There are a number of reasons why citizens are losing faith in local governments. These factors contribute to the low average turnout in local elections compared to national elections (5%-10% vote in local elections versus 40%-50% in national US elections). New campaign managers and candidates are looking for new ways to reach the electorate and get them involved more in local politics. Let’s look at some of the reasons why citizens are losing faith in local governments and the issues that make them give up on involvement.
The Citizen as a Customer and Poor Customer Service
Governments are shifting to a model in which they see the citizen as a customer of services that it provides. The downside of this shows up when services are privatized at the literal expense of the customer, causing people to lose faith in local officials.
If you are working on an accredited online master in public administration degree, study how to design public services so that customers have a clear process for reporting problems, and even more importantly, methods for actually resolving them.
Non-Profits as a False Proxy for the Public
One mistake many local governments have made is working with ideologically motivated non-profits and NGOs as a proxy for the community at large. A small group of environmentalists or other activists readily takes over public forums, sometimes even stocking the event with their members brought into meetings to shut out the public. The government officials then hear almost exclusively that political group’s demands and acquiesce to what they think is popular opinion.
When the average person has no reasonable way to provide input and the deck is literally stacked against them, they distrust local governments.
If you are earning an online masters in public administration, learn how to identify the use of the Delphi method to hijack public forums and shape public opinion by one motivated group, as well as how to ensure that you get a real sampling of public opinion. And do not use politically motivated non-profits as a proxy for the public.
Centralization of Power
One reason why people are losing faith in local governments is their reduced responsiveness as power is concentrated higher up. The United States elected Trump in part as a response to a similar consolidation of power in Washington, DC.
One example is the overriding of local school districts by Washington D.C. to dictate what would be served in school lunches and giving states the entire Common Core curriculum, decisions that were previously determined at either a state level or local school district level. The power to make these decisions was taken away when President Obama made obedience to federal regulations a requirement for receiving the federal funds that were up to half of a school district’s budget.
Citizens are losing faith in local governments because the official processes for giving input are so often hijacked by ideologically motivated non-profits, sometimes with the consent and deliberate support of government officials. Citizens have no faith in local governments that make it hard to give input and their complaints rarely have any results. The concentration of power at a national or international level, especially by un-elected bureaucrats, causes citizens to see their local officials as nothing more than local functionaries of distant powers – at best meaningless, at worst, directly contrary to their best interests.