Schleicher in Atlantic: All Politics is National

Professor David Schleicher contests Tip O'Neill's famous quote, "All politics is local," in an article in The Atlantic in which he argues that state and local elections will continue to fail us unless voters receive more relevant information about the candidates from which they choose.

Voters in federal elections have party labels to help them determine the candidates with whose national stance they are likely to agree, says Schleicher. "In state and local elections, we rely on party labels, too, but they do less work for us. There is a 'mismatch' between the level at which party identification is created and the level of government at issue in the election," he explains.

"The implications of the mismatch problem are dramatic, as it leaves very little space for local accountability or representation. How state legislators perform in office may have a small effect on whether they get to stay in office, but, for the most part, their re-election chances will be determined by the popularity of the president," Schleicher says.

All Politics Is National, The Atlantic, July 16, 2012. By David Schleicher.

"Regardless of the reason, it's pretty clear that many elected officials do not face much pressure at the ballot box. What's needed are tools for creating locally-specific heuristics for voters. Previous 'solutions' like non-partisan elections remove information rather than adding it, making things worse, not better.

"Elmendorf and I have come up with a few ideas. Ballots could designate which party is in control of the state legislature, allowing voters to more easily decide based on policies and performance. States could mandate that ballots list candidates as, say, 'Massachusetts Republicans,' rather than just as 'Republicans,' allowing voters to more easily disassociate the state and national parties. Voter registration rules could be relaxed to allow separate membership in parties for state and national elections. More radically, states could ban national parties from contesting local elections, allowing local parties to develop, although this would face serious constitutional challenges.

"In places where primaries determine the outcome of elections because of one-party dominance, we could allow third parties or other groups to make endorsements on primary ballots. In non-partisan jurisdictions, we could allow the mayor or governor to make on-ballot endorsements in legislative elections, turning the individual brand of a high-profile official like a Bloomberg into a down-the-ballot party-like brand."

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