Borde: Pay attention to politics beyond the presidential election


Akash Borde, Columnist

It’s hard to escape coverage of the 2016 US presidential election. Even before March 2015, when the first major candidate — Ted Cruz — declared his candidacy, media pundits had already begun speculating about who would run for office. The national election is half a year away, but that hasn’t stopped Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders from dominating the news for the past year.

Being informed about the presidential election is important, but it is equally important to be informed about local politics at the city and state level. The president may play a significant role in shaping the country’s future, but local governments play more significant roles in our daily lives.

If you went to public grade school in the United States, your education was shaped mostly by local governments. In the 2011-2012 school year, 87.7 percent of education funding came from non-Federal sources, and areas such as developing curricula were largely the responsibility of local communities and state governments.

Although people seem to know the national debate about education policy better than their local policy, it is at the local level that the majority of the work is done. For example, Chicago Public Schools fall under control of current mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is responsible for negotiations with unions over policies such as teacher wages. Funding for Illinois state colleges is under the domain of the Illinois legislature, which passed a $600 million education bill last month after nearly a year without agreeing on a budget.

But it’s not just education — the economy is another domain where national politics overshadows the work done by local politicians. Presidential candidates often spar about job growth, but local officials are the ones that establish ordinances which impact businesses development. Decisions about residential and commercial zoning for counties and cities happen at the local level, not the presidential.

Given how much more impactful local politics are to our everyday lives, it is crazy how little attention they get. Local media often do not have the same sort of resources as national media to cover happenings at the local level, nor does local media have the same sort of incentives. Watching a debate between nonpartisan community members for city council usually isn’t as exciting as the primetime Republican or Democratic presidential debates.

Sadly, low media coverage of local politics has a serious effect on citizen engagement. A joint study between George Washington University and American University reported that low coverage directly links to low voter turnout. This makes sense. If people don’t know who their candidates are, they are less likely to go out and vote.

We need to actively divert some of our attention from the neverending presidential election coverage and educate ourselves on our local elections. Even when writing this column, I had to look up who Evanston and Illinois’ elected officials were, and who will be up for election in the fall. It’s time we stopped over analyzing every single thing that presidential candidates do and learned a little more about what’s going on in our city councils and state legislatures.

Akash Borde is a McCormick freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.