What Makes You A Good Member of Society?

Minnesota again led the nation in voter turnout during the mid-term elections Nov. 8. Our consistently high voter turnout is a source of pride for many in the state. It also reflects our sense of civic responsibility and belief that we can make a difference in shaping our future when we vote.

In a study it recently conducted in the world’s 19 most economically advanced nations, The Pew Research Center found voting is considered the most critical responsibility for a person to be a good member of society.

“Voting is a fundamental act in a representative democracy, and as a new survey of 19 advanced economies highlights, most people believe that to be a good member of society, you must vote,” the Pew Research Center reported.

Since 1996, Minnesota has been first in the nation for voter turnout in presidential election years five out of seven times. The two times it wasn’t first, it was second.

As with other states, voter turnout in Minnesota depends on whether it is a presidential election year or a mid-term election. During the presidential election years from 1996 to 2020, Minnesota’s average voter turnout was 76.4%. It saw a high of 80% in 2020 and a low of 70.1% in 2000.

During the mid-term elections, there was a considerable drop in motivation for people to go to the polls. Minnesota voter turnout in the 2022  mid-term elections was 61.6%, just ahead of Maine at 60.9% and Wisconsin at 60.2%. 

 In the mid-terms from 2002 to 2022, the average voter turnout in the state was just 59.6%. It was only 50.5% in 2014 but 64.9% in 2002. This significant drop reflects a group of Minnesotans who get fired up to vote for a presidential candidate but otherwise stay home on election day.

When the Pew Research Center asked its respondents to rank seven actions and beliefs necessary to be a good member of society, they put voting at the top of the list. 

Among the traits Pew surveyed and their being very important were:

Voting in elections 73%

Supporting climate change efforts 63%

Getting the COVID-19 vaccination 57%

Following what political events  46% 

Following current events 43% 

Willingness to protest 22%

Attending religious services 16%

While attending religious services finishes last in this survey of seven questions, it may be because many people in advanced democracies separate religion and civic engagement. However, when Americans are asked questions about what gives meaning to life, religion is among the top answers, especially for people living in rural areas. It is also because Americans tend to see religion as an essential part of the fabric of their lives.

Showing the growing global concern about our warming planet, supporting efforts to reduce carbon-based fuels and turn to alternatives such as wind and solar energy ranked second in the Pew survey.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the world economy and our healthcare facilities has been easing, it is still a concern among citizens in the world’s most advanced nations. Young people are the most concerned and energized in the fight to slow global warming. Women were more concerned than men.

“Voting is not the only element of perceived good citizenship. Taking steps to improve the environment and promote public health are also seen as imperative: Solid majorities describe making choices to reduce global climate change and getting a coronavirus vaccine as very important,” the Pew report said.

Those surveyed by Pew also said being informed about current affairs was critical to being a good member of society, with 88% finding it either somewhat important or very important.

Good citizenship isn’t just about paying attention to national or international politics. Where our citizenship has the most significant impact is at the local level. Our participation ensures our children have good schools, our cities clean water, our communities access to healthcare, and our counties good roads.

To have an impact in each of these critical local areas, we must be informed about the actions of those serving on our city councils, county boards, boards of education, and hospitals. It requires we actively seek out and read local news to stay informed.

It is at the ballot box where we have our say in setting the priorities for our communities. If we can see the impact of our voting at the local level, perhaps it will motivate more of us to vote in the mid-terms.

“People who think their political system affords them a great deal or a fair amount of influence on politics also tend to be more likely to say voting is essential to be a good citizen than those who think they have little or no ability to influence politics,” the Pew survey found.

The survey also found that there is a large gap among different age groups regarding how important voting is to being a good member of society – especially in America. “The gap is largest in the U.S., where 82% of those ages 50 and older say this, compared with 64% of those 30 to 49 and 47% of adults under 30,” Pew found. 

These findings again tell us that we have to do a better job in our youth’s civic education.

“Civic education is essential to sustain our constitutional democracy. The habits of the mind, as well as ‘habits of the heart,’ the dispositions that inform the democratic ethos, are not inherited,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in “Democracy in America” in the 1830s. “I see the time drawing near when freedom, public peace, and social order itself will not be able to do without education.” 

Each generation takes on the responsibility for its youths’ civic education; it is not inherited. It is taught. It is through civic education that we learn to be good citizens. Our average turned in the mid-terms of just under 60% can be improved – it’s our civic duty.