What does this indicator measure?

This indicator measures the percentage of registered voters who voted in the 2012 general election.

The connection to health

Everyone should be able to contribute their voice to the political process and to participate in their communities. Voter participation is an indicator of both social power and social cohesion. It has strong, but indirect, connections to health.

Communities with higher rates of voter participation typically have more social and political power than other communities and are often better positioned to successfully influence the local conditions that shape health.14 For instance, communities may advocate for beneficial social programs and education, or against the location of toxic facilities in their neighborhood. Voting is one important way in which social power is exercised in California, but far from the only one. Economic or institutional influence and community organizing can also influence community conditions. Yet there are few data sources, and none at the census tract level for the entire state, that measure these other mechanisms, leaving voter participation as an imperfect but necessary proxy.

Voting can also be an indicator of social cohesion, or the trust, relationships, social support and participation in a community or society. A number of studies, including several in California, have drawn connections between social cohesion and health.47 Social cohesion has also been found to be health protective during climate events and other disasters, helping people and communities respond and recover.48 Like social power, there are currently few data sources, and none at the census tract level for the entire state, that provide an adequate picture of social cohesion.

A longitudinal study of over 9,000 youth released in 2018 found a positive association between civic engagement (defined as voting, volunteering and activism) and income and education levels later in adulthood49; both are factors that can influence one’s health. In California, voter participation rates are inequitably distributed, with Latinos and Asians voting at much lower rates than other racial and ethnic groups, due to gaps in citizenship, voter registration and voter turnout. Other measures of political participation, such as engagement with elected officials, and participation in campaigns, meetings, protests, or consumer activism show similar patterns, reflecting broader inequities in political power.50

Where to start?

Increasing political engagement and community cohesion requires strategies specifically focused on voter engagement, as well as others that are aimed at increasing social power and connection more broadly.

Ensuring people are ready and registered to vote is an important first step in increasing voter participation. Local jurisdictions can Make Registration More Accessible by streamlining the registration process through same-day registration, online registration and pre-registration of youth. These strategies make it easier for everyone to register, and also help to reverse the legacy of disenfranchisement in communities of color. Similarly, local governments can Make Voting More Accessible creating opportunities for more people to vote by ensuring language and disability access and offering additional places and ways to vote.

Another set of strategies are available to increase social power and connection outside of the electoral arena. Local governments can Create a Participatory Political Process to create opportunities for meaningful political participation in government decisions about the community conditions that impact health. They can also form partnerships to Support a Strong Community Fabric. This involves nurturing health-supportive community networks, and supporting community voice and power to improve the conditions that shape health through strategies like community organizing and capacity building.