Ask a Caltech Expert: Danielle Wiggins on Local Politics
Especially in a presidential election year, media and public attention seem to be focused on national politics. What should voters know about local politics?
I study urban politics, so I think one thing that often gets overlooked is the importance of state and local politics. Many people think that the way to engage in politics is to vote every four years, at the federal level. As I show in my work, and as other urban historians have shown, it's at the state and local level that you see legislation with the most direct impact on people's lives, and where people have more power to effect change.
People often feel demoralized when the national election doesn't go their way, but I think they can feel more empowered and more like they live in a democracy when they are invested in state and local politics.
It's also important to remember that cities and states are often used as laboratories for various policies or programs. Many federal policies began at the state and local level, where you can get a sense of the larger implications of a policy by seeing how it functions at a smaller scale. Similarly, voters can get a sense of how a party is thinking about things by looking at what's being done at the state and local level.
And remember, voting is just one tool of political engagement. We can't understand it as the be-all and end-all of politics.
—Danielle L. Wiggins, Assistant Professor of History