PayPal Donate


Voting Is Power Summit Report: Disparities, Poverty, and Civic Engagement Struggles and Opportunities

Voting Is Power Summit: Voting Saves Life

A Report on Voting Disparities and Civic Engagement: 
Analysis prepared by Ron Robinson for our Lead North Class Project with Leadership Tulsa
Updated from Aug. 2015 Voting is Power Summit Meeting

The Major Points

1. We have a now almost 11 year life expectancy gap between north and south Tulsa (In 2007 the OU Levin Study showed it was almost 14 years; in the nine years since, the focus on social determinants of health in the 74126 and 74106, and the beginning of an increase in clinic access, have helped to narrow the gap by three years; it remains an outrageous injustice of disparity). 

2. Physical health is often greatly affected by a community’s civic health as part of the “social determinants of health” which account, along with lifestyle choices, for some 70 percent of life expectancy (OU Community Health, Dartmouth Study report; the other 30 percent consists of almost 20 percent in a person's genetics, and 10 percent only from clinical treatment, doctor and hospital care). 

3. And civic health is greatly reflected in, and affected by, VOTING. Those who vote are connected more to their community; those who are connected more to their community live longer and stronger lives. 

4. It is no surprise then to see that disparities in life expectancy in zipcodes track along with disparities in voting turnout between north and south Tulsa.

The Overview: 

In the Nov. 2014 general election, 27.1 percent of all registered voters in North Tulsa voted. One precinct in far north 74126 had the lowest turnout at 20 percent. By comparison, one zipcode in midtown, with highest life expectancy and lowest population of African Americans and Hispanics, the 74114, had 45.5 percent turnout; and one of the precincts in that midtown zipcode had 49 percent turnout, the highest. 
So there was a near 30 percent turnout gap between highest in midtown and lowest in North Tulsa.
Even in the recent mostly northside state senate election in Dist. 11, there was inordinate unequal distribution of turnout percentage within that District alone as well from precinct to precinct; so even within areas of the northside, some precincts have more electoral voice than others; often tracking along socio-economic lines. 

Disparity of Access to Polling Physical Locations

There are seven precincts covering all or parts of four zipcodes in Far North compared to eight precincts in just one Midtown Zipcode 74114 where the highest turnout was, and even 15 precincts in just one South Tulsa zipcode, 74133. The precincts therefore are further spread out on the north side than on the south side; this at the same time that poverty and sickness on the north side make transportation more difficult and inequitable as well. One precinct in Far North does not have a polling place within its boundaries, basically north of 66th St. and must go to another precinct location to vote.

North Tulsa precincts count for only some 16 percent of all precincts in Tulsa; this means even if there were 100 percent turnout in all precincts, other areas would account for 84 percent of any vote. The ability to make electoral decisions that affect a poverty and low life expectancy area in city wide elections and concerns, therefore, make it difficult for the northside to have the same electoral clout; this inability in turn feeds into the cynicism that leads itself to lower voter participation. 

The reason for this, of course, is that numbers rather than need is used to determine precincts; it can be said it is the same reason for the disparity of health care access and of food insecurity disparities of access to full service grocery stores. Instead of going where the greatest health care needs are, clinics and hospitals have located where the greatest number of residents are; instead of going where the greatest food insecurity is, grocery stores go where the greatest number of residents are; when post offices were closed, they were closed not where people had the most alternatives and resources available for postal related services, but in the areas where people had the fewest number of these resources. The same is true of voting places. The disparity is confounded because the areas where there are the most residents are also the areas where there is the easiest transportation and most other resources as well. It is easier than to vote in certain precincts and parts of town and harder in other parts. 

This disparity is not the only reason for low voter turnout on the northside, (for example, the effects of mass incarceration on the poor and people of color and the percentage of felons and ex felons living in different areas needs to be statistically analyzed; and the promotion of the law about felons being able to vote needs to be promoted in areas of high felon residency; just one additional reason), but residents of the northside are statistically poorer and sicker and that makes it harder for us overall to access all institutions of civic life, including the key one of voting. It shows the result of basing polling places primarily on the number of residents in an area, for not all residents and not all areas are equal in resources. If you take the bus across town to work and back and have family to attend to, for example, on election day it makes getting to a designated polling place more difficult for those in poverty, especially given inadequate public transportation.
Highlighting this issue is the location chosen for the second early voting site. In both Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas, the opening of a second early voting site is a good step to increase access to voting, but the sites chosen were not where there is the current low voter turnout; instead, following the numbers not need model, the sites were located in wealthier and whiter areas where people already have easier access to voting. 

