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New Report Offers Reforms for Declining Voter Engagement in Municipal Elections

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press release

New Report Offers Reforms for Declining Voter Engagement in Municipal Elections

May 18, 2021

Big cities could hold elections concurrently with state and federal elections and end partisan primaries  

NEW YORK, NY — While large crowds have gathered in cities across the country to protest the police or our national election results, people aren’t showing up at the local ballot box in similar mass numbers. Voter turnout continues to decline in big-city elections with municipal elections faring much worse than presidential elections. For scale, 27 percent of Philadelphia residents cast ballots in the November 2019 election while 2.5 times that number showed up for the presidential election the following year. In a new Manhattan Institute issue brief, Daniel Hopkins addresses the problems of low general-election turnout and suggests reforms which include:  

  • Holding elections concurrently with state and federal elections, which has been shown to increase municipal turnout and;  

  • Ending partisan primaries, which could make city elections competitive and decouple national partisan loyalties from local voting decisions.   

Hopkins identifies the transforming media environment as one key part of the explanation for low voter turnout. As markets for local television stations and print newspapers—two staples of information about local government—rapidly lose their audiences, cable television and online news have captured increasing attention. This transition to media that is highly national in orientation has led to a decline in Americans’ knowledge about and engagement with local politics. While researchers and commentators have written extensively about declining turnout in presidential elections, Hopkins turns our attention to the more substantial decline in big-city municipal elections, elections whose results are key in building safe, prosperous, and equitable cities.   

Click here to read the full issue brief.

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