In a first-of-its-kind study of the greater Austin area, researchers evaluated civic engagement in electoral and political processes, civic involvement, social connectedness, philanthropy, and volunteering. The report, called the Greater Austin Civic Health Index, was published by the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, in partnership with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas at Austin and the National Conference on Citizenship.
Key findings include:
- Austin residents turn out to vote at higher rates than the state of Texas as a whole and on par with national well-being. Sixty-two percent of Austinites voted in the 2016 general election. By comparison, voter turnout in Texas for the same election was 55 percent.
- Voter turnout in local elections is relatively high in the city of Austin. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the city of Austin residents voted in the last local (mayoral) election in November 2016. Sixty-five percent of white and 56 percent of black residents reported voting in the last election, while just 37 percent of Hispanics reported voting.
- Socioeconomic factors strongly shape voting and other indicators of civic engagement. Data in Austin parallels national data indicating that individuals who are younger, lower income and with lower levels of education are significantly less likely to vote or be civically engaged in other ways.
- Researchers saw a decrease in the percentage of residents who report they feel informed about key issues affecting the community. Sixty-nine percent of people in Austin feel informed about key issues — down from a 10-year baseline of 75 percent. Older, more educated and higher-income residents report higher percentages of being informed.
- More than two-thirds of Greater Austin area residents report that they give $100 or more to charitable organizations. However, many Austinites said they would donate more if they knew what the community really needed.
- Rates of volunteering have slightly decreased in the last 10 years. One out of three Greater Austin area residents reports volunteering for a charitable organization.
- Greater Austin area residents feel they have things in common with their neighbors, with 65 percent of residents reporting strong similarities with their community.
Researchers recommend introducing culturally competent civic education in public schools, harnessing the city’s technological resources to remove obstacles to civic participation, investing in the local community and region, and promoting social connectedness.