Engaged but Disengaged

A new study about political engagement doesn't tell the whole story

This morning Maryland Reported reported on a study of political engagement by Wallet Hub. The study asserts that Maryland is the 4th most engaged state politically.

I’m not entirely sure why a site that provides tips on improving your credit is releasing studies on political engagement, but I had also never heard of Wallet Hub until this morning so I guess I have my answer.

The problem with the study is that it doesn’t actually measure political engagement, just voter accessibility. There’s a difference.

Here is the methodology, copy and pasted from the Wallet Hub survey results.

  1. Percentage of Registered Voters in the 2016 Presidential Election: Full Weight (~8.33 Points)

  2. Percentage of Electorate Who Actually Voted in the 2018 Midterm Elections: Full Weight (~8.33 Points)

  3. Percentage of Electorate Who Actually Voted in the 2016 Presidential Election: Double Weight (~16.67 Points)

  4. Change in Percentage of Electorate Who Actually Voted in the 2016 Elections Compared with the 2012 Elections: Double Weight (~16.67 Points)

  5. Total Political Contributions per Adult Population: Double Weight (~16.67 Points)

  6. Civic Education Engagement: Half Weight (~4.17 Points)

  7. “State Preparedness for Voting in a Pandemic” Score: Full Weight (~8.33 Points)

  8. Voter Accessibility Policies: Half Weight (~4.17 Points)

  9. Preregistration for Young Voters Policies: Full Weight (~8.33 Points)

  10. Volunteer Political Campaign Opportunities per Capita*: Half Weight (~4.17 Points)

  11. Percentage of Residents Who Participate in Local Groups or Organizations: Half Weight (~4.17 Points)

Those data points are worthless when it comes to measuring political engagement.

Data points #1-4 are voter turnout metrics.

Data points #6 and 10 aren’t really defined.

Data points #7-9 are voter accessibility metrics.

Only data points #4 and #11 are points that actually measure political engagement by describing that shows somebody would need to go above and beyond voting once or twice a year.

When I think of political engagement, I think of people who follow politics. Participate in politics. Make donations. Volunteer on campaigns. Join clubs. Engage their elected officials. They are people who vote in every since election regardless of “voter accessibility” policies and other useless metrics Wallet Hub used for their survey.

What’s even more annoying is the fact that the story by Maryland Reporter’s Bryan Renbaum took the report a face value and did no actual analysis on the story. The report links to the study, but features no actual review of the data set or analysis of its findings. The story features talks to two legislators and a Congressman, all of whom referred to actual reasons for political engagement instead of the nonsense reasons cited by Wallet Hub.

I would say that Maryland is somewhat politically engaged, but for reasons that are not at all cited by this study. We have a large percentage of D.C. politicos who live in the Washington suburbs. We have a large and active special interest community, pouring funds and resources into state and local campaigns. We are heavily unionized, and those union officials make sure to turnout for Democratic candidates.

But I’m hard-pressed to suggest that Maryland is the 4th best state for political engagement. The usual pet peeve of mine is why: so many people know what’s going on with President Trump and what’s going on in national politics, but don’t know who their State Senator or County Councilman is. The only issue that many local Marylanders seem invested in is the issue regarding schools reopening for in-person instruction.

But as I walk through my neighborhood, the neighborhood is awash in Trump signs. But I’ve seen three total houses that have signs for a local Congressional or school board candidate. And my house is one of the three.

Ultimately, this Wallet Hub political engagement survey is worthless. Anybody with two eyes can see that.