Civic Engagement in Omaha-Council Bluffs
The Omaha-Council Bluffs area is known for its philanthropy and friendliness, but digging in to the data shows a more complex picture that can tell a different story. Only a small percentage of individuals in our community report that they are working collaboratively with neighbors to solve problems. And while our community is incredibly philanthropically inclined—half of residents give annually to a nonprofit—we are less politically engaged, with voting rates hovering between 30 to 40 percent for local and state elections.
When a community is civically engaged, residents have a deeper connection to the neighborhoods and each other, creating a stronger, more vibrant, and inclusive city. They actively participate in voting and have confidence in their region's public institutions. Civic engagement can manifest itself in many ways; volunteering, involvement in groups or organizations, voter participation, advocacy, and even informal social connections.
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and the people and issues we vote on not only affect our everyday lives, but will have a long-term effect on the policies put in place that will determine the future of our community—and country—for years to come. And while the region's voter participation rates are higher than the national average, there are hundreds of thousands of people not exercising their right to vote in elections; and there are many more residents who may not have access to the voting process. Also, our elected leadership does not reflect the make-up of our population; while women comprise nearly 50% of the region's population and people of color makeup 12% of the state population, their respective representation in government is roughly half of that.
The data for measures of Civic Engagement also starts to paint a picture of generational differences around how people connect within their community. As technology becomes more prevalent, and people are decreasingly interacting face-to-face, the levels of engagement and social capital in a community may be altered as well.