Why Voters Ignore Local Politics

In his new book The Increasingly United States, Associate Professor of Political Science Daniel Hopkins says American federalism was based on the idea that voters’ primary political loyalties would be with the states—but that that idea has become outdated.

“With today’s highly nationalized political behavior, Americans are no longer taking full advantage of federalism. Contemporary Americans are markedly more engaged with national politics than with the state or local politics,” says Hopkins. “We now know more about national politics, vote more often in national elections, and let our national loyalties dictate our down-ballot choices.”

The book presents evidence about Americans’ voting and political engagement and offers two reasons to explain why today’s voters are paying more attention to federal elections. The first, Hopkins says, is a landscape in which the political parties offer similar choices at the national level.

“Just as an Egg McMuffin is the same in any McDonald’s, America’s two major political parties are increasingly perceived to offer the same choices throughout the country,” he says.

The second reason is the changes in the media and how Americans get their news, creating an environment that allows people to follow their interests in national-level politics, making local and state-level politics easy to ignore, he says.

“As Americans transition from print newspapers and local television news to the Internet and cable television, they are also leaving behind the media sources most likely to provide state and local information,” Hopkins says. “The result is a growing mismatch between the varied challenges facing states and voters’ near-exclusive focus on national politics.”

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