Florida's Civic Health Index, 2008-2010

Jonathan Knuckey

This factsheet provides a summary of the Florida's civic health over the past three years.  The U.S. Census Bureau now collects numerous questions about volunteering and political and civic engagement as part of its Current Population Survey (CPS).2 This allows for the development of indices which can be used to track Florida's civic health over time.3 Rather than reporting every individual indicator of civic engagement now asked by CPS, four separate numbers are reported for each of the following dimensions of civic engagement: The percentages are reported for voter turnout for 2008 and 2010 and for each of the other indices for 2008, 2009 and 2010. For each index a comparison is made between Florida and the nation.6

Figure 1: Percentage Voting in Florida and United States

Figure 2: Political Action in Florida & United States

Figure 3: Social Connectedness in Florida & United States

Figure 4: Public Work in Florida & United States

Figures 1 through 4 show little difference between civic engagement in Florida and the nation. Perhaps the most widely reported measure of civic engagement is the simple act of voting.  Despite being a pivotal "battleground" state in the 2008 presidential, voter turnout in Florida was a little below that of the nation. The drop-off in turnout has been a persistent feature of midterm elections, and the decline in Florida's turnout in 2010 was again close to the national average, despite the fact of having two high profile statewide elections, for Governor and U.S. Senate.

Voting may be the most visible way for citizens to bp civically engaged, but it is by no means the only way that citizens can influence the government and other large institutions.  In 2008, Floridians were more politically active than the rest of the nation.  This was largely driven one item in the Political Action Index: percentage who discussed politics with family and friends a few times a week on more.  Since 2008 there has been a decline in this index, in both Florida and the nation.  Even the hotly contested U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections in Florida in 2010 could not stimulate the same level of political action as in 2008. Social connectedness refers to that dimension of civic health not connected to the official things people do, but with all the unofficial things they do in relation to one another.  These kinds of informal interactions increase the bonds in a community and increase its civic health. Similarly, having relatively weak social connections can reduce the civic health in a community.  Given the very transient and ever changing demographic profile of Florida, one might have anticipated Florida to have ranked lower in terms of its social connectedness.  However, further reinforcing the image of Florida as a microcosm of the nation, there was very little difference between Florida's rating on this index and the rest of the nation. The final dimension of civic engagement is public work. This (admittedly strict) measure shows that this is the most demanding form of civic engagement, with 5 percent or fewer Floridians being engaged in public work.  However, nationally the level of engagement – or lack thereof – is quite similar.  Indeed, in the top ranked state – Vermont – only around 10 percent were engaged in public work.

Summary: Florida's Civic Health Index Ranking

Figure 5 shows how Florida ranks on each index of civic engagement compared to all 50 states.  The ranking for the Political Action, Social Connectedness and Public Work indices are rolling average for 2008-2010.7

Figure 5: Florida's Civic Health Index Rankings, 2008-2010

While Florida's civic health is not on "life-support," the state's rankings over the past three years do provide cause for concern.  Except for social connectedness, Florida ranked in the bottom half of all states on each civic health index.  Moreover, for 2010 voter turnout and public work, Florida was placed in the bottom ten states. Of course, examining the statewide picture is but a part of describing and understanding patterns of civic engagement in Florida.  In forthcoming factsheets, we will examine different communities in the state to determine if some parts of Florida are more civically engaged than others.  We will also examine the demographic correlates of civic engagement to determine who in Florida is most and least likely to be civically engaged. In this way, we can begin to diagnose Florida's civic health and prescribe remedies to enhance patterns of civic engagement among its citizens.


1 Director of Research at the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government.  Thanks to Kei Kawashama-Ginsburg at CIRCLE for making the data available and clarifying many questions about the data. Of course any errors in the reporting and interpretation of the data are those of the author alone.

2 The monthly CPS collects primarily labor force data about the civilian non-institutional population living in the United States. The CPS uses a multistage probability sample based on the results of the decennial census, with coverage in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The sample is continually updated to account for new residential construction. Interviews are generally obtained from more than 50,000 households producing an unweighted sample size in excess of 100,000 respondents. Volunteer Supplement questions are asked in September of each year and Voting Supplement questions are asked in November of an election year. The sample universe includes persons age 15 years old or older. Data reported here for the state of Florida is based on a sample of more than approximately 6,000 respondents for each year. CPS weights the data to match estimated population totals, and it is the weighted data reported here.

3 The approach to measuring Florida's civic health differs from earlier efforts. SeeFlorida Civic Health Index 2008andFlorida Civic Health Index 2009: Communities and the State's Civic Destiny.In each of these the civic health index was measured as the average of the following items: (1) percentage voter turnout; (2) percentage of citizens who reported that they had undertaken any volunteer activity during the preceding year; (3) percentage of citizens who reported that they had attended a public meeting during the past year; (4) percentage of citizens who report that they have worked with other people in their neighborhood to fix a problem. Both reports are available at http://www.ncoc.net/202 and http://www.ncoc.net/index.php?tray=content&tid=top57&cid=2kc29.

4 The concept was first articulated by Robert D Putnam, "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital,"Journal of Democracy, Volume 6, Number 1, January 1995, pp. 65-78.

5 Public work draws on the terminology of Harry Boyte,Reinventing Citizenship: The Practice of Public Work http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/citizenship/dh6586.html. This work draws on antecedents such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: An Annotated Text Backgrounds Interpretations, edited by Isaac Kramnick, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007, Ch. 12.

6 Percentage reported for voting are based on U.S. citizens aged 18 and older.  For the political action and social connectedness indices the percentages are based on those respondents who were aged 18 and older. Percentages for the public work index are based on those respondents who were aged 16 and older.

7 Florida's rankings are higher than the overall ranking produced by a different measurement strategy in previous efforts to measure civic index (see note 3 above).  For example, the Florida Civic Health Index for 2009 ranked Florida 46th on an average of four items.  Applying the previous approach to the three-year rolling average for 2008-2010 (two-year rolling average for voter turnout), Florida ranked 44th in the nation. The indices in this factsheet utilize a greater number of indicators to measure civic engagement and the results reported yield a more complete picture of Florida's civic health.

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