During the pandemic, governors from both parties made headlines when they issued preemptive executive orders to compel local governments to comply with their approach to Covid. Some governors (typically Democrats) used preemptive orders to implement public health measures like mask mandates and stay-at-home orders, while others (typically Republicans) used preemptive orders to block local governments from adopting such policies.
In a recent survey, CivicPulse collaborated with Alexandra Artiles at Florida State University to ask local policymakers their opinions about gubernatorial preemption, more generally. We found that far more officials in both parties opposed preemption than supported it (see below).
Of course, local officials’ specific reasons for opposing gubernatorial preemption varied by party. For example, one Republican elected official in a small Pennsylvania township, referring to restrictions promulgated through the governor, said “Covid lockdowns and business closures were devastating to our small businesses.” Meanwhile, a Democratic policymaker in a small city in Florida was frustrated by gubernatorial preemptive orders blocking their own pandemic response measures. “Our Covid restrictions were overridden and replaced with less safe measures,” they said.
Notwithstanding these different reasons for their opposition, local officials’ opposition to state preemptive action was bipartisan in nature. The general tendency toward opposition among local officials we found to be remarkably consistent across various community characteristics, including population size and the proportion of residents with a college education.
That said, opposition was not unanimous. For example, one policymaker in an Illinois township said of a mask ordinance, “It was good and necessary that the governor did it as opposed to every municipality underneath.” Local Republicans were the least likely to express any support for state preemption, with only 11% of local Republicans in our survey showing support, compared with 28% of Democrats. That opposition was most pronounced among local Republicans, perhaps reflecting a conservative disposition generally averse to centralization.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out this peer-reviewed paper in which our collaborator Alexandra Artiles and others analyze preemptive executive orders during the pandemic. Additionally, Ballotpedia provides a timeline chronicling state preemption and the resulting conflicts with local governments here.
The research underlying this brief was built on data from a national random-sample survey of 704 policymakers, fielded from April to May 2022. Elected policymakers include top elected officials and governing board members. The sample frame draws on Power Almanac’s continuously updated contact list of government officials from counties, municipalities, and townships with populations of 1,000 or more. The survey was developed in collaboration with Alexandra Artiles and implemented by the CivicPulse Team.
Below are the survey items used in this research brief:
In general, do you support or oppose gubernatorial preemption via executive orders?
Has your local government experienced gubernatorial preemption via executive orders regarding any policy issue? If yes, please briefly describe the experience.
Nathan Lee, PhD
Managing Director of CivicPulse