With Ame­ri­ca’s size, inf­lu­en­ce on the glo­bal stage, and sta­tus as an eco­no­mic po­wer­hou­se, it’s un­ders­tan­dab­le why the whole world tu­nes in to find out who the next Pre­si­dent of the Uni­ted Sta­tes of Ame­ri­ca will be.

This co­ming fall, we will all spend a sig­ni­fi­cant amount of time re­a­ding, dis­cus­sing, and spe­cu­la­ting about the re­sults. It’s ea­sy, in the light of this de­tai­led co­ve­ra­ge, to over­look that U.S. po­li­tics are more than Pre­si­den­ti­al Elec­ti­ons. We would all do well to re­mem­ber that lo­cal elec­ti­ons can al­so have a glo­bal im­pact just as much as the Pre­si­den­ti­al elec­ti­ons can.

How many elected officials does the US really have?

Elec­ted of­fi­ci­als in the Uni­ted Sta­tes of Ame­ri­ca ser­ve on three le­vels of go­vern­ment: Fe­de­ral, State, and lo­cal. Most are fa­mi­li­ar with the fe­de­ral le­vel, where the Pre­si­dent, Se­na­tors, and Rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves ser­ve. State and lo­cal of­fi­ci­als vary, but most sta­tes car­ry a go­ver­nor, lie­u­te­nant go­ver­nor, at­tor­ney ge­ne­ral, state sup­re­me court jus­ti­ces, compt­rol­ler, tre­a­su­rer, state se­na­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves. These of­fi­ci­als are elec­ted by the vo­ters in their own dist­ricts. Lo­cal of­fi­ci­als, such as ma­yors, town and city coun­cil mem­bers, coun­ty com­mis­si­o­ners, school bo­ard of­fi­ci­als make up the ma­jo­ri­ty of elec­ted of­fi­ci­als in the U.S.

With all of those po­si­ti­ons, “How many elec­ted of­fi­ci­als does the US re­al­ly have?” Most pe­op­le I’ve as­ked this qu­es­ti­on have gu­es­sed wrong, some have no­ted 542 – the exact num­ber of fe­de­ral of­fi­ces that glo­bal news me­dia fol­lows du­ring the Pre­si­den­ti­al and mid­terms elec­ti­ons.

Would it surp­ri­se you to le­arn that there are at le­ast half a mil­li­on elec­ted of­fi­ci­als in the Uni­ted Sta­tes of Ame­ri­ca? That me­ans that over half a mil­li­on pe­op­le have to a gre­a­ter or les­ser deg­ree cam­paig­ned, had their name on a bal­lot, and then wai­ted on elec­ti­on day to see if they would find them­sel­ves elec­ted to pub­lic of­fi­ce. For scale, this is rough­ly the po­pu­la­ti­on of Hel­sin­ki. That me­ans, po­ten­ti­al­ly, there are half a mil­li­on pe­op­le that could make de­ci­si­ons that im­pact far bey­ond their lo­cal scope.

California’s targets can set the tone

An il­lust­ra­ti­ve examp­le is the State of Ca­li­for­nia’s com­mit­ment to ta­king me­a­su­res against cli­ma­te chan­ge. Alt­hough Pre­si­dent Do­nald Trump pul­led the Uni­ted Sta­tes out of the ag­ree­ment in 2017, the Ca­li­for­nia state le­gis­la­tu­re re­mai­ned com­mit­ted and have go­ver­ned ac­cor­ding­ly. The state of Ca­li­for­nia is the world’s fifth lar­gest eco­no­my. They have set a goal of being car­bon neut­ral by 2045 – their par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on led by state and lo­cal of­fi­ci­als, on scale, will have a lar­ger im­pact than most Eu­ro­pe­an count­ries.

This il­lust­ra­tes how de­ci­si­ons in lo­cal elec­ti­ons and in state elec­ti­ons can have an im­pact glo­bal­ly. How Ca­li­for­nia ac­hie­ves their tar­gets can set the tone, not just for the rest of the Uni­ted Sta­tes, but for count­ries around the globe.

Not just what happens in the White House

Pew Re­se­arch’s 2018 ye­ar-long study, “The Pub­lic, The Po­li­ti­cal Sys­tem, and Ame­ri­can de­moc­ra­cy,” del­ves in­to Ame­ri­ca’s dif­fe­ring views on lo­cal, state, and fe­de­ral elec­ti­ons. When as­ked about lo­cal elec­ti­ons 67% of res­pon­dents had a po­si­ti­ve view of their lo­cal go­vern­ment, while on­ly 35% felt the same for the fe­de­ral go­vern­ment. 73% of res­pon­dents felt that the qu­a­li­ty of po­li­ti­cal can­di­da­tes run­ning for lo­cal of­fi­ce was ex­cel­lent, while on­ly 41% said the same about pre­si­den­ti­al can­di­da­tes.

Most de­ci­si­ons that im­pact dai­ly life for Ame­ri­cans are made at a lo­cal po­li­ti­cal le­vel. On is­su­es such as cli­ma­te chan­ge, it may be that stra­te­gies for sol­ving glo­bal prob­lems are tack­led on that lo­cal le­vel too. So for Ame­ri­cans, but al­so eve­ry­o­ne el­se, U.S. po­li­tics isn’t just about what hap­pens in the of­fi­ce of the Pre­si­den­cy or Cong­ress, but about state and lo­cal po­li­tics as well.

Did you know?

“All Po­li­tics is lo­cal.” This fa­mi­li­ar pro­verb in U.S. po­li­tics was fa­mous­ly used by the 47th spe­a­ker of the Hou­se of Rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves Tho­mas “Tip” O’Neill Jr (1912 – 1994), but is at­t­ri­bu­ted to As­so­ci­a­ted Press Was­hing­ton Bu­re­au chief By­ron Price in 1932. It re­fers to the fact that vo­tes are con­cer­ned most about is­su­es that af­fect their own li­ves and com­mu­ni­ties and vote ac­cor­ding to that, rat­her than na­ti­o­nal or glo­bal is­su­es.

Ar­tik­ke­li on jul­kais­tu SAM Ma­ga­zi­ne 1/2020-nu­me­ros­sa hel­mi­kuus­sa 2020.

Ale­xand­ra Pas­ter­nak-Jack­son, CEO at Amc­ham Fin­land, is wor­king to make Fin­land a more open and in­ter­na­ti­o­nal place to do bu­si­ness and to help Fin­nish com­pa­nies na­vi­ga­te the US mar­ket. She has taught on the im­por­tan­ce of net­wor­king as well as held non-pro­fit bo­ard po­si­ti­ons, both in Fin­land and the US. Ale­xand­ra holds an MBA from Haa­ga He­lia Uni­ver­si­ty of Ap­p­lied Scien­ces and a BA from the El­li­ott School of In­ter­na­ti­o­nal Af­fairs at the Ge­or­ge Was­hing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty. She li­ves in Hel­sin­ki with her Te­xan hus­band and two kids.