It also points up the need for one proposal to have locations established in each area of the city where residents could vote on election day regardless of where they live; other proposals for increasing access, such as mobile polling places, are also available over a long term effort to turnaround multi generational voting patterns. And there are a host of other electoral reforms proposed that would help, such as automatic registration, moving the day elections are held, and others. 

Another historic factor that is affecting civic engagement and health in North Tulsa has been the redistricting of state representative and state senate seats; over the past 40 years, even in the past five years, the amount of geography that is included in the representative area for example of Dist 72 has grown tremendously; what once in the 1960s for example was a boundary area that was included within the far northside area itself has now grown vastly to cover all the way from the TU area, near to the Cherry Street area, all through north Tulsa all the way to downtown Owasso area and covering the town of Sperry itself; this stretching out of the physical boundaries affects again the ability of people in poverty to be in contact with the representative, who once lived in geographic proximity to them and with them, and it affects the ability of the representative to physically get to all of the areas within the political boundaries and to be known by constituents. These are greater problems than those in areas with smaller geographic boundaries. This takes on particular importance in poorer neighborhoods because of some of the reasons why people don't vote. When they feel disconnected from information on the candidates, and the issues, they don't vote as often; they are motivated by personal relationships in ways and to degrees that those of higher social economic characteristics are not, those who rely on accessing information online and through print and have the means to attend campaign functions. 

eeting, but as many will not be there, and one of the findings is that people don't "go to meetings" for social capital, it is important to share and discuss online so share and discuss away. I will try to present it in better format another day.

Community Benchmark Survey Summary Findings, April, 2015
Lead North (North Tulsa Development Council/Leadership Tulsa) Class Six Working Group 3

Analysis by
Ron Robinson

People in several North Tulsa zipcodes die 14 years sooner than those in nearby midtown and south Tulsa zipcodes;
a key ingredient of life expectancy and physical and mental health is what is known as "social ingredients of health, which along with genetics account for 80 percent of a person's health, much more than health clinic access along though that is vital;
a key social ingredient is social capital and civic engagement, where for example health is grown and shared;
a key indicator of civic engagement is voting; North Tulsa turnout for voting is at times half of what it is in South Tulsa.

How to grow civic health as a means to personal health (realizing the catch-22 that personal health issues contribute to being able to grow civic health).
See appendix below for previous reports on voter disparities.

Analysis by Ron Robinson
1. Worked on community project last year: 1-2 times 28.4 percent; 0=27.10; so more than half, 55.5 percent, on two or less; But for more than 15 times the result is 18.69 percent. A corollary question: How many times volunteered: 1-2 times 27.1 and zero 17.7 percent, so 44.8, close to half, only volunteered for anything two or fewer times a year; but the 15 or more times category was second highest at 19.6 percent.
Analysis: a disparity among community participation: verifies the 20-80 percent rule; twenty percent do 80 percent of the community participation; shows the reliance on a few, which increases fragility in an already fragile community.

2. Attended a Public Meeting where community issues addressed past year: 1-2 times: 37.3, 0: 28.9, so two third, 66.2 percent, attended any public meeting only two or fewer times. And 15.8 percent 3-5 times; so 82 percent attended any public meeting five or fewer times.
Analysis: Face to Face civic encounters are minimal. We did not ask for online civic discussion or advocacy of issues; need to see how public forums have shifted from f2f to social media communities.

3. Particularly political meetings or rallies: 82.2 percent two or fewer times, almost two thirds zero times.
Analysis: political involvement becomes not a public manifestation, but an affinity activity, which tends to promote polarization rather than moderation.

4. Any club or organizational meeting: 38.3 percent said zero; 18.6 1-2 times, so 56.9 for two or less; 10.2 percent said more than 15 times (see above for disparity of participation analysis)

5. Any meeting at neighborhood school: 44.8 percent said none, and 22.4 said one or two, so more than two thirds, 67.2 percent, had not been to a meeting in one of the most public of local spaces. Analysis: Schools have lost status as community connector, and are untapped local resource for “other than school” related connections to build up community engagement which is vital to the support of the schools themselves.

6. Friends over to your home in past year: leading category was more than 15 times, 24.3, though the other end of the spectrum, zero times (13 percent) and 1 or two times (15.8) equaled 28.8 percent.

