Attitudes toward different gun laws
Infographic on policymakers' stances on different policies to address gun violence.

Note: “Not sure/neutral” responses are omitted from the graphic, so numbers do not add to 100%

In our March 2018 survey, we asked people in state and local government about their own stances on different policies to address gun violence. Instituting mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases was the most popular measure, with 75% of respondents supporting it. On the other hand, some policies that have been recently discussed in the media face significant opposition. Notably, an individual limit on the number of firearms was opposed by 60% of respondents.

What is your most pressing issue?
Graph showing what policymakers say is the most pressing issue facing the area they serve

CivicPulse recently asked survey respondents what they think the most pressing issue is facing the area they or their office serve(s). Over 875 elected officials and their staff shared their thoughts. Although each community is unique, there were a number of common themes that were on the minds of these officials. Budgetary concerns such as lack of revenue and funding for education or other public services were mentioned the most often, followed by challenges associated with population growth (e.g., cost of living, housing) and the need to stimulate economic growth and employment. Other common answers mentioned social issues (e.g., distrust, lack of leadership), infrastructure development, and public safety or concerns over drug use. These results suggest that, while the problems that local and state politicians must address are diverse and complex, the underlying challenges faced by different communities are often similar.

Attitudes toward use of force
Graph showing the attitudes of policymakers at the local and state level regarding the use of military force for national security reasons.

CivicPulse surveyed policymakers at the local and state level about their views regarding the use of military force for national security reasons. The results show that the partisan divide at the national level on this issue is mirrored at the sub-national level. Over 90% of Republican respondents expressed strong baseline support for the use of military force, whereas Independents and Democrats expressed significantly less support for the use of force (approximately 76% and 55%, respectively).

Affiliation with the U.S. military
Graph showing local and state government officials' affiliation with the U.S. military, either themselves or through a family member.

In August 2018, CivicPulse asked local and state government officials if they were affiliated with the U.S. military, either themselves or through a family member. Remarkably, 30% of respondents have an affiliation with the military, which is roughly twice the rate of occurrence among the general public. Notably, the likelihood that a government official is affiliated with the military is highest among Republicans (39%), and lowest among Democrats (23%).

Making your voice heard
Infographic on how citizens can make sure their voice are heard

How can regular citizens make sure their voices are heard? In our November 2017 survey, we asked local elected officials which communication strategies constituents can take to influence their decision. Overwhelmingly, elected officials say they value in-person communication over remote or online communication. Personalized meetings — either private or public — are likely to be rated as “very useful” for influencing officials’ decisions. On the other hand, online messages on social media are very unlikely to be viewed as useful by elected officials.

Refugee resettlement
Infographic on whether elected officals support or oppose resettlement of refugees in their area.

The United States has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past decade. Where to resettle refugees is a politically contentious topic. In our February 2017 survey, we asked elected officials whether they would support or oppose resettlement of refugees in their area. The results show that this issue is deeply polarized: a vast majority of Democratic elected officials support refugee resettlement in their communities, while a majority of Republican officials oppose it.

Voter fraud
Infographic of how many votes people thought were the result of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election.

In our February 2017 survey, we asked a panel of local elected officials to what extent they perceived voter fraud to impact the 2016 presidential election. The primary trend is that the closer officials are to election operations, the less fraud they perceive.

Measuring actual voting fraud is extremely difficult. The best estimates by academic researchers suggest that no more than 0.02% of votes are due to double-voting. Using this estimate, an upper bound for the number of double votes in the 2016 election is roughly 27,000.

Fundraising in state and local elections
Infographic of how much money people raised in their last election campaign.

Politicians often cite fundraising as one of the chief deterrents to political involvement. How burdensome is fundraising in local elections compared to state elections? We investigated in our February 2017 survey. About 35% of local officials report that they did not do any fundraising in their previous election campaign. Still, over a quarter of local officials reported raising over $5,000. In contrast, over three-quarters of state legislators raised over $5,000, and about half raised over $20,000.

The (lack of) an ambition gap

At all levels of politics in the United States, women are underrepresented. One influential factor that scholars have identified is an “ambition gap.” Research by political scientists Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox finds that 37% of young women have given some thought to running for office, compared to 57% of young men. In our February 2017 survey, we investigated whether this ambition gap extends to ambition for higher office. We find that there is a much smaller ambition gap among elected officials. About 51% of women who are currently elected officials say they have no interest in running for higher office; in comparison, about 48% of men say they have no interest (a difference that is not statistically significant). However, male elected officials are more likely to be actively considering a run for higher office — about 8.5% of men compared to 4.4% of women.

Local Officials are more Optimistic about U.S. Democracy than Campaign Donors and the Public

A 2019 report by Bright Line Watch showed that local officials consistently rated American Democracy more favorably than the mass public and campaign donors. The report notes: “They rate U.S. democratic performance as significantly higher than the public on 22 of 27 principles. These differences do not cluster around any clear theme, though we note that the largest gap we observe is on whether citizens are able to make their voices heard on important policy issues. Local officials overwhelmingly believe that citizen voices are heard (perhaps reflecting and projecting their personal experiences), whereas citizens themselves are less assured.” The survey of local officials was conducted by CivicPulse, the mass public survey was conducted by YouGov, and the survey of campaign donors was fielded by Bright Line Watch.

“If a politician said the following about their political opponent... how often would the public find this acceptable?”

In two separate surveys, American and Ukrainian policymakers shared their beliefs about whether political name-calling and threatening language would be acceptable to the public. In general, Ukrainian elites believed that their citizens would be more okay with this type of language. The U.S. survey was fielded by CivicPulse to 520 leaders in March 2019. The Ukraine survey was administered by the Kyiv Institutional Institute of Sociology (KIIS) to 165 civic activists and politicians across Ukraine in March and April 2019. Author: Thomas C. Zeitzoff, Associate Professor, School of Public Affairs, American University.

Trust in the news

Americans’ trust in the news has been declining for several decades, since at least the 1970s. According to Gallup data, only 45% of Americans have at least a fair amount of trust in the news media. At the same time, nearly a quarter (24%) say they don’t have any trust in the news. In CivicPulse’s March 2019 survey, we asked local elected officials about their trust in the news. 53% of the respondents indicated having at least a fair amount of trust in the news, and only 8% indicated no trust in the news at all, a considerably smaller proportion than among the general public. These results suggest that elected officials have higher levels of trust in the news than the general public. Author: Dominik A. Stecula, Postdoctoral Fellow, Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania.

Budget Woes from Sea to Shining Sea

Officials who considered the budget a pressing issue by U.S. region

Local officials from across the U.S. answered the question, “Would you consider the budget a pressing issue in your local area?” While a majority of survey takers said “Yes” regardless of where they are from, a higher percentage of policymakers from the Northeast stated that they faced budget problems while those from the West fared relatively better. The data are from a March 2019 CivicPulse survey of 2,361 local officials, and you can read more about what policymakers think about the budget in this CivicPulse report.

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