Your vote, donations, and volunteer efforts count much more at the local and state levels, where issues also hit closer to home.
If you are tired of listening to political posturing of officials and candidates, petty infighting, and self-serving politicians and interests groups, you are in the great majority of Americans. But don't let this turn you off from politics entirely, because there is still a way to affect positive political change without waiting for Washington to reform.
Every year, states, counties, and cities hold innumerable elections that go largely ignored by volunteers, fundraisers, and voters. Yet what is striking is that the more local the election, the more of an impact the single voter, or the single volunteer, or the single dollar has.
Average voter turnout is below 40 percent for state elections in nonpresidential-election years. Even in the fourth most populous state, Florida, that amounts to only about 5 million people. For local elections, the turnout is even lower, and the total number of voters fewer. Compared to the 132 million people (roughly 62 percent) who voted for president in 2008, a citizen's vote counts much more at the local and regional level.
Now think of money. Even in presidential election years, the average amount raised by a candidate running for a seat in a state legislature in 2008 was $86,000. Compare this to the average successful candidate for the House of Representatives who had to raise over $1.5 million, or the average successful candidate for the Senate who had to raise over $7 million. Again, local clout trumps national, as donations matter more.
The evidence suggests that time, money, and energy are better spent on elections and issues that are geographically closest to voters.
So why does national politics get most of our attention and energy?