As the year comes to a close, we're looking back at some of our 2023 surveys to see what local governments have been prioritizing and how these priorities vary across different communities.
Below we report the priorities of 553 elected officials leading municipalities, townships, and counties across the United States. Results are broken down by population size: those respondents serving communities of less than and more than 5,000 residents, respectively. (While this segmentation is by no means a perfect indicator of the “urban-rural” divide, it is not a bad proxy.)
Notably, local governments are not divided on all things. Several topics are near and dear to the hearts of local elected officials across population sizes, especially public safety, K-12 education, and economic development.
However, for a subset of domains—especially parks, walkability, and some service provision—sharper differences emerge. Elected officials serving smaller populations are much less likely to report these domains as high priorities, while a majority of officials serving larger communities rank such areas as high priorities.
As 2024 begins, we expect the urban-rural divide to remain a key point of demarcation in local and state governance. At CivicPulse, we will be continuing our investigation of the implications of these patterns for effective governance.
Below is the key survey item used in our analysis:
Thinking generally about the wide range of issues that your community faces, please rate the following items in terms of how high or low a priority they are for you currently as an elected leader.
Clean air and water
Jobs and economic development
Services for residents in need
Walkability of your community
Preparing for natural disasters
High quality K-12 public education
Improved roads and highways
Improved public transportation
Not at all a priority
Very low priority
Somewhat low priority
Somewhat high priority
Very high priority
Nathan Lee, PhD