If you walk up to someone and ask them to name the President of the United States, they’ll be able to answer your question in the blink of an eye. If you ask them to name their congressional representative or their senator, however, you might be faced with blank stares, and some people may be unable to answer. Ironically, in fact, as you ask people to name their local officials–their state senators or legislators, their city councilmen, and so on–they have a harder and harder time responding.
For a nation that was founded on the idea of citizens’ direct access to representatives, this lack of awareness about local officials is ironic. After all, while their jurisdictions may be smaller than that of presidents and senators, local officials arguably have more influence in people’s daily lives than commanders in chief. Of course, presidents and national leaders have much more of an ability to set the political agenda, but local officials have a tremendous power of their own in terms of how they deliver government services to citizens.
For example, does it matter more that the president signs a bill into law strengthening police forces, or does it matter more that your mayor and city council get to decide how to spend money on the police and how many officers patrol your neighborhood on a daily basis? And while senators may campaign on the importance of creating jobs, local officials play a role as well by offering incentives to attract new businesses to town and by passing laws, such as ordinances and zoning codes, that can determine what jobs are available in their communities.
This actually gives local politicians surprising influence during state or national elections. As a result of their work to provide government services to citizens, mayors, city council representatives, sheriffs, and other local leaders develop strong relationships with voters, which they can use to mobilize those voters in support or against particular candidates for higher office; therefore, mayors can offer state or national-level candidates important endorsements and help energize voters to go out and volunteer for them as well.
Local politics may lack the glamor and spotlight of national campaigns, but despite this, local politics play a pivotal role in the operations of the government and nationwide elections. President Ronald Reagan once remarked of America’s local communities, “That’s where miracles are made, not in Washington, D.C.,” and there are thousands of mayors, state legislators, sheriffs, and other local officials who would surely agree with him.