Analysis: We need more detailed look to see if there is a grouping between those who go to the most public meetings and have fewest friends over to their home, or the most friends over; that would be a good dynamic to know; for example, one hypothesis is that people substitute personal for public relationships. “Bridges Out of Poverty” work [Dr. Ruby Payne] teaches us that In generational poverty areas like ours in the North Tulsa zipcodes, personal relationships and the ability to express individual personality is one of the resources people have in place of financial resources; therefore, public meetings usually are built upon and promote public rather than personal relationships and engagements (compare an agenda, with pre-planning and an order to follow at a school setting—where authority and exclusion triggers might exist—compared to “having friends drop by”, and yet the latter is the place where information is shared and decisions made;
Additionally 40.1 percent, highest category response, eat five meals or more together with their family. Due not only to cost of eating out, but it is a normally controlled location
In addition, poverty culture favors immediate action, the present is the most important time, and are in survival mode, intimate relationships and only being with people they like, and entertainment; public civic engagement meetings are often not structured for that.

7. How many times in the home of someone of a different race the past year: both 1-2 times and 3-5 times tied for most responses at 24.3 percent each, with zero accounting for 18.6 percent. [Remember this survey taken in an area with highest ethnicity being African American, followed by white, then Hispanic, American Indian, etc.; so while African Americans are the dominant culture in the area itself, of course they are a minority culture within the overall region.]
8. How many times get outside of your neighborhood into the home of someone in a different neighborhood past year? (We did not delineate the term neighborhood, and we found many people did not know the name of their neighborhood, or what might constitute it; so a different neighborhood might be on the other side of a major street but in an area very similar to their own on the northside; should probably specify being in a home of someone on the south, east, or west part of Tulsa, or suburb.). The most prevalent answer was 1-2 times, 24.3 percent, followed by 3-5 times 21.5, and 16.8 percent more than 15 times. Analysis: They are more host into their own home, than they are guest in someone else’s. This too connects with issues of personal relational safety and survival culture. It also indicates that simply holding “public issue” meetings in a home will not get perhaps the same response as engaging the issue within the home of each.
Connected to this, then, also is the response below on how people would like to receive information about the community: 50.4 percent, the largest category response by far was for mail (comes directly to home).
9. How many times in the past year have you been in the home of someone you consider to be a community leader: by far zero times, 57 percent followed by 1-2 times, 23.3 percent—so 80.3 percent two or fewer. Analysis: community leaders are cutting ourselves off from the primary location for our resident’s engagement. And some two-thirds are not self-labeled community leaders serving with a group.
10. How often do you attend religious service? Every week or more often was the highest response at 27.1 percent, followed by almost every week, 16.8. Analysis: shows the importance of the church community on the northside for being a vehicle for civic information, but perhaps not for engagement with those diverse from one’s self.
On the other hand, like other civic groups, the religious ones are fragile as well, as when asked how much money is spent on religious organizations and to “causes” the most prevalent category was under $100 with 35.5 percent, and zero being third at 16.8 percent; 100-500 dollars was 19.6 percent.

11. When we look at people indicating an interest in public and political issues: 26.9 percent very interested was main response; and 25 percent somewhat interested was the second highest. An overwhelming 75 percent said they were registered to vote. 5.7 percent didn’t know. 50.9 percent said they had voted in the past year, but 14.4 percent said they didn’t know. 54.8 percent said they had no challenges in voting, but 26.9 percent said not knowing enough about the candidates or issues hindered their voting.
Analysis: We were tapping into a selected niche of residents who voted (because the turnout statistics which are hard and fast indicate a difference) or people are misestimating their voting patterns, which indicates they know it is a value.
Also, knowledge about a candidate can be correlated with the location of receiving that knowledge, and the propensity mentioned above, to form relationships intimately and personally; impersonal appeals and info might not connect with our residents as personal connections will, and yet the geographic disparity of different legislative districts drawn after the censuses show how much harder it is for candidates on the northside with much more distance within their districts to make such personal intimate relationships.

12 Trust factors as a foundation for community engagement and civic health:
the biggest percentages trust national and local governments some of the time (more than hardly ever, less than most of the time); the respondents btw described themselves as middle of the road in political matters as the highest percent category (24.1) with moderate and liberal Democrat accounting for 21.1 percent.
Almost two-thirds lean on the mistrustful side of people in general (you cant be too careful, which is a contributing factor to lack of participation in civic matters: 63.4 percent answered that, and 7.6 percent answering I don’t know).
People in neighborhood: trust some was highest category (33.6)
The police: trust them some highest category (43.2 percent) with 36.5, more than a third, trusting them not at all or only a very little bit.
People working in stores, and trust level of the schools: trust them some was highest response
Different race/ethnicity trust levels: trust some was top category across the board.

