The late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill used to say, “All politics are local.” Like most one-sentence summaries of American electoral politics, it is not completely true, but it is correct in noting that in U.S. elections, trends in national politics are also often reflected in local elections. In the recent primary for city commission here in Leavenworth, in two respects the results reflected important national trends.
First, turnout increased in the election. In the 2015 city elections, there was no primary, but there was one in 2013. In that primary, there was a 7 percent turnout. In contrast, in the election on Aug. 1, we had a 9.86 percent turnout.
This increase in turnout is in keeping with national trends. In the 2016 presidential election, there was a 60.2 percent turnout compared to a 58.6 percent turnout in the 2012 presidential election.
This increase in turnout appears to reflect a national mood of concern about the direction of our country, both at the national and local levels. Polls indicate that a very high percentage of the American people feel that the country is on the wrong track.
This feeling that the country is on the wrong track leads into a second respect in which the city elections reflected national trends: a large vote for outsiders. The three incumbent city commissioners finished in the top six, but the top two candidates were both newcomers to politics – Mr. Wilson and Mr. Griswold.
This voting for outsiders was definitely true in the 2016 presidential election. On the Republican side, Donald Trump got the nomination in the face of opposition from almost the entire Republican establishment. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton won the nomination but only after a tough challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sen. Sanders is a self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist,” a term that used to be poison in U.S. elections. The highest percentage of the popular vote that the U.S. Socialist Party ever got in a presidential race was 6 percent in the 1912 election. Yet Sanders fought a tough race, and polls showed him to be the candidate with the highest level of personal appeal in the race.
Perhaps the most striking aspect about this Year of the Outsider in 2016 was the vote for third parties, the ultimate outsiders of American politics. In the 2012 presidential election, the combined vote of the Green and Libertarian parties was 1.35 percent. In 2016, it was 4.35 percent.
So residents of the coasts may think that here in flyover America that we are totally out of touch with national trends, but our city elections show that, on the contrary, in some important respects, Leavenworth is reflecting the mood of the nation.
Ernest Evans is a Leavenworth Times columnist.