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February 11, 2020

Partisanship And Voting Trends In State And Local Elections

Guest Columnist

Jerry Donald

In his 2018 book “The Increasingly United States,” Daniel J. Hopkins summarizes the circumstances surrounding state and local politics. In it, he looks at the factors that have made national politics the dominant focus for American citizens. The gist of his book is that Americans’ interest in politics at the national level has remained steady over the years, while interest in state and local politics has declined considerably.

One of the causes of this decline in interest in local politics is the decline of daily newspapers that cover state and local events. Many communities across the country lack this source of news, receiving all of their news from national sources. The result of this is an increased focus on national elections, and a loss of knowledge for local citizens who may otherwise be interested in what jobs their local politicians are responsible for, and how well they have done those jobs.

A result of all of this is that those who vote often do so on a strictly party line basis, having no other way to decide who is best suited for the office.

Fortunately, in Frederick County we do have local news sources that can inform voters and help them to make educated choices in elections. We are still fortunate enough to have a daily paper that covers local events, as well as several local papers that publish weekly or monthly. Now that voter registration is nearly equal between the two parties, the informed voters who vote based on incumbent records and challenger platforms will play an ever bigger role in determining elections in Frederick County.

Another factor influencing elections in Frederick County, as well as nationally, is a growing number of voters who choose not to affiliate with either major party. Like most of the country, Maryland has a closed primary election, so only those who choose to affiliate with a party can participate (with the exception of non-partisan offices, when unaffiliated voters can vote in primaries). Unaffiliated voters also participate at lower levels in the general election, when they are allowed to vote for all offices, compared to party members. But as people are voting more and more along party lines, the impact of unaffiliated voters in general elections can be amplified in a purple county like Frederick.

In Maryland, our state county elections are held during what is known as the Presidential midterm election.  Nationally, these elections tend to favor the party that does not hold the presidency, but not always (examples in the last thirty years are 1998 and 2002). What does this mean for state and local offices? It means that many who come out to vote are voting for state and local officials based on their feelings, positive or negative about the President of the United States, Not their feelings about the records of those individual state and local officials.  This is the national fog that hangs over state and local elections.

All of these things are beyond the power of those who run for office in Frederick County. All we can do is to do our jobs and reach out to voters. The rest is up to them.

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