Chapter Study Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. State and local elections entail a vast number of elections—with over 50 states, 3,000 counties, and 19,000 cities or municipalities in the United States—and involve a variety of offices, but can still be organized into executive, legislative, and judicial positions
    2. Within each category, races vary dramatically in expense, competition, and media and public attention, but generally, two trends have held true: they are much less competitive than federal elections, and they are becoming increasingly professionalized over time.
  2. Rules and Reality in Local Elections
    1. A.Non-partisan ballots are used in over 75 percent of city council and mayoral elections, and reflect the desire to place more importance on candidates interested  in the practical realities of local politics rather than partisan interests. In many cases, however, because they aren’t affiliated with parties, voters will vote for more familiar (incumbent) candidates, making elections less competitive.
    2. Local elections also differ from federal elections in the type of constituencies that elected officeholders represent—the federal rule of single-member districts does not apply here. In many cases, members are elected “at-large,” meaning that voters do not vote according to their district. In other cases, voters vote both for a representative of their district as well as in a pool for other representatives “at-large.”
    3. Because many of the local elections are held at a different time than federal and state elections, they are less affected by much of the politicking that surrounds these elections. However, they still are affected by current events—in some cases, much more directly than federal or state elections.
  3. Rules and Reality in State Elections
    1. State elections are, on average, less competitive than federal races, though this is less true for statewide races—such as for governor—than for races that occur in smaller districts, like, for example, state legislature,.
    2. State legislatures can be fully professional, like the U.S. Congress, meaning that officials hold a full-time job that comes with salary, benefits, and staff support, or they may be “citizen” legislatures, which usually means they receive little to no salary, benefits, or staff.  The more professional the legislature, the more likely incumbents will be challenged during an election, but they also have more resources at their disposal and have achieved more in their career, which usually means that incumbents in professionalized legislatures are re-elected at higher rates.
    3. State officials also face term limits; most states limit the number of terms a governor can serve, and some limit the terms of state legislators as well. While this does reduce the number of incumbents winning elections, this does not always increase competition in elections.
    4. Elected officials and candidates are affected by outside factors, such as nationwide economic and political conditions, or the actions of prominent leaders in their party, during elections. This is why, in several cases, gubernatorial races are held in non-election years, so they are not impeded by nor do they have to compete for coverage with federal elections.
  4. Campaign Strategies Big and Small
    1. In many cases—60 percent of candidates for state legislature in 1998—campaigns on state and local level do not hire professional political consultants. They have smaller budgets, and rely on door-to-door campaigning by family and friends and lawn signs rather than media attention, television ads, and professional campaigners. 
    2. State and local elections also differ from federal elections with regard to the issues discussed by the candidates. Issues like foreign policy are simply less relevant to state and local officeholders, while other issues, like education and crime levels, are more directly affected by these offices and become a more prominent part of the campaign.
    3. The different rules—such as single-member district seats versus at-large seats in a legislature—also affect how candidates strategize, and whether they must appeal to a very specific population, or if they must campaign locality-wide. 
  5. The Push toward Professionalization
    1. Even as state and local campaigns are less professionalized than their federal counterparts, over time they have begun to resemble federal campaigns more and more. To an extent, the push towards professionalization is simply an arms race: one side raises enough money to hire a professional consultant, which causes the other side to do likewise.
    2. “Direct democracy” refers to the placement of proposals on public policy and law placed on the ballot, via ballot initiatives and referenda. These ballot initiatives can cause independent groups to spend a large amount of money both getting their issue on the ballot and then gaining the desired result, which leads overall to an increase in professionalization of the campaigns as a whole.
    3. There are three types of judicial elections (which occur in 38 states): partisan elections, non partisan elections (which run without party labels on the ballot, though they may be endorsed by political parties), and retention elections (which are referenda on whether a judge should remain on the bench). Because of the small number of judges in comparison to the number of legislatures, interest groups have increasingly tried influencing these campaigns, causing an influx of resources and money into judicial elections. Some believe that this might compromise the integrity of judges.  
  6. Activists in State and Local Campaigns
    1. In comparison to federal elections, in state and local elections activists can often influence the outcome of elections without attracting much attention or competition, and, with fewer resources, they can gain greater influence over state and local races than would be possible in more visible federal races.
    2. In off-cycle elections, interest groups do not have to compete with the larger issues and the larger numbers of voters that typify on-cycle elections. Low voter turnout in these elections empowers interest groups—who can mobilize comparatively larger numbers of their membership to go to the polls—to be able to seek policy objectives that otherwise would be out of reach. This occurs in primary elections as well as general elections, as in many localities, primaries are much more competitive than the general elections.