Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

National v. Local Considerations in House Elections

A major theme of our book is that politics is not just about self-interest. A new Gallup survey is consistent with that theme:
By 55% to 39%, more registered voters say a candidate's stand on national issues -- rather than his or her ability to help people at the district level -- is what matters more to them in voting for Congress. The percentage naming issues as the more important factor is the highest recorded on this measure in the nearly two-decade-long Gallup trend, although similar to that seen at points in the last two midterm election years.

The maxim that "all politics is local" -- most famously advanced by the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill -- may have once been an accurate characterization of the relationship that congressional candidates had with their constituents. In that vein, as recently as 1994, significantly more registered voters said that delivering for their district was more important to the way they viewed congressional candidates than were national issue stances. However, since 1994 -- perhaps because of the nationalization of that election with the Republicans' Contract With America -- Americans' voting priorities have flipped.

In a year when voters rank the federal budget deficit as high as terrorism as a top concern, the implications are clear. Twenty years ago, candidates for Congress might have ingratiated themselves with voters by bulleting all of the federal spending projects they either had delivered to the district, or would support if elected. Today, such messages may be more likely to spark constituents' concerns about the effect the spending involved could have on the national debt.