When Speaker “Tip” O’Neill said “all politics is local”, he couldn’t have been more correct. The problem is that no one was listening, and if they were, they shrugged their shoulders, smiled politely, and then turned on their heels and walked away grumbling about the latest controversy in Congress, the most current quote by the President, or worse, what the First Lady was wearing.
The person then went home to complain about his/her property taxes, the rise in state taxes, why the roads weren’t repaired, the “red light” cameras, why the local high school wasn’t purchasing the latest textbook, his latest utility rates, the rise in the state income tax, why the local garbage pick up service is always late, or early, or that the downtown needs to be revitalized and no one is doing anything about it. The person then went on to explain to his neighbor later that day that it was the President and Congress that weren’t getting anything done to fix the problems he’d just mentioned, and probably a few more.
If you’re that person, than you weren’t listening to Tip O’Neill either (unless you weren’t born yet, in which case, pay attention). If all politics isn’t local, the vast majority of it is and we simply ignore it. Local elections, especially in large municipalities or cities have election turnouts that are abysmal. In New York, Bill DeBlasio won with the lowest voter turnout since the 19050’s. Only 25% of voters turned out for the District of Columbia’s mayoral election which, by all accounts, was hotly contested. It seems the only time locals come out to vote is when there’s a referendum on increasing property taxes for the local schools. That is a significant bone of contention for many, with both sides digging in and engaged. Even then, well under thirty percent of registered voters turn out, but at least they do. The numbers are getting worse on the state and local level, as more and more voters are becoming more and more apathetic.
Local elections, be they state or municipal are the life blood of this country, and affect people much more on a daily basis then do national elections. Everything from the amount you spend on gasoline for your car, your electric bill, the aforementioned property taxes, and even public spaces such as parks and libraries are controlled by the local government, yet when it comes time for elections, most people don’t bother. They stay at home and continue to complain about everything mentioned earlier not realize it that their vote in the local elections carries exponentially more weight than it does in a national/general election. A good comparison would be dropping a boulder into a lake from a height of six feet versus a stone from the same distance.
So, if local elections are so important, why the apathy? There are studies that address a number of concerns, but for Think 31, it boils down to this…drama. See, Americans love big events, earth shattering events. We love the spectacle, being part of something that might “change everything” so that the world can see whatever it is we want them to see. We magnify everything like that. The World Series, when the world really isn’t involved. The Super Bowl, not the American Football Championship. Even our circus acts, now mostly defunct, had the same mantra: The Greatest Show On Earth. We love this stuff. It gets our adrenaline going, making us feel as though we are on the cutting edge of something so important, so grandiose, so spectacular that everyone has to watch or be part of it. Its who we are, whether we like it or not.
Americans are not modest. We think we are, but we aren’t. We’re the big show people and we don’t mind who knows it. From the cars we drive to the homes we live in, we do it big. Deny it if you must, hate it if you will, but this is who we are. Brash, innovative, loud, and wanting to be part of something big. Sorry, no apologies here.
The result is that we forget that in the end, it’s the small things that matter. Ask anyone who leads a team of any sort. The macro items are the easiest to teach, but the details…that’s where the magic happens, and if the details aren’t taken care of, then the whole will suffer. Think of your local elections that way. They are the details, the small things that make the car shine, make the machine efficient, and make the rest of the overall, whatever that overall is, function as its supposed to. The problem is that we forget about that as we’re so concerned about the big, splashy events, the glitz of the national. We’re so involved in the People Magazine part of it all, we forget that what really counts is what’s in front of us on a daily basis. I think that last sentence might apply to more than just politics should we think about it for a moment.
There are, in this election cycle, many seats being contested. State and local representatives, school boards (maybe the most important yet least paid attention to), local mayors, and city council representatives, not to mention state elections. If you really give it honest thought, I mean really honest thought…which has more effect on your daily life, the national or local elections? If you didn’t say local, meaning state and truly local, then you’re not paying attention.