Analysis: To increase social capital with those whom we don’t know, our own neighbors living near us or in North Tulsa in general even, requires a growing level of trust, which is built on being able to feel safe in order to be authentic and vulnerable, which is a requirement for being able to take on teamwork (see for example Patrick Lencioni’s work on effective teams); this is especially so, and a challenge, for those who connect most frequently and easily in their own homes and in settings that are conducive to their cultural strengths, and acknowledge how they interact and share with one another. Our potential in North Tulsa is that we have the inherent cultural and ethnic diversity among our residents to be creative and to be a “learning community”, but that very diversity can be a challenge to our trust levels; we need to continue growing in trust with others who are different from us (moving main trust category from some to most of the time).
The strengths found within our high level of “poverty culture or class” (resourcefulness in the face of few resources, thinking outside the box, knowing how to survive, loyalty, etc. [Bridges out of Poverty]) can be our own weaknesses when social capital and civic engagement is still predicated on “middle class/educated class cultures” that make it hard for us internally to interact with them (on top of the institutional classism/racism issues of not being invited to the table, not having the means to take off work to get to meetings, having to rely on friends, family, public transportation, not having child care, etc.).
Conversely, the challenge and potential is how to take these “weaknesses” and use them, and connect them with new media and the culture of new generations (favoring local action, relational, experiential, participative, communal) in order to better connect one with another.

Our snapshot responder was female, 47.5 years old, African-American, who has completed only a high school education, making less than $30,000 a year, who has never been married, who owns her own home (43 percent did, but 40 percent didn’t).

Next Steps:
1. The resident survey to listen to people was a pilot limited project. We need to improve it and institutionalize it through an ongoing online presence and another period of f2f surveys, ideally rotating the f2f aspect through different parts of North Tulsa each year so we can go in depth into the diverse areas of the northside, producing results that will be most beneficial to residents and groups in those specific areas.

2. Focus Group followup with selected survey respondents to add nuance and clarity and more understanding than from only the survey data itself.

3. A community leader online survey geared to tracking what leaders in North Tulsa are experiencing in their groups regarding civic engagement; what are they trying that works, doesn’t work, how are they doing with self-care, with growing or maintaining or losing their own resiliency and being leaders who create more leaders. This would have the crucial side-benefit of creating a self-selected broad-based directory of community groups/leaders in North Tulsa. Right now there are many who don’t know about others; there are community leaders who are “under the radar”; the under-resourced area itself is mirrored in under-resourced organizations and groups leading to the fragility of the area. We wouldn’t be determining who is a leader or not, but if someone can identify a group, small or large, organized or not, of which they are a part in North Tulsa then that constitutes leadership and their work needs recorded.

4. Ultimate strategy result is to have an ongoing Civic Health Index, just as we now have with the Tulsa County Health and Wellness Index each year that tracks primarily medical health. Civic Health is perhaps a pivotal part of overall Health; those who are more engaged in a community’s civic life are more apt to have access and use existing health resources, just as having a healthy family and being personally healthy is a key factor in being able to be civically engaged as well.

5. To do this will take partnerships with others beyond North Tulsa as well. We can see partnerships for this, as have been done in other places in the country, with universities, with government planners, with those concerned with Health (it is in many ways all geared to creating healthier citizens for a healthier community and eliminating that 14 year life expectancy gap).

6. We end on a positive high note of how some of our work and some of this area of interest is already having a life of its own beyond our Class. Our Community Benchmark Survey will be part of a breakout session at a planned Voter Engagement Summit on Saturday August 22 at Rudisill Library. Part of the discussion is on the voting turnout disparity analysis for the northside, and the way precincts, as one example, are more spread out in the poorer areas where people already have a harder time of transportation. Already being discussed by officials are some possible solutions such as creating fixed voting centers in each part of the area where people could vote regardless of where they live, so that people on the northside who may work on the southside could vote during the day on the southside to make it more convenient for them. Partnerships and proposals like this will come out of the ongoing listening to residents and leaders that would be part of a North Tulsa Civic Health Index. If our own teamwork is an indication, contemplating the elements of the survey itself raises it to our consciousness and commitment.

For more on the details of voter disparities and access to polling:
The Community Benchmark Study in Far North Tulsa by Lead North Class

Our class in 2014-15 looked at the broad area of building social capital and civic engagement on the northside. We did a pilot project of a civic health survey that looked at how connected people seemed to be and seemed to feel connected with their community and one another. Below are some of the initial finds and analysis we did of the results, but our major finding is that this kind of survey needs to be institutionalized with someone who can keep promoting it each year so that it helps to lead not only to better connections and information itself, a kind of leadership support survey that also gives a snapshot of civic health on the northside, a kind of annual Tulsa Civic Health Index for the Northside such as the Tulsa Health Department issues for its Overall Physical and Mental Health indexes. A followup survey would also help the survey itself to grow in quality and depth, growing from the issues internal to the survey we noted. Still....

