Do you know who is running for office in the April elections? Do you know what other issues are on the ballot?
Do you care?
Of course you should and the odds are you probably do. That’s according to the results of a recent survey conducted by the Insight and Survey Center at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, which measured Missouri residents’ attitudes toward municipal elections and newspapers’ coverage of them.
The survey revealed that 83 percent of those surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed that voting in local elections is important and 69 percent said they try their best to stay informed about them.
The results indicate that overall, people are most interested in municipal elections that feature local bond issues or tax proposals. That’s not surprising as people tend to care more about issues that impact their pocketbooks than anything else.
Residents rated school board elections as slightly more important than city council or town board elections. They were neutral on whether the outcome of local elections has more impact on them than those for state and federal offices.
The survey also found that newspapers were a valued source of information about municipal elections. At the risk of sounding self-serving, that doesn’t surprise us either especially given the fact that in many communities, the local newspaper is the only media source covering municipal elections.
The survey found that people favored in-depth, issue-based coverage of elections, stories that test the assertions candidates make during campaigns for local offices, and reporting that allow side-by-side comparisons of candidates.
The survey also demonstrated that many residents have a lack of basic knowledge about local politics. For instance, nearly one in five said they were not sure whether their city or town is governed by a city council or by a board of trustees or aldermen. More than half said they didn’t know the terms of office for a town council or board members, or for a local school board member.
In two weeks, on April 8, voters will have an opportunity to cast ballots in municipal elections throughout the county. In addition to city council, alderman, school board, college board trustee races, there are two tax issues for voters to decide.
You can find sample ballots in this past Wednesday’s Missourian and in next Wednesday’s Missourian. In addition to the coverage we have already provided on many of the municipal races and the tax issues, we will also have candidate profiles prior to the election.
We have always strived to be a valuable source of information regarding municipal elections. We take that responsibility seriously. So should citizens — regardless of whether they get the information from us or other sources.
One of the problems with our modern democracy is that too many of our citizens are uninformed when it comes to local politics, government and community issues. That is the case even though it only takes a few minutes to research the candidates and the issues. Surveys show Americans spend more time researching an appliance or a car than a local candidate or issue.
That probably explains why only 18.7 percent of voters turned out in last April’s election. That’s pathetic under any standard.
If you care about your community, and surveys suggest you do, then do something about it. Take some time to get informed on the issues then cast a ballot on April 8.