Regardless of how you feel about the tea party movement or where you stand on the issues directly affecting our lives here in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire, it's heartening to see people interested and seeking to play a role in what's happening around them.
Yes, turnout was a disappointing 17.6 percent statewide in the Massachusetts primary election earlier this month. But that may have been more due to a lack of competitive races than simple apathy. Secretary of State William Galvin is predicting those numbers will triple for the Nov. 2 final election when there will be a hotly contested race for governor on the ballot and several key questions to decide — including whether to roll back the sales tax to 3 percent.
In New Hampshire, where there were primary contests for governor, senator, two congressional seats and dozens of local races, turnout was higher. Secretary of State Bill Gardner reported that a preliminary count of 201,992 ballots were cast — the second highest number ever in a primary. That's something around 22 percent of eligible voters.
A recent report called "Civic Life in America: Key Findings on the Civic Health of the Nation," also provides reason to hope Americans are taking a more active interest in what's happening in Washington, in their statehouses and at their city and town halls.
Some excerpts from the summary provided by the report's sponsors, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship:
The growing rate of Internet access is helping to advance civic participation in America.
People who live in a household with a computer and access to the Internet are more likely to be civically engaged. "In fact, adults who did use the Internet regularly were more likely — by more than 20 percentage points — to vote in the 2008 election than adults who did not use the Internet.
And perhaps, most encouraging, even in these tough economic times, "Americans are tilting toward problems instead of away from them."
According to the report, "between 2008 and 2009, almost 58 percent of Americans directly helped their neighbors at least once a month." Indeed, last year we saw "the greatest spike in volunteering since 2003, with almost 1.6 million more Americans serving their communities."
In his 2000 book, "Bowling Alone," author Robert Putnam lamented what he saw as the increasing isolation of Americans. Now it seems social networking and other forms of electronic communication may have reversed that trend.
The important thing is that people seem to be paying attention again. And in the long run, that's a good thing for everyone.