Arizona lags the rest of the nation in measures of civic engagement ranging from voting to following the news to participating in community groups, according to a study released Thursday.
The report from the Center for the Future of Arizona said the problem of low voter turnout is especially acute in rural areas of the state.
Lattie Coor, the former Arizona State University president who serves as the group’s chairman and CEO, urged an audience of community leaders to take action and begin by talking to their neighbors.
“We hear these data and we don’t do much about it,” Coor said.
“Citizens have a responsibility to be engaged,” said Jack Jewett, president of the Flinn Foundation, one of the sponsors of the study. “We have to create an epidemic of civic leadership.”
Among the key findings:
• Arizona voter turnout was 59.8 percent in 2008, falling short of the national average of 63.6 percent. In rural areas of the state, turnout was 47.3 percent, far below the national figure of 59.8 percent.
• Arizonans had the lowest news consumption out of 13 states preparing similar civic health reports.
• Only about one out of three Arizonans belongs to a community organization that meets at least once a month, attends group meetings or serves as an officer or committee member.
• One out of four Arizonans volunteered in 2009, slightly below the national average.
Courtney Klein, co-founder and senior adviser of New Global Citizens, a group committed to mobilizing young people, compared those rates to teenage rebellion and said they won’t be easy to change.
“It’s going to take strong leadership,” she said.
The report cited one bright spot for civic engagement: Tucson’s voter turnout exceeded both the state and national averages.
The findings built upon a 2009 Gallup poll that found only 10 percent of Arizonans said they believed elected officials represented their interests.
“If a manufacturing company, automobiles or computer chips had that kind of response, they’d be out of business,” Coor said.
While the Gallup poll focused on voter attitudes, the latest study delved into voter behaviors.
Coor said the group’s next step will be identifying five communities in which to launch programs boosting civic engagement. Those have yet to be identified.
A roundtable of leaders from around the state and from various sectors will propose and implement statewide goals, he said.
• Center for the Future of Arizona: www.thearizonawewant.org
• National Conference on Citizenship: www.ncoc.net
About the report:
The Arizona report is one of 13 state reports that will be published this year in conjunction with a national report published by the National Conference on Citizenship, which has been taking the pulse of civic health since 2006.