Local news media and elections: essential for democracy

November is election time in America. Voters in many local municipalities will go to the polls soon to choose local public officials. Four states have statewide legislative elections and three of those states will select a governor. For some, the presidential election next year is top of mind. But it is the breadth and depth of local elections in this country that truly astounds. Try and wrap your mind around the idea that there are more than 87,000 elective bodies filled with over half a million elected officeholders.

So the notion that “all politics is local” rings true. Popularly attributed to former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, the phrase actually originated with a newsman. In a syndicated column penned in 1932, Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Bryon Price wrote, “all politics is local in the last analysis, and local considerations come first.”

Local news media are the link between prospective voters and candidates vying for office. Newspaper media – in print and in digital form – are especially well-positioned to make this connection. New research data from Nielsen Scarborough show that among adults who always vote in local elections, seven in 10 read newspaper media in print, online or on mobile devices in an average week. The data also show that among persistent voters in local elections there is little difference between self-identified Democrats, Republicans and Independents: seven in 10 of each group are engaged with newspaper content in print or online in a typical week.

The all-embracing coverage of local elections by local newspapers in all forms is not something that is duplicated by television or radio stations, or other media outlets; they simply do not have the capability of local newspapers to cover the myriad candidates and issues in all localities.

Elections are a local business. Newspapers are a local business. The connection between the two is essential for democracy to function.

David Chavern is president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.