
• Oklahomans have a strong culture of volunteerism: the state ranked 20th nationally in the rate of citizens who volunteer, with a total of 814,700 volunteers or 29.2 percent of the state’s residents.
• Oklahoma ranks 44th among all states in the rate of citizens who are registered to vote and 47th in voter turnout with a rate of 40.4 percent for citizens age 18 and older. Turnout for local elections is even lower at less than 8 percent.
• Oklahoma maintains a moderate degree of confidence in public institutions. Nationwide, there is a relatively low level of confidence in public schools, the media, corporations, and the government. However, Oklahoma maintains a good degree of confidence in public schools. Also, Oklahoma ranks fifth nationally in terms of corporations, with 68.6 percent reporting they are very or somewhat confident in corporations.
• Oklahoma civic skills are on track to improve with the new C3 plan, “college, career and citizen ready,” offering a seamless citizen education framework from Pre-K-12.
The focus on education is important nationally, and Kristen Cambell, chief program officer of the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), said the report shows Oklahoma’s crucial role in this area.
“The Oklahoma Civic Health Index is a critical component of a national dialogue about the importance of civic engagement to strengthening communities. The report’s emphasis on the importance of voter education and civic skills to advancing public life across the state provides a model for others across the country working on these issues,” said Cambell, who was on hand at the state Capitol to assist in presenting the findings.
The UCO students who participated in the research project advanced their own civic education, as well.
“This process showed me that public service is where I want to be. People can make a difference in their communities, and I hope this report generates ideas and inspires people to take action to create a better state for everyone,” said Danielle Hernandez, a senior organizational communications and Spanish double major from Blanchard and one of the student Civic Scholars who served on the research team.
The other Civic Scholars include Lauren Craig, a graduate student in psychology from Oklahoma City; Natasha John, a graduate student in political science from Stillwater; Sofia Price, a psychology major from Moore; Jerry Shelton, a graduate student in business administration from Edmond; and Alyce Vigil, a graduate student in history from Pawnee.
The research team will now work toward taking the report to areas throughout the state, sending an interactive infographic to public schools and libraries and planning town hall-type gatherings.
The report is produced in partnership with the University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma Campus Compact, the Kerr Foundation Inc., the Walton Family Foundation, and the NCoC. In 2010, UCO, in partnership with the NCoC and Oklahoma Campus Compact, produced the first Oklahoma Civic Health Index.
THE COMPLETE report can be downloaded at www.ncoc.net/OK.