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Survey ranks states’ civic involvement

Washington tops Idaho; both above average

A national survey of civic engagement finds that Washington scores well while Idaho is fair to middling on such measures as voting, volunteering, participating in a group and working with neighbors to solve community problems.

Washington’s scores in the new survey by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship are “admirable,” said David Adler, a University of Idaho constitutional law professor and head of the UI’s McClure Center for Public Policy. “I think that many in Washington have fully seized the potential of participation in the civic life of their state. And so that represents a standard toward which Idahoans can aim.”

Washington ranked fourth in the nation for the number of residents who participate in a group, such as a religious institution or a neighborhood association; sixth for voting; 11th for volunteering; and ninth for working with neighbors to fix a community problem.

Idaho ranked 17th for participating in a group; 25th for voting participation; 10th for volunteering; and fifth for working with neighbors to fix a community problem – the state’s highest ranking. However, the numbers were very low in that measurement: Idaho’s high-scoring level was just 13.6 percent participation on average each year over the last three years. Washington’s was 12.8 percent, and the national average was just 8.4 percent.

“Here in Idaho there is a strong sense of community pride, and people do assume an obligation to help one another,” Adler said. But the numbers show that “when it comes to actually engaging in efforts and rolling up their sleeves,” not many do.

The McClure Center makes promoting civic education and involvement one of its central missions; Adler said that’s why he’s partnering with other groups to enhance knowledge of the Constitution in Idaho schools and in the public; to encourage political participation; and to encourage political civility.

“That’s our primary mission,” he said.

Adler noted that Idaho and Washington scored similarly in the study on volunteering, with 34.1 percent of Idahoans volunteering on average over the last three years, and 33.7 percent of Washingtonians. Both exceed the national average of 26.5 percent but are well below Utah’s No. 1 score of 44.5 percent.

Voting was an area where Washington ranked far better than Idaho: According to the survey, an average of 52.8 percent of Washington residents voted over the past three years, while Idaho’s figure was 44.7 percent. Although Idaho ranked 25th among the states, both states’ scores exceeded the national average of 41.8 percent.

Adler said Idahoans generally pride themselves on voting and participating, but “this number indicates in fact that a lot of Idahoans stay home.” He called it “a wake-up call to Idahoans, that 44 percent turnout is not nearly good enough.”

The dominance of one political party in Idaho, the Republican Party, may contribute to lower voter participation, he said, as people conclude that their votes won’t make much difference in a one-party state. But Adler said if many more Idahoans voted – and that 44.7 percent figure soared – they’d see that they could.