Kelley O’Brien is the Director of the North Carolina Civic Education Consortium, a program of the School of Government and one of the five North Carolina Civic Health Index partner organizations.
Our communities depend on civic capital. When residents vote in local elections, volunteer to assist those in need, sit on school boards, or voice their concerns through letters to the editor, they are making our communities better places to live. The 2010 North Carolina Civic Health Index outlines several disturbing gaps in civic participation, most notably, low levels of participation among our state’s young people and demographic gaps in North Carolina’s civil society.North Carolina’s young people—the future leaders of our state and communities—are, unfortunately, the least civically engaged of any age group in the state. The state’s Millennial generation, those born after 1981, reported the lowest rates of participation on each of the five major indicators of civic engagement: They are the least likely to have volunteered in the past year, worked with their neighbors to fix a problem in their community, participated in a non-electoral political act, contributed $25 or more, and, among eligible voters, to have voted in the 2008 election.
A successful democracy hinges on active, engaged residents participating in civil society. The strength of North Carolina’s civil society can be measured by the number of residents who attend group meetings, formally belong to groups, and, to a larger degree, by the number of group participants who hold offices or committee memberships. Unfortunately, not all North Carolinians are participating in civil society at equal rates: Few young people, Hispanics, African-Americans, and lower-income residents are participating in groups or organizations. Moreover, the state’s leadership base is characterized by disproportionate representation of certain demographics: College-going and white North Carolinians are more likely to be civil leaders, as are residents who are involved in religious institutions. The connection between education and formal group leadership is especially strong: North Carolinians with college experience are more than five times more likely to be civil leaders than their fellow residents who never went to college. Only 2.2% of North Carolinians without college experience are civil leaders.
The North Carolina Civic Health Index outlines several recommendations for remedying the civic gaps outlined above. These recommendations include:
- Ensuring that our state’s young people are learning about government (federal, state, and local) and civics in the classroom and that teachers have resources to teach these subjects effectively.
- Promoting service-learning that connects students to the communities in which they live.
- Recruiting and mentoring a diverse group of leaders who represent the varying interests of our state’s residents.
- Continuing to explore creative means of supporting informed participation in all of North Carolina’s elections.
- Actively recruiting diverse groups of volunteers.
The North Carolina Civic Health Index was released in partnership with the the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC). NCoC has published America’s Civic Health Index annually since 2006. In 2009, NCoC formalized a partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau and the Corporation for National and Community Service to develop, refine and implement annual measures of America’s civic health. North Carolina’s Civic Health Index is overseen by a team of organizations committed to advancing civic engagement in North Carolina, including Democracy North Carolina, North Carolina Campus Compact, the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, the North Carolina Civic Education Consortium, and the Department of Public Policy at Western Carolina University.
For additional findings and recommendations from the 2010 North Carolina Civic Health Index, visit the report web page.