Residents in the Greater Austin area ranked high in voter turnout and knowledge of key issues, but have lent less of a helping hand, according to the 2018 Greater Austin Civic Health Index.
The study is the first of its kind in the region. It looked at and provided recommendations for political participation, civic involvement, engagement and empowerment in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Caldwell and Burnet counties. The report was prepared by the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas and the National Conference on Citizenship.
Watch a discussion about the report:
The index found that Greater Austin area residents turn out to vote more than any other region in the state and vote in relatively high numbers in local elections. About 59 percent of residents in the six surveyed counties reported voting in their most recent local election.
The report also found that 69 percent of residents were aware of key issues affecting the community. Those who were older, more educated and had higher incomes were more informed. That percentage has been declining over the last 10 years.
Susan Nold, the director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, said the community has to work to improve voter turnout among young people.
“If we can capture students far before college and sort of teach them the values of civic engagement and put practical examples behind vague concepts,” she said. “We think that’s a really important thing to do.”
More than two-thirds of the Greater Austin community reported giving $100 or more to local charities, and rural areas transitioning into suburban areas saw the largest donation increase. Although donations were up, all counties saw a decline in the number of foundations in 2011 after the recession.
“There’s a starting point, I think, for most citizens to find themselves somewhere in this report and then to consider how that behavior is so commonplace and familiar to them,” Nold said. “It can sort of expand their own civic engagement or value that they’re bringing into the community”
The index also measured social connectedness in the area. Neighborliness has stayed consistent over the past 10 years. According to the report, about 65 percent of residents feel that they have things in common with their neighbors.
Nold says the aim of the report is to “spark conversations that citizens can have with each other," leaders and businesses.
“Austin is great for creating new technological tools and ideas,” she said. “So, thinking about how our technology and entrepreneurs can sort of support our lived community is, I think, really a great opportunity.”
KUT provided financial support for this report.