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Minnesota ranks first in civic engagement

NOVEMBER 4, 2009

Picture of students cleaning chairsThe Center for Democracy and Citizenship, which came to Augsburg College from the University of Minnesota this summer, provided Minnesotans with one more reason to be proud of their state. When it comes to the combination of voting, volunteering, and working for change in their own neighborhoods, no state in the country has had more engaged citizens over the past few years than Minnesota.

As a result of the Minnesota Civic Health Index that was released by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Minnesota—a state long known for its civic involvement and engagement—can claim the title of the most civically engaged state.

"The report on Minnesota Civic Health by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship shines a powerful spotlight on our state's civic leadership in the whole nation," Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said. "The challenge for all of us is how to build on this and sustain civic involvement, going forward."

Minnesota is one of only two states nationally that ranks in the top 10 in the percentage of residents 16 and older volunteering, attending a public meeting about community affairs, or working with others in their neighborhood to fix a problem over the past three years and the percentage of eligible voters casting ballots over the past three federal election cycles.

South Dakota is the only other state to finish in the top 10 of each of those categories. However, Minnesota ranks ahead of its neighbors to the west in each of the four categories.

Minnesota ranks first in voter turnout between 2004-08 with 70.2 percent of those eligible casting ballots. Over the past three years (2006-08), Minnesota is third in regular or sustained volunteering rates (38.3 percent), ninth in residents attending a public meeting (14.0 percent) and eighth working with others to fix a problem (11.1 percent). All four of those categories are actions that any Minnesotan can participate in, regardless of income level.

"Minnesotans do more than help out or serve others, as important as these activities are," said Harry Boyte, co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship and co-author of the report. "Minnesotans are civic workers. We produce civic things together, from schools to parks, arts fairs to block parties. Public work builds civic muscle, developing confidence and hope that we can shape our communities and our destiny."

The results are part of the Minnesota Civic Health Index, a report created in connection with National Conference on Citizenship.

Why is this important? Productive citizenship is crucial to a healthy community as it builds civic confidence, ownership in civic life and public goods, motivation, and empowers residents to be able to create change and have a say in the structure and priorities of their local communities.

"To describe Minnesota is to describe its people," said Senate Minority Leader David Senjem. "People who since statehood have met every challenge with a 'can do, will do' attitude. People who see yesterday for what it was and tomorrow for what it can be. People with a generational sense of civic responsibility who build rather than tear down. People who without pause put the needs of their neighbors above personal needs. This is who we are. This is the fabric of the people of our great state. This is who we must forever strive to be."

While 2008 was a challenging year economically throughout the United States, Minnesotans showed civic resilience as much of the nation saw a sharp drop in civic effort. Among the 2008 Minnesota highlights:

- The state was first in voter turnout with 77.8 percent of those eligible casting ballots. That was 14.2 percent higher than the national average.
- Minnesota was third nationally in charitable organizations, with 60.2 percent donating at least $25.
- Minnesotans ranked fourth in statewide volunteering, with 60.5 percent donating their time and energy.
- Nationally 72.2 percent of people said they had cutback in volunteering; in Minnesota that figure was 58.6 percent.
- 41.4 percent of Minnesotans said they increased volunteering in 2008 compared to 27.8 percent for the nation as a whole.

Minnesotans also have a sense that instilling a sense of civic duty in the next generation is important as 86.4 percent believe that young people should be able to earn money for college through community service projects. In addition, 80.8 percent believe that young people should be required to do community service in high school.

The Center for Democracy and Citizenship has received significant media attention for the Civic Health Index including stories in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. An Associated Press story was published in several newspapers in the state. Boyte was also interviewed by WCCO television.

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