Is All Politics Local?

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“All politics is local,” said Tip O’Neill. But he was referring to an election he lost in 1935 when he said that. Is it still true? The congressional election in 1994 was, famously, “nationalized” by Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, and supposedly the same was true in 2002 thanks to George Bush’s campaign heroics. Today Jonathan Bernstein tackles the question of whether congressional elections are just routinely more nationalized now than in the past, and suggests the answer is “probably so”:

1. The national parties have grown. The formal party organizations have more resources than they did in 1970….

2. I think Colby is correct that the media mix has tilted from local to national since 1970….

3. Related to #1 above, but worth separating out…national activist and donor networks are far more evolved than they were in 1970….

Put all of that together, and it certainly makes sense that there would be a lot more likely to find candidates taking positions on national issues than it was forty years ago. The demand for it is higher. The cost, however, is lower; it’s very easy now for local candidates to cut and paste their national party’s positions onto the “issues” section of their website; if you’ve hired one or more staff person with national experience, they are likely to know those positions and be able to generate the correct rhetoric without a lot of difficulty.

I don’t have a PhD or even any special evidence to amass, but all of this sounds right to me. Congressional politics, at least, is just a lot less local than it used to be.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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