After reading Steve's post about Texas Republicans' bizarre freakout over a Democratic effort to drum up new voters (an apoplectic Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst proclaimed: "Over our dead bodies are we going to let this state turn blue."), I once again asked the larger question, What is the deal with Texas, anyway?
It turns out some Texans are asking that question, too, namely the folks at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas, who recently released its first-ever Texas Civic Health Index.
The idea behind the index is to measure civic and political engagement in Texas. And Texas? The engagement is off.
The Dallas Observer, under one of the great headlines of all time, "Report: Texans Are Astonishingly Bad at Making Friends, Caring About Stuff" broke down the report this way:
In Texas, 61.6 percent of eligible residents are registered to vote, which puts us at No. 42 among states and the District of Columbia. The numbers get worse -- "alarmingly low," in the words of the report -- when it comes to actually voting. In the 2010 midterm elections, Texas was dead last in voter turnout, with 36.4 percent of registered voters coming to the polls. And don't even get them started on local elections.... We show comparable levels of interest when it comes to contacting public officials, discussing politics, donating to charity, volunteering, trusting neighbors and communicating with family and friends.
BEEP! Texas isn't home right now, please leave a message. Also contributing to this pandemic of political apathy?
Democrats don't have a chance in statewide races, giving voters in both parties little incentive to show up at the polls. There tends to be relatively little media coverage and nonpartisan voter guides, contributing to Texans' general ignorance about politics. The report doesn't really offer an explanation for why Texans are so disengaged in other aspects of life.
The Index does, however, provide this useful metaphor for America's civic health in general.
When the human body climbs a steep stairway or lifts a heavy load, several systems—heart, lungs, muscles—act inconjunction, and only a relatively healthy set of systems will be up to the task. Similarly, when a society needs to tackle the steep climbs and heavy loads of democratic self-government, healthy political, civic, and social “systems” make that activity possible. Like human bodies, societies can survive with less than optimal health, but sooner or later, the costs of poor civic health will be felt—in decreased government accountability and increased citizen disaffection.
Diagnosis? More cardio, less baloney.