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Texans rank low in political participation, national survey finds

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Texans love their sports, independence and food, but their interest in politics falls far behind.

A report released Tuesday shows that Texans rank among the lowest in the nation for civic involvement and political participation.

“This report should be a wake-up call for all Texans who care about the future of our state,” said Regina Lawrence, director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin. “By not being civically engaged, too many Texans are ceding control over the direction of our state to an active few.”

And in a state made up of independent men, women and children — where even the governor in past years has mentioned seceding from the union — that’s a rare occurrence.

Boosting civic literacy through schools and improving access to college are crucial to creating a more politically involved state, according to the Texas Civic Health Index, the new report by the Strauss Institute.

The findings, released one week after the 83rd legislative session and based partly on the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey on Voting, Volunteering and Civic Engagement, include:

• In 2010, Texans ranked 51st in voter turnout, 42nd in voter registration, 49th in the number of residents who contact public officials and 44th in the number of people who discuss politics a few times a week or more.

• Texans ranked 43rd in donating, 42nd in volunteering and 37th in group membership, regarding civic involvement. Women are more likely to be civically involved.

• Residents rank 16th in helping their neighbors by doing favors a few times a week or more, but Texans rank 47th in terms of neighborhood trust.

• Texans with more education tend to participate more, and Hispanic Texans and immigrants are “significantly less likely to participate in almost every form of civic engagement,” according to the report.

“Civic involvement is a difficult issue to measure, as is political participation, except for voting numbers,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Texas has large numbers of immigrants and newly enfranchised citizens, which may be part of the reason for low numbers. We have also been historically a one-party state, first the Democrats and now Republicans. And this may discourage some participation.

“We are a very young state in population, and young persons historically do not participate much politically,” he said. “Our economy is good compared to other states, and a good economy and jobs often dilutes participation since the population is relatively affluent compared to other places.”

Some of the state-to-state comparisons in the report may be misleading, said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. For example, he said, when Texas activism is compared with Vermont activism, that “is somewhat like comparing Collin County to the rest of Texas,” he said.

At the same time, not all Texas demographics avoid political activism.

Last year, 63 percent of African-Americans and 61 percent of Anglos turned out to vote. Even so, just 39 percent of eligible Hispanics cast ballots, records show.

“If Texas is to improve the quality of its democratic process, and in doing so rise in these rankings, it needs to rectify this pattern of low participation and involvement among the state’s Hispanics,” Jones said.

Recent talk about how getting more Hispanics to vote might ultimately turn the state “blue” could have merit.

“In the short term, at least, any efforts to expand Hispanic participation will have an adverse impact on the Republican Party at the polls,” Jones said.

However, he said, it could also threaten “the re-election efforts of many non-Hispanic Texas Democrats who represent districts where Hispanics are a majority of the adult population but a minority of actual voters.”

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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