Your Local Government, for Better or Worse

Local governments are more important in our daily lives than national governments, but voters haven’t gotten the message.


(Credit to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Ryan Nash, Senior Staff Writer

Throughout the last few years, many have felt the world becoming more politicized. Even students themselves are increasingly participating in political activism. Yet our local government, arguably our most important government, have not become nearly as politicized. It is something that is often overlooked, gravely to our detriment.

The U.S. Constitution is not based on the centralization of power. Local bodies of government have much more power in the areas under their jurisdiction. They take responsibility for many of the aspects of our day-to-day lives, overseeing parks, local authorities, fire departments, housing services, emergency medical services, municipal courts, public works (i.e. sewers, transportation services), and so forth.

Despite these obvious truths regarding the vitality of the local government in The United States, voters seemingly are not interested in local politics, myself included. Why is this?

I cannot say for certain, but it would not surprise me to learn that the media is to blame. Not just the big national firms like CNN or FOX, but even the local media. Sure, the local media outlets cover weather, road accidents, and other important information – but not often your city’s officials.

Many political scientists have also noticed this, and why it is happening. One such scientist is Daniel J. Hopkins and in particular his book, The Increasingly United States: How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized, puts the blame on our voting system. The American Constitution focuses on location-based voting. As our world becomes more connected, or “nationalized” as Hopkins calls it, we become more focused only on local politics as it relates to national politics. 

“Today’s nationalization stands in sharp contrast to some of the core assumptions made by the framers of the US Constitution,” Hopkins puts it.

This process of “nationalizing” the United States politics happened gradually over many decades starting in the 1950’s. Before this, politics were significantly more localized.

As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “There is not one Republican Party, there are 48 state Republican Parties.” After the Second World War, local variations on politics started to fade into a more national political culture.  As this interconnection of society continued to speed up throughout the 60’s and 70’s, particularly in regards to the developments in national television news, matters only got worse. Today, local Republican or Democrat parties espouse policies that are seemingly identical from New York to Hawaii., despite the fact that certain policies are dependent on the conditions they are applied to. 

Not only this, but, as Hopkins points out in his book, this also removes a large portion of the genuine democratic element from our elections. This can be shown simply because we are able to predict presidential votes, congressional elections, and state elections based upon the voting patterns of local elections, which rarely vary. This pattern is very alarming, as voters should think about whom they are voting for more in local elections than state or national elections because local elections arguably have a greater impact upon the individual voter. Despite this, we see almost no variation in these voting patterns.

Even more troubling is that Americans view their local government much more favorably than they do their federal government. Although part of this could a result of how voters know the individuals in their local government, the same patter applies to large city’s local governments. This indicates one thing: voters are not paying attention to their local government. We know the damage this can cause to a community — it can even cost lives.

Do we have to be reminded of the mass poisoning Monsanto committed in Anniston, Alabama, while their local government stood idly by? How many times do local governments have to call on federal authorities to help them out simply because they refused to do life-saving procedures, like we saw in Hurricane Katrina? What about more recent national issues, such as police violence and destructive rioting? Although genuine reform must happen on a national level, the best way to combat problems at the local level is through the local government.

It’s now clear that we have only two realistic options: Either focus on our local government, or call for a more centralized system. 



Editors’ note: All opinions expressed on The Uproar are a reflection solely of the beliefs of the bylined author and not the journalism program at NASH.  We continue to welcome school-appropriate comments and guest articles.