Local elections are critically important. Every day, over half a million local elected officials are making important and influential decisions about core services like police and fire, transportation, housing, and drinking water. As cities experience robust growth, they are becoming important laboratories for positive civic change, especially as political gridlock at the federal level continues.
But in spite of the incredible impact local elected officials can have on people’s lives, we know little about electoral dynamics at the local level. Who actually votes in municipal elections? Where do the most frequent voters and nonvoters live? How are key demographic traits like age, race and ethnicity, income, and education related to voting patterns and behavior?
Who Votes for Mayor? aims to answer these and other questions by providing important data and analytic tools to better understand which voices are heard at the ballot box, and how loudly. The project launched in 2015 with a pilot study that examined mayoral voting trends in four U.S. cities: Charlotte, N.C., Detroit, Mich., Portland, Ore., and St. Paul, Minn. In 2016 the project expanded to include 46 additional cities throughout the country.
The results show that in most cities, few people vote in mayoral elections, and those who do vote tend to be older and more affluent than the population at large and less likely to be people of color. This raises important questions about social justice and public policy related to local elections.