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.