1.      We found that some residents are very connected to community but most are not, following the proverbial 20-80 rule; some 20 percent of respondents were accounting for some 80 percent of the community meeting and other engagement measures. In an already fragile environment this burden on leaders is especially not healthy; burnout that can and does happen anywhere can be exarcebated in fragile environments.

2.      Face to Face community meeting involvement was therefore low; more than 80 percent attending five or fewer broad umbrellas of community meetings events. We did not ask about online community engagement, however, and through facebook particularly and various community groups that has become a growing place of civic engagement, with its own sets of pros and cons and issues. As online civic and community association grows that will accerbate the disparities and disconnect among those without the means to online access the same as others. 

3.      More than two thirds had not been to any community meeting inside their neighborhood public schools. This was seen as an opportunity since the school buildings are a community resource, and the more community is connected with the schools even from meetings and events in them than the more support the schools are likely to receive. A concentrated effort is needed to get more and more community residents physically inside school buildings. In poorer neighborhoods, the local school buildings are one of the few community resources physically present; when they are not used to the fullest extent, it affects the poorer residents more because they don't have alternative spaces for community engagement. [note again the one precinct in Tulsa on the northside which does not even have a polling place available in its area, indicative of the dearth of physical resources for the community there]. 

4.      One of the highest percentages of engagement came in the realm of having people over to one’s house, even family and friends; as public meeting attendance dwindled and people looked for safer environments emotionally the role of personal relationships has increased. At the same time, almost no people reported ever having been invited into the home of a broadly defined community leader. Shifting the location of where civic engagement occurs, both online and to smaller and more intimate settings, is likely to reap bigger results. (see recent studies about changing people’s attitudes on social issues due to personal relationships and even door to door discussions, at 

5.      We found that very few people reported having people over to their house or going to the house of someone of a different race or ethnicity or with someone from a different neighborhood.

6.      We found that people did attend in highest percentages the community institution of their faith community; at the same time when asked about how much they support their faith community, the most prevalent answer was very little; again a few supporting the institution, which in fragile communities makes those institutions more fragile.

7.      More survey results need to be done on voting attitudes, but our respondents self reported that they were interested in political issues, and fifty percent said they had voted, and most said they had few barriers to voting, but the most often cited ones were about lack of information about elections and about the candidates; their not knowing led to not voting; they also said, in keeping with the safety factor of receiving community information, that they preferred to get political information through the mail directly to their home. [poorer neighborhoods also often suffer from stereotypes of crime, and from real issues of blight and lack of enforcement of stray animals, etc. all of which can reduce the kind of personal visiting and campaigning that would have the most effect on voter interest and tunout.]

8.      Finally we asked people trust questions, as trust in neighbors and institutions is key to civic engagement; two thirds were mistrustful in general of others. When asked to choose from a variety of responses about how much they trusted institutions, the schools and the people working in the local stores (not necessarily the stores themselves as a business) received the highest trust scores; which might show the necessity again of where to conduct civic engagement, voter registration etc drives and events. We asked about trust across ethnic lines, and the uniform answer was that people trust others of other ethnicities “some” of the time which was a response just a little on the positive side of the spectrum of choices to respond.

9.      Building necessary trust to work together in civic engagement is key; we have on the northside the diversity which creates opportunities for deep rather than superficial engagement, but we need to look at how safe environments we are creating for it. Also in areas of high poverty and social underclasses, the ways that people and groups and institutions try to engage with residents might be counter-productive and class based, assuming that all have familiarity with a kind of meeting that is like a college lecture setting, with little interactivity, and little ways of establishing personal intimate relationships during the meetings; not doing so continues to drive people away from civic engagement, those whom need it perhaps the most.

10.  Our typical respondent was a 47.5 year old African American making less than $30,000 a year, who has never been married and perhaps owns her own home.

Next Steps To The Survey:

---Continue to refine it. Find an institutional online home for it. [Since our work we have connected with the statewide civic health work being done through the University of Central Oklahoma, and more connections and replicating the survey in other metropolitan areas would be helpful]. 

---Form focus groups to go into deeper discussion and nuance on its findings.

---Create a more specific survey of defined northside community leaders in order to track their and their organizations struggles, their strengths, their learnings of what is working and not working in civic engagement on the ground from their perspectives. This survey would also serve to be a way to let leaders and others know what is going on in the northside year to year. 

Through it create a Civic Health Report on the Northside that could be issued annually ala the Tulsa Wellness Report by the Health Dept.

No comments: