The high-velocity online news source Vox, billing itself as “a general interest news site for the 21st century,” recently ran a profile on “The 9 most important facts about the coming election.” In that article, they include one major topic contrasting the attention given to national political races (including most of the Vox article) to that granted to local races across the country.
9) Local elections are really important
The biggest bias in election coverage isn’t towards Republicans or Democrats or even towards conflict and sensationalism. It’s towards national elections rather than local elections. This is partly a question of resources: it’s a lot easier for a news organization to cover national politics than local politics. And part of it is that the media covers elections as the culmination of the bloodsport of American politics, and local elections don’t really count towards that.
But insofar as elections are about making and changing the laws that affect people’s lives, local (and state) elections are wildly underemphasized. The major decisions around infrastructure, education, and criminal justice policy are made at the state level. The decisions around zoning, occupational licensing, and the management of many public services are made at the local level. For most Americans, these decisions will be as or more consequential than anything the federal government does.
Moreover, turnout is so low in state and local elections, and people have so little information, that individual voters are much more powerful at the state and local level than they are at the federal level. This November, hundreds of cities will be choosing new mayors and new city councilmen — and that’s to say nothing of superintendents, county executives, comptrollers, and all the rest. These elections matter, but national political parties and the national media devote a whole lot less time and resources into making people feel like they matter. So while you’re obsessively tracking the national polls in September and October, take some time out to learn about who’s running for what in your city.