A newsprint mailer menaces me every time I come home. It’s the District of Columbia Voter Guide. I keep it on my front entranceway table to remind me of the upcoming June 19 District primary election, the only election that matters in my 90 percent Democratic-leaning city. But Election Day is approaching, and I’ve still just glanced at it, only to realize how little attention I’ve paid to local politics.
This is bad. I own a home in DC and pay local taxes. I send my daughter to public school. I also write about and analyze politics for a living. But it’s all national politics; the local is only a blip. Honestly (and ashamedly), I don’t really know what’s at stake in this election. I assume not much, since none of my neighbors seem to be paying much attention either. They all want to talk about national politics too.
I’m not alone. The overwhelming majority of Americans consume disproportionately more news about national politics than about state and local politics. In one analysis, 99 percent of respondents in a typical media market never visited websites dedicated to local news. In a typical local election, fewer than one in five citizens bother to vote.
There are at least half a million elected officials in the United States. Only 537 of them are federal. And yet almost all of our collective attention is on those federal officials and in particular, just one of them: the president. As a result, elections these days, at every level of government, increasingly operate as a singular referendum on the president. Candidates matter less and less, party more and more.
This disconcerting disconnect between