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Citizen wane


A recent study finds Oklahomans are lacking when it comes to some matters of citizenship.

Tim Farley December 12th, 2012

Eating dinner together as a family is important to many Oklahomans, but politics isn’t going to be one of the mealtime conversation topics.

Those two findings were part of the 2012 Oklahoma Civic Health Index, which was developed by a team of faculty and student researchers at the University of Central Oklahoma in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship.

The research team presented its report Dec. 4 to Oklahoma Secretary of State Glenn Coffee.

According to the report, Oklahomans rank eighth in the nation for eating dinner as a family, but 30th in discussing politics at the table or elsewhere.

UCO graduate students and project researchers Alyce Vigil and Lauren Craig said the study did not provide reasons or conclusions for the family dinners or lack of political discussion.

“Maybe people consider it bad manners,” Vigil said. “Can’t we have fruitful conversations without getting upset?” Janelle Grellner, UCO psychology professor and assistant director of the university’s American Democracy Project, said the dinnertime finding suggests Oklahomans are “family oriented still. Perhaps we still believe that’s a good thing. Maybe [children] will learn about [civic] engagement at the table.”

Actually, the report shows a need for increased civic involvement, and a few indicators of progress since the last findings were released in 2010.

In 2012, Oklahoma ranks 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.

Grellner was surprised Oklahoma didn’t rank higher.

“I thought we were a pretty well-oiled machine in that regard,” she said.

Researchers discovered that Oklahomans spent an average of 37.3 hours volunteering from 2008 to 2010. The major volunteer activities during that time period, in order of frequency, were fundraising, food collection and distribution, general labor and tutoring and teaching.


Low points
The study shows Oklahoma ranks 44th among all states in the rate of citizens who are registered voters, and 47th in voter turnout for national and state elections. The voter turnout figure of 8 percent in local elections was especially alarming, but the reason for it might be generational. The report shows that 50 percent of Oklahomans born in 1930 or before typically vote in local elections versus 7.2 percent of those born in 1981 or later.

“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,” said Patricia Loughlin, UCO history professor and director of the American Democracy Project.

Another interesting political note shows nearly 63 percent of state House seats this year did not have a chance to be competitive because incumbents didn’t draw an opponent. Oklahoma often does not score high in terms of political competitiveness.

“Political competition is a significant aspect of civil engagement because citizens are more likely to participate when they know their votes make a difference,” researchers wrote. “When there is a single candidate, there is obviously not a choice, which leads to lower engagement.”


Surface smiles
There were some bright findings. The report shows Oklahomans are friendly and willing to exchange favors with their neighbors, ranking 14th in that category. In what appears to be a contradiction, however, the state ranks 45th in terms of talking with neighbors frequently (40 percent versus 43.7 percent nationally). Another view shows almost 60 percent of Oklahomans trust all or most of the people in their neighborhood.

“It is somewhat puzzling that while the level of trust and exchanging favors is strong, the reported levels of talking with one another and working together is low,” researchers wrote. “This may suggest that, on the surface, Oklahomans have strong social connections and networks, but these connections are not used for deeper engagement. Could this be a tendency to avoid potential conflict of opinion? Or is it a reflection of an assumed agreement on such issues?” Grellner said she believes state and community leaders should be concerned by the findings.

“We need to be engaged,” she said. “Overall, we can’t be proud of these numbers. We know where we started and now we can work to improve it.”

To view the entire report, visit ncoc.net/OK.

 
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